[Archive] Developing a Custom Shelf

First Posted Feb 25, 2018 (Part 1) & Mar 4, 2018 (Part 2)

The original posts were created as 2 separate posts, but in archiving and bringing over the posts, I decided to be compiled into one.

I said I’d write this a while ago, but now that my shelves have come to fruition, I want to take the time to write this out. Thank you if you take your time to read this!

Disclaimer

What I hope for people to take away from this is not only to think I’ve done a cool thing (because I think it’s pretty cool LOL), but also for people to build an appreciation and understanding for the work that is put into making. Making merch, finding resources, engineering, custom designing.. Something that came from an idea into a physical object. I know nowadays it feels like everything is fast fast fast and cheap cheap cheap, but there’s also those who are still working, doing, making. Just because it seems easy, doesn’t make it so, especially when it’s done consistently over time.

I’m not saying that everyone who does this goes through the same trials and tribulations, and maybe there are those who are really just joining the bandwagon for a fast buck. But from the collection of friends who take the time and pride into making, it’s really a lot of work that is being poured in. I hope that this post will shed a little bit of light (and maybe inspire some?) on the progress.

I am not saying this is the only method and maybe I might be wrong on some fronts. Maybe I didn’t take the most efficient (cost-wise and time-wise) either, but this is just my experience and what I did. So please read through this critically, but also with a bit of leeway too.

Background

Back in December 2017 (around the time I started patreon actually), I made a post on twitter asking if anyone had any tips or hacks on how they stored their thin thin artist zines. I finally had a bit of time to myself and was taking the time to reorganize my belongings for the upcoming new year (2018).

While many had a lot of creative suggestions in the thread, a lot of them weren’t feasible for my current living situation and I really wanted to avoid cardboard. So of course, I did the usual thing that most people do, and looked to online.

Finding Options

Add paragraph text here.What I found was exactly what I wanted, a clear or frosted plastic shelf made to size.. but it came with a price tag. Most things were above 50$+ and the shipping was an additional 100$. Gears were grinding in my head and ah..! Maybe it’d be cheaper if I could get it from the supplier directly. But of course, there are MOQs (minimum order quantity).

Maybe if I went wholesale, I could potentially get a better price, and maybe even add a customized feature for myself. Just in case, I went on twitter to see if there was any interest in this at all - not very much, but I thought it was maybe a problem that was worth solving.

For the sake of it, I asked with a screenshot I pulled off the internet (with some edited text on photoshop).

The quote was a bit higher than expected, for something that I didn’t even have the option to make any customizations in.

At a price of 12.56$ a piece and a minimum amount of 50 pieces with shipping means the total would cost 1728$, resulting in an approximate cost of 35$ each. This would not consider the exchange rate at the time, and also customs, which will usually get to around 200-300 CAD. And I don’t know about most people, but I usually don’t have a budget of 2k to spend on merch, especially considering I had tuition to pay for the next semester. It didn’t seem that feasible. 

Around that time though, I received my stuff from Kai who generously brought some stuff back from her trip in China. I don’t know who remembers this from my previous ink organization post, but in that loot, also included these beautiful clear test tube holder.

I took inspiration from that and started doing my work online again.

I think this is a good time for me to say that I never intended to make my shelves available for sale.. I actually really just wanted a version for myself, but completely customized to my liking and needs. Which were they had to be clear acrylic (at the time it was the look I super liked), a reasonable thickness (at least 3mm), and were fitted to be FOR zines. I didn’t want any of the bigger magazine holders, otherwise I could easily just pick some up from Muji.

I thought being accepting of shelves that could be disassembled could fare better prices since the shipping could possibly drop a lot, but sadly.. no clear options existed. And the price was still in the 40-80$ range.

I stumbled across these and thought they looked cool… but very flimsy. Wouldn’t solve my problems to the same degree as getting an actual shelf. They didn’t have a smaller size either, it was all A4.

These were nice, but still not clear and very very wide. There was no way they would fit into my shelves and also would take up too much room on my desk.

Designing my Own Shelf

In the end.. I felt defeated, but opted for opening up procreate on my iPad. Honestly, the amount of time I poured into researching for options and thinking about this problem.. I was too stubborn to let it go.

Initially, I was still very adamant about making these shelves for use at a convention. I could display my books! I could store my zines! What a perfect double-use! I decided to use the same model of the test tube rack because while it did swing from side to side, if I added a back panel, it would make it feel a lot more secure.

I used autoCAD (drawing lines are based on coordinates). Setting the file to centimetres (team metric..!!), and using explode/join features, I managed to pull together something.

Draft 1..! I started swinging around laser cutting places and asking for quotes. I’ve never done laser cutting before but it was something I always had a vague interest in.. but god, I later learned there’s a reason why it never got adapted as a medium that a lot of artists would gravitate to creating with - it is hella expensive.

Prototyping

I went back to the person I was talking to initially about the shelves and asked if they did custom laser cutting. Magically, yes! But of course, the minimum order quantities came to bite me again.

Price is better in terms of shipping, but customization still meant production costs go up, and ultimately would still be well over 1.5k + customs. I started looking into local options and getting quotes from others.

