Introduction: Ikea-style Instructions

How to make your own Ikea-like assembly manual for anything. In my case, I chose a baby; the instructions were for friends of mine who are expecting their first child in June.

Full .pdf of the finished result is here:

Step 1: Gather Necessary Software, Etc.

You will need the following, or equivalent:

--3D modelling software; I used Google Sketchup Pro and 3dsmax
--Adobe Illustrator
--Adobe Photoshop
--Adobe InDesign
--A handful of Ikea instruction manuals in .pdf, available here: Pick ones with similar layouts to the manual you want to make.
--Fonts; I had good success with Twentieth Century Modern throughout (bold-faced for the title page). Oddly enough, the Ikea Sans font that comes in the online manuals doesn't look quite right to me. I was using an actual manual that came with my bookcase for comparison, and the capital A on the cover, in particular, was hard to match.
--A 3D model of the object you want to assemble. Either construct it yourself or Google "free 3d model _" and fill in the blank. I was only able to find a baby model in Sketchup format, but then I exported it as a .3ds and used 3dsmax.
--A liberal interpretation of copyright/trademark law. Hey, it's satire!

Step 2: Sketch Out Manual

Using some old manuals as a guide, draw out on paper a rough storyboard of what you want your manual to be. Think in particular about what kinds of fasteners to use, what the steps should be, and what kinds of possible "warnings" you could have.

After you have a rough idea, think in particular about what kind of images you'd like to use--which parts of the model from which angles, etc., and make a list of all of these.

Step 3: Cut Up Model and Capture

In your modelling software, create a series of "slice planes" to cut up the model into the various parts you want, and create cameras to view the model from the angles you need for the manual. In my case, this required 16 planes and 2 cameras.

Now, by turning the slice planes on or off, you can isolate the pieces of the model and render images.

If necessary, open the images in Photoshop and adjust contrast and brightness settings until you have something that looks decent. Remember, it's supposed to look like an Ikea line-drawing in the end.

It's possible that by using something like the Illustrate plugin for 3dsmax, you could make a more convincing line-drawing, but I wasn't able to get it to work. Instead, I just turned the contrast all the way up and the brightness down a bit in each image; I was satisfied with the end result.

For help with 3dsmax and other modelling software, check out this website, with lots of helpful tips and video tutorials:

Step 4: Make Layout

In Illustrator, import your images and Ikea instruction manual files. Now, according to your storyboard, copy and paste the various components into place. Pay special attention to the perspective on things like tiny fasteners--you want to be seeing everything from a consistent angle. You may have to hunt around a little to find manuals with the right kind of fasteners you like, but with some combination of rotation and reflection, you can get pretty much everything you need.

Since Illustrator can only export what's in the "art board" as a .pdf, I made one large Illustrator file and several rectangles the same size as the art board. Then, with guides, I could make all the pages look consistent. Once you're done with all of your pages, you can drag the whole thing around until each page is on the art board, then save that as a .pdf.

Optional: customize the "preamble" pages at the beginning. I used one with written instructions translated into 18 languages, and I changed the word "wall" to the word "baby" in each, with the help of a polyglot friend. Also, I remade the cartoon characters to look more like my friends.

Step 5: Finalize Layout and Print

Open each page .pdf in InDesign and format them as a booklet. When you print, make sure to print front-and-back 11x17, four pages per sheet, and flip on the short edge. You'll need to adjust these settings for your printer, probably with some trial and error until you get it right. InDesign is actually pretty user-friendly about laying out the pages, though--you don't need to worry about which sheet has which pages on it. Just make sure they're not upside down in the finished product. Because that would look weird.

Fold the pages, staple, and enjoy!