A collection of mimeograph machines and supplies is available in Inglewood, California. They’re no longer being used and are just in storage for the time being.
In addition to the AB Dick Model 434 pictured above, there are other machines including Speed-O-Print, Gestener, other AB Dick, etc. They’re free for anyone who can use them. Please send me an email at [Wendy] [at symbol] [name of this website] if you’re interested. Or reply here.
Single drum rotary and hand-printing mimeographs use ink pads to either convey the ink from a reservoir or hold applied ink in place (acting as a de facto reservoir), so that it feeds through the stencil onto the paper in a controlled manner. They’re of relatively basic construction – and my guess is that it’s for this reason that patent information about ink pads is relatively scarce. I was able to find two A. B. Dick patents, each referencing “improvements” to already existing patterns.
This second patent is interesting because in advancing its improvement it also explains the typical method for printing multiple colors without changing out the ink pad and cleaning out the reservoir. The method entails using a blocking sheet over the primary ink pad to “restrain” ink of the first color so that a second color, spot-applied to a second ink pad can be used temporarily. I’m not sure what the blocking sheet would have been made of (plastic or rubber or ??), but it’s an interesting technique that might be of use.
While every duplicator brand had its own ink pad specifications, I hope that the information I provide here will help you improvise an ink-pad pattern for your own machine even if its dimensions are different from what I post.
From what I’ve seen so far (on my three Heyer machines), flannel is the fabric of choice. I did see a passing reference in a 1937 issue of Popular Mechanics (I couldn’t figure out which exact issue, the search just pulled up a phrase by itself) that mentioned cambric used as an ink pad. Cambric is a densely woven cloth, initially made of linen. I don’t know if it was made of something else by 1937. But, cotton flannel is certainly easy to come by these days – if you have an old flannel shirt you’re willing to sacrifice, you can cut ink pad pieces from it, so I think it’s safe to just stick with that.
I am lucky enough to have unused pads for each of my machines, so before I gunk them up with ink, I’ll be measuring them and noting any construction techniques that seem relevant.
Since I already had flannel on hand and none of my household’s flannel shirts were in bad a enough a state to require upcycling, I am using the new flannel to make extra ink pads for my Heyer 60. In this post, all my photos and measurements relate to this machine’s ink pad.
To remove the ink pad, unscrew the bolt at the center of the handle. The handle serves to lock the inkpad in place with a small amount of tension generated by a metal bracket seated under the handle. Unscrewing the bolt and removing the handle releases this tension.
The bracket hinges on a pin that is inserted into a narrow “envelope” sewn into the ink pad. Release the wire clasp that serves to snug the stencil (not shown) to the pad and you can then lift the ink pad from the mimeograph. Remove the pin and set it aside.
Feed the ink pad through the slot on the opposite end of the mimeograph. The anchoring bar can then be removed from the ink pad.
Congratulations, you have loosened your ink pad.
A new one can be made following the measurements of the original. It consists of a rectangle of flannel that is a finished size of 5×5 inches (but see caveat below AND see the section on “sizing your ink pad” for other important considerations!). The sides are unhemmed but are finished with a backstitch to prevent fraying. The top and bottom are hemmed so as to provide “envelopes” to accommodate the pin and the bar.
The underside of the ink pad is lined with a 4.25×5″ rectangle of 3mm-thick felt.
The two pieces of fabric are joined together at the “envelope” seams (so, in constructing a new ink pad, you can sew the felt on and hem the “envelopes” at the same time.
To make a new ink pad, cut felt and flannel to correct sizes.
The felt piece will not be hemmed or otherwise folded, so it should be cut to its finished size (4.25×5″). See photo “#1,” below.
2. The flannel should be cut larger than the finished size because two ends will be hemmed to create “envelopes” (so, it should be somewhere around 6.5×5 or 7×5 inches before sewing). Here’s the caveat: because my felt is thicker than 3mm, my finished flannel pad will need to be longer than the original (to accommodate the extra thickness of the felt). You may need to keep this in mind for yourself. (And you should still read the “sizing your ink pad section” before you start)
3. Stitch the “long” edges of the flannel piece (do not fold, just do a backstitch as near to the edge as you can) to prevent fraying. See photo “#3”, below. If your fabric is very prone to fraying, you might sew a blanket stitch along the edge, instead or in addition to the backstitch.
