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Dos and Don’ts of DIY Poster Printing

I saw some ideas floating around on Pinterest recently about creating huge photo art for cheap by ordering engineering prints from Staples. They’re black and white, lightweight prints that are intended for blueprints (not really high enough quality for photos), so I decided to try making some classroom posters… and along the way I made some mistakes that I hope you can learn from :)

I had two posters in mind that I wanted to create, but I wanted the first one to be more colorful and durable so I looked into the other options available online rather than the engineering prints. You can upload your own design or customize the ones they offer, which is what I chose to do because it seemed more likely to turn out well. I wanted to express the sentiment from the poster on the left below (from the Boulder County Health Department), but I wanted the language to more directly hold students accountable and the imagery to be less LGBT-centric. Mine’s on the right!

The small-sized poster was $13.99, plus $2 to laminate. Total cost with tax: $17.31. Would have been only about $5 if I had known better! (see below)

So here’s what I learned about making this type of poster:

DO: Play around with the designs they provide. They appear limiting at first but you can move most of the elements around and resize them, etc, so most formats will probably work out for whatever appearance you have in mind! There are quite a few templates that let you add your own graphic or picture, but I chose not to do that with this one.

DON’T: Order online if you want to pick up your poster in-store. When I picked mine up the woman in the print center told me that it would have only cost about $2 to order on-site, as opposed to $13 online! I’m not sure how that’s possible, and she wasn’t either, but if you’re planning to make something like this you should find out if you can customize in-store before designing one online. You can also have it shipped to your home but I found that the shipping would almost double the cost of the poster, and that wasn’t worth it to me. Cheapest option is to order and buy in store, but again I’m not totally sure what the difference would be as far as creating the poster at Staples versus on the website. Also, the smaller print on my poster is really hard to read from a distance because the lines are so thin, and the color contrast is not as sharp as it appeared online, so make sure your font/colors are nice and bold!

Next I did my engineering print for a CHAMPS poster. This one was more of a pain to put together, mostly because I’m a perfectionist, but ultimately I’m happier with it because it turned out exactly how I wanted AND it was a great deal!

The 18×24″ print was $1.69, plus $6 to laminate. Total cost with tax: $8.34!

The poster is laminated so I can write in the activities/objectives with a dry erase marker. I’d originally planned to attach it to my whiteboard and have each guideline on a separate card with a magnet, but that seemed likely to get disorganized/irritating very quickly. I thought through some other ways of indicating expectations with magnets, but then I remembered those transparent post-its, which I think will work out perfectly. Here’s what I learned with these prints:

DO: Make sure your image is exactly how you want it before you upload – the only real “custom” options with these prints is to size the image to fit the paper. I spent forever creating mine as a Word document using text boxes and tables, but I’m sure there is a better way.

DON’T: Worry if the preview online looks grainy or blurry. I kept trying to find ways to enlarge my file and make it look right online, but when I asked an employee I was told that it didn’t matter as long as my PDF file looked right. My preview looked terrible but I’m very happy with the final product!

A final note: I got both posters laminated (Staples charges $2 per foot) so they would last – I don’t want to have to order replacements every year or semester. The engineering print is only about as thick as butcher paper so laminating it makes it much more durable, and as I said above, it works like a dry-erase board, too.

So, if you do it right, you can create great-looking posters, reusable anchor charts, etc for under $10! Or you can do it wrong like I did the first time around and it costs under $20 :)

UPDATE: I felt like it was too time-consuming to write in the activity every time we started, so I made little cards with the activities on them, and backed them with velcro dots. Much quicker and easier, and the poster/strategy has definitely been effective! Once during the second week of school I forgot to review the CHAMPS before an activity and a student actually checked the poster and asked me if the CHAMPS included talking – I love having concrete guidelines that I can direct their attention toward quickly when they need a reminder.

**UPDATE (ONE YEAR LATER): This post seems to get the most hits out of anything I’ve written, so I wanted to add some info that I’ve learned since writing it. First of all, I changed the wording of my CHAMPS poster because as I got into my routines last year I realized that some of the options were pretty much never relevant, and others were just awkward at describing what I wanted. I also made a matching poster of my expectations for this year. I printed both posters as 18×24″ engineering prints at Staples again, but with the super-money-saving alteration of NOT getting them laminated there! Did you know Lakeshore Learning offers self-laminating for just $0.29 per foot? I was lucky that they had a store a few miles away from the nearest Staples, so it wasn’t too inconvenient to pick up my prints and haul them somewhere else to laminate. And Lakeshore’s laminating equipment didn’t destroy all my posters like the one on my campus, so that’s a plus, haha. I also printed my 11×17 color posters as just color copies instead of posters. The quality is lower, of course, since it’s just regular paper, but it still looks fine, and once it’s laminated it’s plenty durable. The color prints only ended up being about $1 each, so if I’d known more last year, my Safe Zone poster would’ve added up to about $2 instead of $17!

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Flippable Journals

At a recent PD workshop I learned how to use (and make my own!) flippable ELA journals. The idea is to help your students organize their notes and responses into categories and subjects so the journal can be a resource for them throughout the school year. One side is devoted to reading while the other side focuses on writing, and students get to decorate the covers however they want – which can make it a great ice-breaker activity at the beginning of the year! Here’s mine:

Isn’t that a classy little arrow?

It’s made from a standard composition book, treating both sides as a front cover when decorating.

The sticky note tabs indicate various categories  recommended at my workshop; you could easily modify this part depending on what kinds of skills you want your students to focus on.

Much as I love this concept, right now I don’t plan to have quite such a detailed structure to the writing students complete in class, and I want them to have a space for personal writing as well. I had originally planned to just have two tabs (class writing in front half, personal journal in back) but I’d much rather do these flippable journals! I’ve modified my covers so it can still serve as a model:

I wish I’d realized I would want to do this before making the original titles, but I guess it still looks cute :)

For the inside covers, I glued down the first page on either side. On the personal side, I plan to have them write down a list of things they love and things they hate, so if they’re suffering from writer’s block they have some quick topics to choose from. I’m thinking the academic side will become their own little word wall with vocab terms.

One concern I have about combining class and personal journals is that I’d hate for my students to lose drafts/notes/etc because I let the journals leave the room, but I’m trying hard to keep my expectations high. I might have some disasters early on, but my hope is that I can help my middle schoolers learn to be organized and responsible for their materials, and the natural consequences of losing work and being unprepared will help them keep better track of their writing in the future!