Here’s a service that might help you with an upcoming occasion or give you a new creative outlet.

MagCloud was put together by HP Labs to demonstrate what can be done with high speed printers that can handle small jobs as easily as big ones. It takes files that you create and upload and turns them into magazines for twenty cents a page, regardless of whether you order one copy, a hundred copies, or a thousand copies. The magazines are printed on heavy glossy paper, with high-resolution photos and perfect color reproduction.

HP designed the service for fledgling magazine publishers. The Internet has opened up new publishing outlets for any damn fool that wants to write a blog (obviously); MagCloud opens the doors for anyone who wants to publish a magazine on paper for some targeted audience, big or small. Each magazine gets a web page where people can purchase individual copies, with the creator taking a profit on each issue.

There’s no requirement that the printed product look like a magazine or appear more than once. The same service can be used just as easily for any project that would look good if it was nicely printed and stapled on 8 1/2 x 11 pages. I created a 24-page collection of family photos and gave one to each of the guests at my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary party. It made a wonderful souvenir!

A couple of technical details. MagCloud requires you to upload a single multi-page PDF file. I started with individual 8 1/2 x 11 images, one for each page, created with Microsoft’s late, lamented photo program Digital Image Pro. Other programs could be used – other photo programs or Publisher, for example – as long you can create an 8 1/2 x 11 page. A few programs have built-in tools to create PDF files but most people would need Adobe Acrobat, which is often found on office computers and seldom found on home computers. (This kind of project requires the full, expensive version of Acrobat, not the free Adobe Reader used to view PDF files.) I used the Acrobat “printer” to create individual PDF files from each page, then used Acrobat to assemble the pages into single file. MagCloud has a 200Mb limit; my 24 pages of photos were merged into a 100Mb PDF file.

Once the file was uploaded, the MagCloud site generated a thumbnail preview (including some visual artifacts, horizontal lines, that turned out to be harmless and not part of the printed product). It took a couple of clicks to get a proof copy, and a couple more a few days later to get the final copies. Both proof and final copies were shipped about seven minutes after I placed each order, as near as I could tell. Delivery was really fast.

It’s an interesting world! Tools are available for the asking and anything can be outsourced. Have fun out there!

[Loyal readers: I’m off to the mountains. I might post a rerun or two, but that’s it for the news until July 1. Thanks for reading!]