If your piece of fabric incorporates the selvage, the woven end of the fabric, there’s no need to backstitch that edge as a selvage will not fray. See photo “#3.1,” below.
4. Fold the short ends over so that the main section measures 5 inches. Pin or baste to hold. Basting is to be preferred because pins introduce folds – when you get to the point where you’re stitching the second side, you’ll want the ink pad partly loaded on the mimeograph to assure correct fit, and basting stitches will allow this more easily than pins. Baste or pin the felt to the side of the ink pad that hosts the folded-over flannel sides. See photos #4 and #4.1.
5. Stitch one side of the felt to the two layers of folded flannel using a backstitch (not a running stitch as in basting). Keep the basting stitches in place on the other side. Install the half-done ink pad to see if it will fit or if the flannel needs to be adjusted.
At this point, I found that the thick felt made reinstalling the ink pad inconvenient. I had to force my small flannel “envelope” into the space and almost couldn’t get the metal anchoring bar into what little fabric peeked through. There are adjustments that I can make to subsequent inkpads to assist reinstallation, but I did get this to work as is.
It became obvious, though, that in spite of keeping my measurements correct, the new ink pad will be ever so slightly too short (this is because the felt is thicker than the original), so I will increase my flannel’s finished length to compensate.
6. Make any adjustments you deem necessary, stitch the last edge, then reassemble your mimeograph.
Sizing your ink pad
This tutorial was based on an original, unused Heyer Lettergraph 60 ink pad. In preparing to use my first stencil, however, I found that the original design’s measurements would not allow ink to fill a standard postcard-sized piece of paper to its edges (in the US, commercially available postcards are 4.25×5.5 inches in size – conveniently, this is one quarter of a standard letter sized piece of paper [8.5×11 inches]). The mimeograph body can accommodate that size, but for some reason the original ink pad is narrower than the mimeograph body.
My first stencil is going to be a template for Lettergraph 60 stencil headers – the card header that allows the stencil to be mounted on the duplicator:
You’ll notice that it’s wider than the 5.5 inches I have available to print on. By making the templates a quarter inch narrower, I’ll be able to print them on postcard stock. Unfortunately, because my ink pad is only 5 inches across, there’s half an inch of my stencil that won’t receive ink:
In order to achieve ink placement across the entirety of a postcard, I’m going to have to make a larger ink pad. I’ll keep the ones I’ve already made to use with color inks when they’ll only appear in the interior of postcard images. My new ink pad will be designed to fit 5.5 inches of the width of the mimeograph (out of a total width of 6 inches). Since I’ll be applying ink manually to the ink pad, it won’t matter that the perforated ink-flow-through section is significantly smaller than the ink pad.
Here are photos to show the Heyer’s original ink pad in relation to its metal mimeograph frame. These will help you get a sense of the relationship between the perforated ink flow-through section and the felt layer so that you can experiment and come up with your own ink pad pattern. The felt layer extends from edge to edge (top to bottom) along the face of the mimeograph but is narrower than the metal frame (left to right). The felt and flannel extend about a quarter inch beyond the ink flow-through section in the other direction but do not extend the full 6 inches all the way across.
As I’ve not yet tested this mimeograph, I can only offer my theory that a felt layer will be useful in cases when you don’t want to fill the ink reservoir, because it allows the ink pad to hold more ink than it would if it were just a single layer of flannel. Since I’ll be making my first prints with unthinned Riso ink, I’ll be applying ink directly to my ink pad.
A double layer of flannel can be used if no felt is available or desired.
If your flannel has an obvious “nap” (with one side fulled [fluffed] more than the other), the fluffier side should be up for paste ink. The smooth side should be up for liquid ink.
