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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.