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Make your own graph paper

School’s almost here, which means so’s the task of buying school supplies. If you’re a high school or college student—or if you’re buying stuff for someone who is—one of the items on that list is likely graphing paper. You know, the sheets of paper with nice grids for drawing graphs, charts, shapes, and the trajectories of projectiles.

The thing is, this paper can be quite expensive. I went to the local Rite Aid (similar to Walgreens, Longs, and the like, for those who aren’t familiar), and a pad of 20 sheets of graph paper was $4! Sure, you can get it cheaper in bulk at Wal-Mart, but it’s nowhere near as inexpensive as standard notebook or printer paper.

Which is what makes Black Cat System’s $20 Graph Paper Maker 1.0.1 (   ) so useful to those who go through lots of graph paper: It lets you create your own templates which you can then print out as needed—on your own, cheap printer paper.

To do so, you simply launch Graph Paper Maker; choose the paper size, orientation, margins, number of lines per inch or centimeter, line thickness, and line color; and then click Generate. You’ll be asked where to save the new “sheet,” and Graph Paper Maker will create a PDF document with your chosen grid design drawn right on the page. Whenever you need a sheet, simply print it out—you can keep the PDF around for future use, and even distribute it (for example, to other teachers in your school). You can also create logarithmic grids with up to 5 decades.

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Also of note is an unadvertised benefit of Graph Paker Maker: The PDF files it creates can be imported into a graphics application to create professional-looking projects.

Below are a few examples of graph-paper templates created in a few seconds with Graph Paper Maker:

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Although quite useful, Graph Paper Maker has some shortcomings. For example, you can’t create graph paper with darker and lighter lines on the same axis unless you choose a logarithmic scale—for example, some paper has thin lines for the main grid with thicker, darker lines every, say, 10 lines. And because you’re printing your paper out on a home printer, it’s difficult to get your homemade grids to print right up to the paper’s edges. You also can’t label the axes when generating a sheet; you’ll need to do that later by hand (or by editing the PDF in a graphics app).

Finally, there’s the question of whether or not Graph Paper Maker is worth its $20 price tag, which may seem high given the application’s limited scope. The answer depends on how often you’ll need to print sheets and what kind of printer you have. Thanks to the high cost of inket refills, you probably don’t want to be printing lots of graph paper on an inkjet printer. (Laser printers, on the other hand, are ideal: A toner cartridge for my Brother laser printer is approximately $45 and is good for 2,500 pages; that’s 1.8 cents per page. Paper is roughly $3 for 500 sheets, or 0.6 cents per page. So once I’d shelled out $20 for Graph Paper Maker, I’d be paying approximately 2.4 cents per page to print out my own graph paper—around $12 for 500 sheets. That’s a reasonable cost—less that most of the graph paper I’ll find in stores—and I’d also get the benefits of printing new sheets whenever I need them and choosing whatever scale I need for each sheet.)

Those printing out significant volumes of graph paper—for example, a school or a teacher—will also be more likely to consider Graph Paper Maker a genuine bargain. However, if you have only modest needs, the software will be worth its cost mainly if you regularly need graph paper with different scales—or if your favorite student is desperately trying to finish a project and the local Target and Wal-Mart are closed. (Perhaps a tiered price—one for organizations, one for individuals—would be a better approach for Black Cat Systems to take.)

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