Imagine for a moment (because this has to be imagined and is in no way connected to real events) that you’re a seventh-grade girl, a bit gangly and with legs up to your armpits, freckle-faced and with flyaway hair, and braces to boot. You’ve stepped out of your habitual fashion comfort zone, which is no fashion at all, and are wearing a jersey-knit red and white mini-skirt/t-shirt combo and white tights (why? because it’s 1983). You’ve ducked into the girls’ room in the middle of lunch period, have finished up, and are about to head back out to wander around a bit aimlessly before the next class because there isn’t exactly a group you hang out with, with whom you feel really comfortable.
You step out of the bathroom, make a sharp right toward the building’s corner, but before you round it, you hear a sudden chortle and look back to find two eighth-grade girls nearly doubled over in laughter.
At this juncture — before you’ve dashed around the corner and out of sight so you can, unseen by mocking schoolmates, run a hand down the back of your outfit to find that you’ve tucked your mini-skirt into your tights — you realize you could’ve really used a friend. That friend would’ve caught your fatal error before you’d made it public and most definitely would not have let news of that error leave private space; just as importantly, she wouldn’t have thought badly of you for not being aware of the mysteries of clothes-that-aren’t-pants.
In short, that friend would’ve had your back.
Rich Dana is that friend to Mimeograph Revival. In fact, he’s that friend to all of us who want to learn old-school-style duplicating methods, play with print and copies and colors, and walk boldly into the world with what’s intended to show, showing, but with even our mistakes (perhaps even of the fashion sort) embraced with flair and energy and courage because they reveal something about our thumping-in-our-throats hearts.
Just a few minutes of browsing around is all it takes the astute Mimeograph Revival-reader to notice the site’s exposed … underbelly (shall we say). As of yet, I simply don’t have the practical experience with mimeographs to offer the full suite of helpful resources that you — as experimenters and tinkerers and down-home/low-tech publishing aficionados and hope-to-be’s — might need.
Yet, when I leaped out the door of my inner world onto the internet with a crazy idea and the gumption to just make it happen, the mimeo-enthusiasts like Rich, along with Sam Keller, Erwin Blok, and many others, met me with a warm welcome and hastened me around the corner where I could sort myself out and not be embarrassed by my own presence.
Cheap Copies!: The Obsolete! Press Guide to DIY Hectography, Mimoegraphy, and Spirit Duplication, self-published in late 2021 by Rich Dana, who has some nifty publishing credits and projects to his name, is a crowd-funded book that, to be honest, is exactly what I’d hoped Mimeograph Revival could grow up to be. I am nothing short of astounded that I lucked out enough to jump into this topic at exactly the moment Rich was about to put this book out, because he’s here to reassure, guide, applaud, and then kick the training wheels off my – and your – wobbly but gonna-be-great first ride toward a vast horizon of possibilities.
Cheap Copies! is THE perfect complement to (if it doesn’t succeed it altogether) the digital philosophizing and electronic archiving that goes on here. It’s a Big Top Tent of printing fun, with a DIY, how-to, and join-the-fun ethos that’s a fine representative of the zine-making and -sharing community at large.
There’s a very particular feeling generated when holding someone’s printed treasure in your hands, something that’s been drawn and written, laid out with care – or even with slapdash devil-may-care haste because the word needs to be gotten out pronto – then copied and stapled or otherwise bound together. It’s the feeling presaging surprises to come, a zine-tingle, if you will. This book delivers it in spades with its marriage of aesthetics and substance: bold line drawings, color reprints of hectograph illustrations, humor, and mix of historical documents (including well-researched biography highlights of duplication’s luminaries), helpful resources, reading list, and do-it-now! tutorials.
If you want to know how to make hectograph gel pads and inks, duplicating fluid for spirit duplicators, DIY mimeograph machines and stencils, as well as what to look for in used machines and basic troubleshooting, this book will get you set to go.
Multiple versions of Cheap Copies! were available for those who donated to the book’s Kickstarter campaign. A completely tech-correct version, made available to those who donated more, included interior pages that were mimeograph- and hectograph-printed, a digitally-printed color section, and a hand-printed cover. The option for mid-scale donations was a digitally-printed version of the same text, also in color, and with the hand-printed cover.
