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Supplies for the Home Setup – Part 1

Little by little I’m getting things set up to function, though there’s still much to be done before I get to that point. Although I didn’t get all the way through the boxes of books, I made room in the garage for a work table. Now I just need a chair and I’ll go sit in there instead of at the computer! That will lead to more getting done in projects department.

In addition to getting my machines to functional status, I’m obtaining the supplies needed to start print jobs.

The main things needed for stencil duplicating are (at the most basic) stencils, ink, a method of paper registration (alignment) and ink delivery, and paper. In my case, which is a few steps beyond the most basic mimeography, my method to assure paper registration and ink delivery includes actual mimeograph machines (truly traditional is similar to screenprinting, with a framed screen/print-making apparatus – see the image below, or Tomoko Kanzaki’s work).

“Edison’s Mimeograph”

Traditional mimeograph stencils are not currently available to any large degree, so I’m following the “stopgap” method. I call it a stopgap because it’s an option that I suspect is only available to us now* because we have easy access to electricity on demand, digital capabilities, and manufactured products from overseas. This method of duplication requires these supplies: a thermal-stencil printer, thermal-stencil paper, Risograph ink (or equivalent), and copy paper.

One tool being used among mimeograph enthusiasts is the tattoo-stencil printer.

They all seem to look like this, no matter the brand.

These things seem to be quite common (there are many on ebay right now).

The high-end option is to use a Risograph machine for its master-making capacity only. Risographs are expensive. and it’s likely that if you already have a Riso, you’re probably not going the old-school mimeograph route (unless your Riso’s print function is broken).

There are a mind-boggling number of Riso models. This is one of them.

The route I’ve decided to take is to use a quality fax machine (one that prints on thermal paper rather than regular copy paper), using Riso thermal paper (aka master). My reasoning is twofold, one aspect of which is founded on hearsay, but on relatively good authority (experienced mimeo folk in the mimeograph facebook groups): Riso masters make higher resolution stencils than tattoo-stencil paper. The other reason I’m trying the fax-machine route, though, is because I was able to find a machine that can work with three paper sizes (A4, which is 8.27″ wide; US letter and legal size, which is 8.5″ wide; and B4, which is 10.5″ wide) and that was still-in-the-box new (it’s been waiting for its chance to shine since ~1988) for the same price as the tattoo-stencil printers (though without the benefit of free shipping from China -eyeroll-).

Pitney Bowes 8050 fax machine. An absolute tank. Should last awhile.

Riso master rolls only come in A4 and B4 sizes. A4 is the standard paper size in most of the world and at 8.27 inches wide, it’s narrower than US paper. Given the need for margins on most documents, A4 will likely be wide enough for most of my print jobs. B4 paper (on which to print) is nowhere to be found here, so I’m unlikely to need B4 stencils in general, but if I were to ever get a Gestetner duplicator, that’s the size of stencil I’d want to use. I figured it would be a good idea to plan for the possibility of someday working with a Gestetner, thus my decision took this into account. Alternatively, since B4 is 10.5 inches wide, I might actually use less of the Riso master if I use a B4 roll and print my stencils sideways (trimming off the top and bottom margins of my original as necessary), particularly for my not-quite-letter-size projects. That’ll require some experimentation as there needs to be a little bit of extra length to attach the header.

It really doesn’t matter which way I print my stencils on the thermal paper relative to the way the roll unwinds – I’ll be cutting them from the roll and attaching each stencil to a header that fits my mimeograph. This header, made of heavier paper or light cardstock, will have the holes required to secure the stencil to the machine, and will give me a place to record what the stencil is.

This is the “Kelsom stencil” made and sold by Sam Keller.

The photo above shows a blank stencil ready for printing in a thermal printer. This one is a “Kelsom stencil.” As I don’t have a Riso master to compare it to yet, I can’t report on that; however here’s what Kelsom-stencil paper looks like.

Dull side.

It’s a very thin, nearly transparent, sheet of nonwoven fibers bearing a resemblance to a very light washi paper. The reverse side is coated with plastic and appears glossy.

Shiny side.

When I get the Riso master roll, I’ll compare the two stencil types in a separate post, and in part two of this series, I’ll be talking about either paper or ink.


*By “available to us now” I mean during the next 20-50 years. I may be idealistic here, though some will accuse me of being pessimistic.

