A while back I was able to score myself an authentic Ditto brand copy machine from the Junk Store. Technically, a Ditto isn't a Mimeograph. Ditto is a brand of spirit duplicator copy machines. All I knew is that they are non-electrical machines that somehow made the awesome blue tinted copies I used to get in grade school before toner photocopies became the norm.

The copier came with some methanol "duplicating fluid" to make copies, and with a little research I figured out that basically the methanol transfers the image from a carbon-paper like master to the paper. But would any carbon-paper do? I had no idea until about two weeks ago when a box of Ditto brand masters came into the Junk Store!

It looks like it is carbon-paper that then transfers the carbon-ink image onto a waxy paper, and then that is what gets soaked in methanol and transfers that image onto paper. I'm actually pretty surprised there isn't more info about these things online. And every teacher I mention it to just suggests I used a Xerox machine. 
After an afternoon a tinkering around I finally got the paper running through the machine decently and even got it to pump some of the fluid. Remember, all the mechanics are driven by the single hand crank. I did a little drawing on a master and wrote some text along the left side (where most of the fluid was flowing) and managed to get it all drummed up.

Well, the results were less than stellar. It seems that I can't really get a smooth and even distribution of the spirits onto the felt so that the paper or master is soaked enough to pick up the ink, or maybe something else. I was able to get some cool accidental images, and even a few cool looking prints.
As a few days have gone by I actually sort of dig the inconsistency of these. I'll give it another go soon and hopefully get a little more image to transfer. I really want to make some sort of small-run print edition with this thing. Other than Raymond Pettibon's Psychedelic Translation of Alan Ginsberg's Howl, I don't know of any artist who has used Dittos or Mimeographs for printmaking. Here are some of the many page I made:

Not exactly what I was hoping for but I'm pretty proud just to have gotten any image at all. The images are a little less faint in person. I have a limited supply of duplicating fluid. Once it is in the machine there is no getting it out for storage, and I bet it evaporates pretty quickly. I'll post the results (if there are any).
And, yes, I'm aware of the toxicity of this stuff. As you can see from the first photo in this blog, I'm working outdoors. Honestly, the prints don't nearly reek of solvents as much as I think they should.

UPDATE: Since taking these photos I have managed to get some pretty good prints from this thing during another session. I used the old manuel typewriter, tried printing from the carbon paper instead of the master (lots of purple), and had better results with old newsprint paper. The best images arrived when I really soaked the paper in fluid. I made a pretty big mess, wasted a lot of paper, screamed curses more than once, came out with a few great images (I'll post them soon) and probably shortened my life span by a year or two. I probably have just enough newsprint and duplicating fluid for one more try.

So check back here soon or stop by the studio and see how it's going.
In the meanwhile, here is one of the only good resources on Dittos I could find on the net:


Pen-Opake vs. all other white inks

Pen-Opake is the best white ink there is. The only problem is that they stopped manufacturing it several years ago and nobody seems to have a stash for sale. Occasionally it is mentioned nostalgicly on some art blog or another, but other than there is little info about it on the net or anywhere.
I've been using up the few crusty bottles I procured from the Junk Store on all those ink-and-white-on-paper-bag drawings I've been doing, so I set out to find a suitable replacement. Some illustrator friends of mine mentioned that FW Acrylic Ink is a very opaque and fluid white, so I procured me some and put it to the test... a test it failed miserably.
So I went through my stash of white inks and gouaches to see who had what it takes.

I tested the FW, Rotring, Talens Ecoline, Pro White, Pen-Opake, and Higgins Super White, all in jars with a brush on a paper bag. I also tried tubes of Talens Plakkaatuerf, Winson & Newton Designers in both Permanent and Zinc White. Some of the thicker ones needed a touch of water to get going.
The Pen-Opake was easily the best and brightest. And this was from a jar that is likely 20 years old. The Talens Ecoline was a decent 2nd place, and I suppose the Pro-White will do in  a pinch. The Rotring and FW are liquid, which I thought would work well in a japanese water-brush, but I thought wrong. The Higgins was, by far, the worst.
All the tubes of gouache looked pretty good. I was hoping to find a suitable replacement for Pen-Opake that is bright and opaque but fluid enough to use in the water-brush. I also ended up learning quite a bit about water-brush technology and the fact that my current white brush only works because it is a cheap imitation without a stopper mechanism to block the overflow of water. Fascinating.
So, yeah, if you come across any Pen-Opake in any condition, let me know and I'll buy it from you. Or if you have any other bright ideas about an opaque white, hit me up.

The water-brush jar.