About the production process and the resulting product, Rich’s advice to dive in, embrace your mistakes, and say what you need to say sums it up perfectly:
The project hasn’t been without setbacks, of course. Some design ideas, after being printed, just didn’t work and needed to be re-worked. Geriatric machines have needed some time-consuming TLC. Conversely, there have been serendipitous moments as well, where experiments have yielded unexpected but beautiful results. In short, thanks to your support, I’ve had the ability to go deeper into these processes than ever before, and the result is, I believe, a book that functions well on several levels… a how-to manual, a history book, a fanzine. It’s my epic love poem to the analog underground.
Well, to be more accurate, I hadn’t thought as deeply of “the times” as I ought to have whenever I’d come across my dad’s broken stopwatch. I just carted it around, move through move, in a collection of memorabilia – the physical manifestations and prompters of memory that make their way with me physically and temporally.
I remember when the stopwatch worked – probably up through at least the 1980s or early 90s. I don’t recall when it stopped. The plastic has been cracked for a long time. I kept it because it had been my dads and it reminded me of his years as a pilot, and I remembered playing with it when I was a kid, timing how long I could hold my breath and how long it took me to skate around my elementary school on weekends.
One day, early this year, I came across it again and several things fell into my mind at once: one of the last remaining businesses in our dead mall is a watch-repair shop staffed by an older Vietnamese man. His business partner holds down the cash register-counter across from him, the two separated by a low bin of imported plastic “straw” hats, cheap white teddy bears, and plastic and chrome toy cars. The watch repairman gathers customers from those who need their watch batteries replaced, but he also fixes analog watches and clocks.
It occurred to me that he’s not getting any younger, the mall is not guaranteed to remain open to continue to host him, and who in the world younger than these men in their 60s is having anything to do with watch repair?
I hurried over with my small family treasure and he said he’d get it back to me in about six weeks. I felt relieved. I’d gotten there in time! On the downslope of our civilization and in spite of societal turbulence, something would be repaired and restored to be made available for the future – when there’d be no guarantee of finding someone with the requisite skills, knowledge, or network of learning, tools, or parts.
He didn’t call me, as I thought he would, so about eight weeks after dropping it off, I swung by and made my way through the cavernous, partially-lit, and echo-y mall. I handed him my claim check, explained what I was there for, and he said, “Ah,” and turned to the drawer where he extracted the small envelope containing my watch. He slid it out of the envelope and I saw that the plastic was still cracked. He said, “I could not find anyone who manufactures the mainspring anymore, I’m sorry.”
I may yet find a way to repair this stopwatch, but it’s absolutely not a guarantee. I have family in Germany, and Germans seem to be among those who repair small machines or practice old, skill-requiring crafts. Perhaps, if travel ends up in our cards, I could take it there. Or maybe I could look around in one of the big cities not far from where I am. That’s likely to be an expensive endeavor, but I might decide it’s worth it.
I don’t have any better reason for that than the one I give here – maybe it will be of use to someone some day. I think that’s as good a reason as any to do things, to think about the benefits we might convey to those who are to come, rather than thinking of all the ways we can amass more, now.
So, this vintage-stopwatch predicament probably sounds as familiar to you as it does to me: an older technology, a few people who know how to use/repair/maintain it, a few (hopefully) spare parts somewhere… and some sort of disruption/disjunction/discontinuity in connecting those things because we’ve moved a bit too far “into the future” and that future has cut off certain necessary tendrils of possibility, the connective “tissue” so to speak. And so we witness things falling apart and cannot wish them back together.
A while back, I posted about a fax machine I’d gotten to serve as a thermal-stencil printer. New, in-box, and never used, it seems to have suffered from a slow battery drain over the years (and there is some corrosion is visible outside that compartment) and that’s affected its memory. It seems to not remember its functions – the buttons beep and do little else. Now and again I can get a varied response from it if I try some secret-code combination of opening the paper compartment and pushing either the “stop” or “copy” buttons. Once I got a reduced copy of an original, but repeating the pattern afterward didn’t get a response.
