Toolchain, or how we make this happen

A few people asked how I put this together, as a one-person production house, and since I received so many recommendations from different people, I wanted to put them all here. I’ll update this as we evolve the toolchain. None of the products below are sponsored or have I been compensated in using them.

Everything below could be summarized as: yes this is all hard, and yes people have figured this out before you came along, and yes, this is why so much has moved to digital distribution. You aren’t a special snowflake, welcome to Matter Battle.

I was pleasantly surprised how much of the tooling was available on-demand, and much of it was interconnected. There are certainly one-stop-shops available and local print shops, but a big driver was allowing me to do this “after hours” so that my day job wouldn’t be affected. So negotiation with print houses during regular business hours didn’t seem to be a good use of my limited time.


A lot of this involves a combination of Apple and Google web products at the beginning, then laying out on InDesign. Typically things have flowed this way:

  1. I start thinking by jotting quick thoughts in Apple Notes, allowing me to dash off quick thoughts wherever I am, which then syncs up via iCloud to my various devices.
  2. I’ll send questions to contributors via email which then get combined into a Google Doc. This is when the article or interview shifts to something which is going to happen for a future issue.
  3. Interviews are conducted on Zoom, which I have a closed caption transcription which I save out at the end of the interview. This gets dumped into the google doc as a raw transcript. I can then copy and past chunks to crate a rough draft, and any revisions.
  4. Any feedback, proofing, fact checking, or review is handled in the google docs. When every one is about 90% happy, then I can throw it into InDesign.


I went back and forth on how to print all this out, from doing it all in-house or buying a RISO printer or having a RISO house print it or just use a print on print-on-demand service to fulfill the design. I needed to be excited about producing something different, and I needed the ability to outsource the production because I don’t have time to run a full-time in-house printshop. I wish I could hire a part/full-time graphic designer and had the room for a full production facilities, but maybe in the future.

I went back and forth with a series of print-on-demand services, but the size and cost for a product which really wasn’t differentiated from me just printing on my printer didn’t really get me excited.

For a hot second I was going to do the whole thing on a RISO printer here in NYC – but I idon’thave room for a printer, the learning curve I was afraid was going to be steep, and the size, cost, etc didn’t really align with what I needed at the time. Though if you are looking at RISO check out Secret Riso Club – they are awesome.

I’ve always wanted an excuse to use Newspaper Club, a UK-based print-on-demand service to print on real newsprint. After receiving their free sample pack, I thought that the format was different enough from what I’ve seen in the zine/pamphlet market that I made the decision to go down this route for the first few issues.

Once the print production was decided, then Newspaper Club had easy to follow templates I could use in In Design.

Oh Adobe InDesign, you expensive, useful, and clunky piece of software. It’s a thing to cause frustration and make life easier. Adobe PageMaker it is not. A big part of the initial time investment was getting bth inspired by other newspaper examples, understanding what content I needed to include, and creating a clear hierarchy. I’m probably 80% there. It could be better.

There were multiple half-sized sets, and then full-sized sets printed in-house.

Once I was happy with the layout I ended up purchasing a single copy proof from Newspaper Club where I added a bunch of extra pages with varying sizes, colors, fonts/types, etc so I could be confident that the full run would look good and be legible.

Once I finalized the content, then creating the PDF and uploading it to Newspaper Club was easy, and they had automatic digital proofing, which was nice to confirm that the investment wasn’t going to go sideways.

Then in about 5 days my stack of 5 boxes showed up at my door. Then I had to get them to actual readers.


There’s really no fun in fulfillment, only a set of interlocking arcane rules, regulations, and existing form factors which were decided in time immemorial. This is where the digital, currency, taxes, and mail all intersect in a Gordian knot. I think I know what I’m doing, but the scale is so small that I think I can afford some mistakes.

Storefront: WooCommerce

I know WordPress and it was easy enough to spin up a new WordPress instance on my existing Site Ground hosted environment. WooCommerce is a plugin by the makers of WordPress which allows you to create a digital storefront inside WordPress. There are lot’s of different settings, and it can be a bit overwhelming. But with this I can calculate taxes, shipping, weight, etc. for a range of products, and create coupons and track sales.

I looked at sites such as Big Cartel and other on-demand storefronts, but I wanted to own the toolchain.

I thought of also using Etsy as a separate sales channel, but the pricing and overhead might not be worth it and I frankly haven’t wanted to spend the time looking deeper into it.Instagram Shop interests me, but it has taken long time to get “approved” and I don’t trust Facebook at all.

Plugins used

  • WooCommerce Payments – Accept payments via credit card. Manage transactions within WordPress (backed by Stripe, I already had a Stripe account)
  • Facebook for WooCommerce – connects WooCommerce product list to sell in Facebook/Instagram
  • WooCommerce Shipping & Tax – automated tax calculation, shipping label printing, and smoother payment setup.
  • MailPoet 3 – helps make email easier for WooCommerce (free below 5000 emails/month)

Packaging: 12×9 Manila envelope

Packaging is complex and there are many different rules the USPS follows. This took a ton of time to understand, and now I know why some zines/pamphlets are the size they are in order to optimize for mailing. Because our issue size is larger than a First Class Envelope, we ship using the Large Envelope (Flat). In the future we might adjust our form factor to optimize for smaller shipping, especially if we want to ship more overseas.

I’d love to upgrade this to something more distinct or unique, but for now I’m trying to keep shipping costs low so I can pass that savings onto readers.

Shipping: PirateShip & WooCommerce

Shipping has been the hardest to figure out. I love the USPS and it is a force for bringing America together. But, it and everything around it is antiquated. Figuring out shipping has taken way more time than I anticipated. I’ve been testing out two different systems, with some different costs:

  • Pirate Ship: has really great integration with WooCommerce, and it’s easy to both setup recurring shipping templates, and I particularly like that I can pre-purchase postage on my account and just draw down from that. There’s connections to USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL which is nice in case I need to send things overseas, but they aren’t necessarily what I need right now. The cheapest option is First Class Package Commercial Pricing, which tends to be about twice expensive as First Class Postage.
  • WooCommerce Shipping: a free extension (really another plugin) to WooCommerce which handles the USPS shipping and prints out First Class Postage.

Label Printing: Rollo x1040

This thermal printer was suggested by multiple members of a builder/maker group I’m part of (hello The Prepared, you should become a member too) and it was the path of least resistance. It’s…fine. I use 4×6 labels and it works ok.

The future

In the future I’d love to explore the following to make the packaging a little nicer:

  • Custom Washi Tape from maybe MoMo Washi
  • Stamps & embossing
  • Alternative envelopes

Pick up a copy!