6 replies on “Supplies for the Home Setup – Part 1”

Thanks for sharing a close-up photos of the thermal stencils – this gives ma a better idea what to look for. I might need to pick up a roll for experiments.

While I also plan on trying a fax machine to make masters (although I am trying to get one on the cheap), I am wondering if you could use a stylus on those thermal stencil papers in a way like you would with a traditional stencil. If the plastic is thin/soft enough, it could work?

Hi Fred. I haven’t posted a link to it yet, but you CAN get old-school-style stencils from Tomoko Kanzaki in Japan. I don’t know how the currency exchange works out and if it’s a viable option for the long run, but she does offer them. They may be the Daito stencils mentioned in the Duplicators Guild’s first video by the unnamed participant. There’s some talk about contacting Daito directly to see about an order to the US, but that’s not happened yet. Anyway, being able to get your hands on a real stencil might be really helpful. If you haven’t looked at her site yet, there’s another type that is still made, though facing decline as the family member ages out of the production business. I’ve just gotten to that point in her book so can’t tell you more than that. Maybe we need to find someone who’s in a position to travel to Japan for an apprenticeship!

As for the thermal-stencil paper, it cannot be inscribed – the plastic “coating” (in quotes because while it does appear to coat one side, it might very well be embedded in the whole shebang) is impervious and not malleable at all. I think the thermal process is key. Regardless, I’d be happy to mail one to you, if you’d like, just to check it out. And if you want to wait a few days, I’ve got a Riso master roll on its way here and I can send you a sample of that, too. You can reply here with your address – I won’t put the comment through – or email me, using the website’s url as the provider, shortened here to avoid bots and such: wendy@mimeographre….com

Oh, I missed your reply. I know of Tomoko Kanzaki selling stencil paper, but shipping from Japan isn’t something that is really sustainable. Might get some eventually to know exactly what I am looking for when searching for alternatives, but I would love to find something more local (US).

Thank you for your offer of sending me some thermal stencils. I won’t need one if they can’t be inscribed on with a stylus so they won’t really help much in my research right now (I say research, but haven’t done any in over a month ;). I will get some device to use those down the road, but right now it would be waste. Nevertheless I really appreciate your offer 🙂

Will keep searching.

Ok, just thought I’d offer. It’s interesting to note that early mimeograph supplies relied very much on international trade as well. I haven’t come across any domestic alternative to the washi paper until whenever they switched to synthetic materials (and I suppose that’s not necessarily domestic, given oil’s travels). You might consider contacting people who hand make paper to see if there are any known domestically-available fibers that mimic what washi does. Oh, that reminds me! One thing I came across is that the paperbark mulberry (dif. from the fruit bearing and street-tree varieties) is considered an invasive or noxious weed outside of its home regions – in part because it’s a severe allergen. Anyway, apparently it’s “escaped” into the eastern part of the US (being in CA, I cannot confirm this in person) – perhaps if we can find a papermaker from a region where it’s to be found, we could work out something with a homegrown washi paper… Just a thought. It seems there’s something critical about that loosely meshed fiber.

Also, I’ve not yet figured out a way to allow for subscriptions to comments, but if you’re interested, you can subscribe to new posts.

I subscribed to the posts the moment I’ve seen the option!

I am in eastern US, I will reach out to my local university and see if they can put me in contact with some local papermakers (I recall that at least did paper making as part of book arts class). Hopefully someone experimented with making mullberry paper.

It seems my *dream* of finding and cheap/local option for mimeo printing might not really be feasible, but I am not giving up just yet 😉

Yay, glad you subscribed!

Also, if you haven’t seen Tomoko’s book yet, you might check her website (see the Resources section) to see if she’s posted anything about “Showa Shikou Co.” that’s located in Minu City, Gifu Prefecture. There still remains one last manufacturer of traditional Japanese stencil sheets with one manual waxing machine. These sheets are the kind used in Japanese mimeography – the “file plate process” in which the stencil is made by writing with a stylus but on top of a metal file plate that then inscribes grooves in the wax. I’d love to see something like that available here… but I don’t suppose “cheap option” includes airfare and lodging in Japan while undertaking an apprenticeship… 😀

The company still might be able to provide some information about, say, their wax composition… though language is possibly a barrier. Know any Japanese speakers? If you want, I can ask Tomoko if she can find out more.

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