I’ve called a few fax-repair shops and none of them have even heard of this model and they’re not sure what I should do. One did suggest a battery replacement, though it’s a bit complex and requires soldering parts in – and wouldn’t be a guaranteed fix.
There are a series of parallels here, just under the surface, that have to do with a degraded power source and the resource issues that direct our collective energy and our energy use, with the machine’s lost memory and the loss of collective memory around particular technologies and their repair, and with the soldered and corroded connections and the broken connections between last-of-their-kind repairmen and the parts they once could get.
I struck out with another fax machine. It would probably work as a sending-fax, but its thermal printer is only spotty (and that, only after it spent 24 hours with “wait a moment” on the LCD screen). Luckily I’m still within the return/refund window for this one, unlike the first one. I’m still waffling over the cheap tattoo stencil printers. The reviews online are mixed: “plugged it in and smoke poured out,” “it worked for about three stencils,” “great purchase.”
Until I decide something, I can’t move forward with any of my hoped-for projects. I’ll keep looking and evaluating, but in some ways, the clock is ticking.
This popped up in the mimeograph facebook-world a few weeks ago and Chris, the person making the offer, requested I post it here. If you’re in Southern California and looking for a free mimeograph machine, read on!
FREE TO A GOOD HOME in Southern California: A new old stock AB Dick 565f electric mimeograph that was made (probably) in the 80s, and was military surplus. The machine is assembled and working with caveats: 1) the rear panel (backof the machine) is cracked and falling off (the plastic became brittle with age and broke in the packing box.) Doesn’t affect function of the machine and you can jerry-rig something to keep the panel in place. 2) the connection mechanism from the drum to the rotating mechanism was also bent in shipping. I have bent it into position as best I can with pliers — it mostly stays put — but occasionally the drum will dislodge while running copies. If you are smarter and more mechanical than I am, I am sure you can figure out how to fine-tune it. 3) this particular model is a variant that only uses fluid ink — not paste ink. There is paste ink inside the drum because I didn’t know it was a fluid ink unit until I had already squeezed a tube of paste ink inside. So it will probably need to be hosed out and cleaned — and I have no idea how to do that. But when I ink up the ink pad manually, it makes great copies. Also — it is RIDICULOUSLY heavy. There is no shipping this thing — it barely survived the shipping to me in the first place. I hate to get rid of it but it takes up too much space. So if anyone in SoCal wants to drive to L.A. and pick it up, you can have it. Otherwise, sadly, it’s going to end up in the trash…
If this is something you’re interested in, please leave a comment below and I’ll pass your email address on to Chris.
This week we will hold our 3rd online meeting – I hope you will join us!
If you have a technical (or other) question, information to share or a project to showcase, please let us know asap. The agenda for this meeting will be flexible and focused on asking questions and working together to find answers.
A couple of items on the agenda so far:
A video report from Chisinau, Moldova — interview by Kalmia Strong with KOLXOZ, a Tiraspol-Prague samizdat (self-publishing) collective that uses thermal printing and other outdated technologies and creates autonomous self-production and community/social spaces.
Technical troubleshooting Q & A: Send questions or post them in the chat for Erwin and others to help.
Do you have questions? Feel free to email us!
See you on Thursday…
Rich & JS
This live, online forum will serve as part of the ongoing effort to raise awareness of the mimeograph and other pre-digital duplicators and their use in creating zines, prints, posters, chapbooks and other types of art. The name, “Duplicators Guild,” is a playful nod to the confraternal printer’s trade organizations of old, but is not meant to imply any official membership – only a willingness to engage in friendly conversation over our shared interests. We assert that while our cottage industry may be hyper-local, our networked community is increasingly global.
Rich Dana, Publisher, OBSOLETE! Press, Adjunct Instructor, University of Iowa Center for the Book firstname.lastname@example.org
JS Makkos, Founder, Intelligent Archives, Doctoral Candidate, Louisiana State University School of Art & Design email@example.com