Being a student, I thought my school (and local schools) would have options for laser cutting at a fair price. But my school.. is much more interested in pushing forward incubator programs and all other machines are locked to their respective faculty and staff (surprisingly, engineering doesn’t really have their own laser cutter). I sent copious emails and asked for potential options from friends and their respective schools, but no ado.

I found a place in the states that did it for a fair price, but given the size of my design, it would cost well over 200USD for production of a sample. Some google time later, I also found a place locally (no customs) that was within walking distance (no shipping) that would also give me a good price (around 120CAD) for a sample and a 10% student discount. I stopped by their office to pick up some samples (35$) of laser cutting material options.

I mostly wanted them to see how it would look engraved or laser cut, and also to figure out the dimensions of the thickness of the combining features, with some room (±1mm for error). Frosted had limitations in thickness and only existed in 3mm.

I tried putting in my sketchbooks and zines, and it around this time that I realized the limitations of my design (and finally actually thought about it fitting on my shelf). Seeing it in person made me realize just how big my shelf was and how unfeasible it was to use on my personal shelf. This size would be great for conventions though, which would be nice to try and test out the limitations of this material.


It around this time that I realized the limitations of my design (and finally actually thought about it fitting on my shelf). Seeing it in person made me realize just how big my shelf was and how unfeasible it was to use on my personal shelf. This size would be great for conventions though, which would be nice to try and test out the limitations of this material.

The big size also meant there was a higher chance of cracking the relatively thin material.. I dropped this from my standing desk and already caused the corner to crack.

Although I didn’t have bands yet, I could tell that this thin material was also more flexible and couldn’t really hold the “feet” that I liked very much, raised from the table. It created an area that would be susceptible to stress and cause a weak point for the stand.

Ordering + Design Edits

Around this time, I had invested too much into this project, in time, effort and in money. So I was really determined to make the exact shelf I wanted. I realized around this time… places that make custom charms should also be able to laser cut. And they would definitely have stock of THICK clear acrylic.

I sent a quick message for a quote and whether they could do such a project for me, and I was told the limitations of their machines.

I already knew the big size wasn’t feasible from a shipping point of view and from personal use, so I figured it was about time to make some edits to my main file. At this point, I had a prototype so I knew some of the limitations in the size differences and I made sure to ask for their acrylic thickness to make adjustments to my design. I decided to take out one of the sides to save on costs and downscale all the pieces to fit into the parameters.

They agreed to do a test run for me to see if their machines could do the same degree of details in laser cutting.

The thicker material was more finicky because it meant there was a deeper depth for the cut to be made and the heavier portions made some of the thinner cuts fall off. I think it was also a limitation in their machine, possibly not as high precision or just needed to incorporate a larger margin of error.

I paid for a design change before they made the final product so that the smaller details wouldn’t be lost (the eyes, the glasses, the ear line, etc).

Upon paying for the order, I realized that our idea of price meant something very different.. what they had meant for each piece in the set (5 cut-out pieces) while I thought per piece indicated the entire shelf (one duplicate of my template). Suddenly the whole order didn’t seem as feasible as it once did in the quote.

The product price at this moment would be 11.50USD/pcs x 5pcs = 57.5$ and that is without the price of shipping (which would be a couple hundred) and potential customs.. it wouldn’t top the price of just ordering locally.

Luckily, after a bit of back and forth, we managed to settle and negotiate a reasonable price. The estimation also included the potential cost of shipping so I just paid it all in one go since it would reduce the amount of transaction fees involved. It took around 2 weeks before they got back to me with my product ready for shipping, but I was told that the price originally quoted for shipping was not enough and I would have to pay twice the amount. 

23 kg is really heavy. Around 51 lbs according to google. I was so confused since I originally only ordered 5 sets (for my own personal usage) and I couldn’t figure out why such a small package could be so heavy.

I found out when it got delivered to my door a week and a half later.

It wasn’t 5 sets.. it was 5x that many haha. My theory is that they didn’t want to take any chances with shipping. This is a size that they were not accustomed to shipping (the size of a charm usually does not exceed 10cm), and having pieces that were more than 2.5x that size were definitely susceptible to cracking. On top of that, I think it would just cost more to replace the pieces if they did crack, along with the shipping costs incurred. I’m actually so very grateful.

I spent five hours compiling just unpackaging and repackaging them but prior to that I was super giddy to see the thicker clear acrylic results compared to the original prototype. 

They were so clear I had such a struggle trying to take a photo.

I was actually pretty thrilled that the supplier had sent me many extras of the shelves instead of the initial 5 because it meant I could possibly make back some of the cost I’ve spent (especially on the o-ring bands which I’ll discuss in the next section).

Sourcing O-Ring Bands

I spent.. almost just as long getting quotes as trying to find these bands. I spent hours trying to find the right term to type into the search bar to get the size and likeliness I needed.

My minimum requirements was that it had to be clear, and it had to stretch to a minimum of 5 cm (past my shelf requirements but it meant it wouldn’t be susceptible to snapping upon usage). But my god, it took SO LONG.

