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:


Kenny Chan said...

Cool, Im really glad someone is trying trying to make use of a spirit duplicator still. I've loved working with these machines since helping my teachers 'run off' exams on them. Many online articles mention how poor the quality of the copies could be. MANY people who used them didn't know how. Usually the more expensive versions had pressure controls- the bottom rubber wheel would press tighter against the drum (large cylinder) and the right manipulation/amount of 'ink' on the wick would wet the paper enough to get great copies. My teacher didn't even care she'd given me the test master to copy for my own class, because I made really clear prints. Anyway, that was a bit nostalgic. Have fun! lol

Kenny Chan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Russell said...

Kenny, someone just gave me what looks like a mint condition spirit duplicator, but I'm not sure what is meant by 'wick' or what it should look like. Any advice or info would be appreciated. I would like to try to run a set of copies for school; I'm a teacher and would be interesting to see what the kids said. Thanks.

vanessa said...

I, too, just purchased a Ditto machine ($50) and have been cleaning it, as well as doing research on finding a manual for it. It is a Model 9D15 (9 x 14), SN: 19928 - Any help would be greatly appreciated. I will be creating new art prints from it.

vanessa said...

I, too, just purchased a Ditto machine ($50) and have been cleaning it, as well as doing research on finding a manual for it. It is a Model 9D15 (9 x 14), SN: 19928 - Any help would be greatly appreciated. I will be creating new art prints from it.

Lara said...

Hi there -

As Kenny said, it's good to see that some of these awesome machines are still around. I'm an art student at CCA, and am doing a small project about "defunct devices" for a web design class. The device that I chose was the ditto machine- that's how I came across your post. We're not allowed to pull images from the web for this project, and I have been looking or someone with a ditto machine that will allow me to take some pictures of it for my assignment. Do you think that might be possible? It would be really great to see one in action.

~ Lara

mtbickle said...

I am desperately trying to find someone who still has and uses a working ditto machine.

I need help with a vanity project I'm working on. Do you still have this thing up and running??

Casey Bowden said...

This will probably be the strangest question anyone has ever asked you but i'm going to give it a shot. My mother was recently recanting fond childhood memories to me about how she used to be the student in charge of using the mimeograph in her classroom. She was telling me how she would always remember the purple in and the "smell". Her birthday is coming up soon and I am desperately trying to find a letter or paper or anything printed on a mimeograph that may have that "smell". Can you point me in the right direction? Any help at all would be greatly appreciated.