Let's Make Robots!

Are printed instruction / assembly manuals a waste of money and paper?

It's no secret that I do not like writing instruction manuals. I would rather spend that time building or programming. Unfortunately I need to write them and I need to improve them.

Recently I completed the instruction manual for the new version of DAGU's puppy robot kit. As well as the usual assembly and wiring instructions I put a lot of work into explaining how the code worked and even how to upload the code via the ISP socket and re-burn the bootloader.

The manual ended up being 26x A4 pages. The manual needs to be A5 size to fit in the box but we don't want writing and instructions so small you need a magnifying glass to read it. If we re-wrote it for A5 size then it would double the number of pages to 52 and the cost of the manual affects the cost of the final product.

As I was always going to have it available as a PDF, both on the CD and on my product support site we have decided not to print the manual which will help reduce the cost of the kit.

So here is my delima.. What is better? keeping the instructions as PDF only? This reduces the cost of the kit and saves wasting paper (and trees). Or should we continue to print manuals even though most people have a printer at home and could get the PDF printed if they really prefer a printed version?

So you know what I am talking about, you can download the manual here:

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

When I started this forum I was leaning towards printing just the assembly and wiring instructions. After reading everyones feedback I think this may be the best compromise.

No guarantee that will actually happen as I still think most people have a printer attached to their computer and can easily print the assembly part of the manual themselves.

For those without a printer, there is usually a public library or internet cafe nearby where you can download the manual from my product support site and print the entire manual or a selection of pages.

Oddbot a great manual - the result of lots of work, been there done that.

Full paper manuals are going away though and I don't think people expect full booklets any more.
Looking at yours I see about half is screen shots of the code. This part should be on CD, as it is not essential to getting the device up and running.
The building and assembly should be step by step drawings and I think the parts list should be printed. Unfortunately you have to put in all the warnings about don't use in the bath, feed the batterys to your baby brother and all the other things we used to think was common sense. So a printed document with the kit is essential.

If you can have a look at the Meccano instructions for their 15 multi models kit #6515. It only contains instructions for 6 models! It is without words -so it is multilingual - and has great coloured drawings showing several operations in each step. To get the instructions for the other models you have to download them.

Now I am not saying this is a good manual - its the way they have approached your problem.
You can perhaps reduce the size of some of the assembly pics though this can cause confusion if part A oes not appear to be the same size in two consecutive drawings. Line drawings are good coloured photos are great but don't reproduce all that well, use colour in the line drawings.

The basic assembly I think has to be printed. The code analysis and modifications should be assigned to a CD and on line. I say CD because don't assume that everyone has super bandwidth cheaply everywhere they happen to be.

I'm not sure to what level you are aiming the manual, some seems quite basic and some seems fairly advanced. I'm thinking aloud here but what about keeping drawn steps as an overview, so those who know will simply jump right through, and then some animations or videos on the CD for the detailed assembly steps, for those a little less familiar with putting things together. 

In short I guess I'm saying yess to some printed material - but keep it short - and deliver all the good stuff electronically.

In my opinion it is only logical that robotics manuals should be viewed on the computer and not printed. If customers buy your product, they surely have a computer. I think printed manuals belong to either huge instructions (like car manuals because it would be clumsy to read in PDF) or fields where the customer doesn't necessarily have access to the computer (like furniture and toys, for example).

A single sheet of paper in the box should be enough.

What I would like to see is a super well organized web site where it's easy to find the needed manual when I need it. I'm the kind of guy that looses the printed manuals and CDs anyway. I always ending up searching for something googleable on the product and then proceed from there.

Make sure that your product have clear labels that include either an URL or a name/number thing that will make it easy to find back to the documentation.

OddBot put this site together for DAGU product support.



I'm on board with printing a much-shortened quick reference or getting started guide to be included in the packaging. I often refer to the picture of the MicroMagician board to remind me of the pinouts.

I have no issue with getting an electronic version of the full assembly instructions. Yes, this puts the burden and cost of printing on the consumer if they need a printed manual. However, if 80% of the people don't bother to print it, that's a lot of paper that doesn't need to be used.

Consider including a note on the packaging that for ecological reasons, a printed guide is not included. More and more companies are finding that the right thing to do for mother nature is also the right thing to do financially. 

I would agree with others that it would be enough to put a quick start guide with assembly instructions in the box and then a link to the full manual on the Internet (I don't think I would include a CD in the box since online documentation can be updated with new information etc. while the CD will remain frozen in time, and I would rather get a product cheaper if removing the CD would cut the costs even by a small bit).

Well perhaps just a leaflet would do (as the printed material), just depicting the assembly of the chassis very much like the LEGO or IKEA leaflets. An inequivous message that more instructions are present in the CD and even perhaps a direct link to the manual online (I'm a fan of redundancy) should also be printed at the end of said leaflet instructions.

Like Max I do like to spin paper instructions around when assembling things, although I guess I might be able to do it regardless, I guess it is just a matter of convenience.

First, it's pretty clear that you want to drop the paper manual, and frankly if the rules I learned from the greenies I lived with in college still hold, on the ecological balance it's just a little better not to kill the trees (especially if you're going to put a petroleum-product based cd in the package either way.) Also Basile makes a good point-if you don't have a computer to read the cd on you probably shouldn't be buying this product. That noted, it was handy to have the paper instructions for my Micro Magician chassis because it laid flat in the same plane I was working in and I was easily physically able to flip back and forth between the step I was on and the part ID list (or in some cases to food a page over and see both at once) to make sure I had the right size screw. If you get complaints or requests you'll want to rethink the decision, but I've talked myself out of thinking you need the paper version.

No, I do not want to drop the printed manual as I feel it improves the quality of the kit. Unfortunately it's not practical for small boxed kits unless it becomes a thick booklet which will add cost to the kit price as well as shipping cost.

Really if someone wanted a printed version, maybe just of the assembly instructions then most people have an inkjet or laser printer in their home.