Typing in “elastic bands” will get you the typical rubber bands.

“Rubber bands” will get you hair ties.

“Thick rubber bands”, “latex bands”, “clear gasket”, “o-ring bands”, “__ mm bands”, etc etc..

Boy did I learn that there was so many uses and sizes for elastic/rubber bands that were shaped in an o-ring.

Finally, I got super frustrated and took the circle that I had from my test-tube rack to my dad and asked him what material he thought it was, from his many years of experience.

SILICONE.

I took the chance and ordered a bunch online but.. I was so bad at this sourcing based on size and material thing LOL. I ended up ordering four times before I gave up and just asked my dad (he was overseas at this point) to help me source.. he also had to go through a couple iterations and a lot of back and forth through video calling, and asked a lot of favours on my behalf before I finally got the right size for my shelves.

It’s almost laughable how wrong I was. And how much money and time I spent waiting for them all for them to be completely wrong LOL. Top 4 are the ones I ordered the the bottom is the actual sized used and sold with my kits.

The thick one was close but it definitely could not last the test of time with not enough elasticity since the band was so thick. I snapped so many of them when trying to build my sets originally.

I have no idea what I’m going to do with these, but I guess now I have excess material for a future project. or just use them to damp some of the mech keys (I haven’t actually tested if they fit yet).

My dad came through and when he flew back to Canada, he had ordered a surplus of bands for me (it was so much cheaper asking him to do that instead of ordering online T__T;;) and it was much relief to get them.

Getting the RIGHT bands (finally) was especially satisfying because I could finally build and use both my prototype and final product together.

Packing + Shipping Shelves

Usual to other merch, I took a lot of photos and shared them on the social medias shebang and put it up on my store (tho I admit a lot of it was a lot more of HEY HEY PLEASE LOOK AT THIS COOL THING I DID!!!!!!, rather than “hey I made a thing please check it out on my store”). I spent a good weekend thinking of how to pack them to ensure the most minimal amount of cracking and damage in the post.. thick acrylic or not, it was still susceptible.

A local friend (and also a patron haha thank you Rae!!) had told me that the shelves she got from me from me handing them to her, and made it clear that the nib pieces were a place of potential damage.

She also told me that the pieces weren’t that hard to put together from just seeing the pieces and referring to my guide that I posted (she was a bit of a guinea pig for me, thank you thank you). With that in mind, I spent the next couple days packing up the shelves.

For the smaller pieces, I wrapped them in a bag tightly before securing them in a layer of bubble wrap. For the backing, I put it flush with the smaller pieces and put them in yet another layer of bubble wrap. In hindsight, I should’ve considered the back piece and the cuts because that was another area susceptible to cracking.

For the outer packaging, I decided to use two bubble bubble wrapped envelopes that would be put on top of one another (creating a double layer in the center). I hoped that the in total 4 layers of bubble wrap + small layer of cardboard would be enough once I got the chance to ship them off and they were sent to those who made an order.

Feedback + Follow-Up

Before I made my first post regarding the development of the shelves, I had some other considerations I was thinking about for the design of the original shelf.

I left it mostly open ended since I realize that zines can come wider than the 6 inch zines that I find are most common (from folding a slightly larger than letter-sized page in half).

I think the shelf would also look super good in wood, but I didn’t want to have the potential of splinters (sanding), and staining the wood (since most products upon asking the laser cutter, tends to be a lot cheaper material) on my first run. I may consider trying in the near future, however I may think of using the material for something else since this project has been already too costly with my time haha.

I was so excited once the shelves started arriving and the first photos of people receiving their shelves started to pop up on my twitter feed. I was so grateful to hear back and to see photos of my shelves in everyone’s workspaces (thank you!!)– I retweeted most of them on my twitter feed.

But of course, with all positive experiences, there is always the flip side. Unfortunately there were a couple orders that had needed a lot of follow up (thank you for the generosity of the individuals who allowed me to use their emails and photos for the purposes of documenting my trials and tribulations).

For the first individual who messaged me, I hadn’t thought about potential options, but following up with that first interaction, I ended up offering to those who did message me:


Ultimately, most ended up choosing to pay for the extra shipping cost and getting a new replacement.. but it was definitely a learning experience in seeing what kind of packaging and methods of shipping I could use.

I ended up with several sets that are now without backings and I am thinking of getting some locally cut (option 2 above) and offering the remaining ones at a discounted price because they would end up with a small gap (0.8 mm) in their final build.

Just curious- would you (supposing you decided to support my shelves) be okay with this change, if accompanied with a discount? I haven’t decided if this would be the case, or I would just give the pieces from my own shelves and use the ones with thinner thickness.

Thank you

Thank you to the friends who sat through my many many explanations and questions while developing this project; thank you to the people who supported my shelves, to those who supported the designs and customizations I made to the pieces (which is one of the differing elements from those that exist), and also to those who spent the time to read my posts, pledge on patreon, and share my posts as well.

I can only say how grateful I am for the support (even if it is because you as well did not know about the options that existed out there previously haha).

Thanks for reading!

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