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Older (2002 and previous) discussion[edit]


The way *I* remember it (from when I was about 7 years old) was:

1) The original was handwritten. I do not know what sort of paper it was written on.

2. The mimeograph machine itself was operated using a hand crank. User:Juuitchan

Oh yeah, and the copies came out purple.

You could handwrite it if you wanted to. But in highschool and/or Girl Sprouts, we typed stuff.
I seem to remember one kind came out purple, and another came out in poor-quality black-n-white - was there something else besides mimeographs? -- Marj Tiefert 21:15 Jul 25, 2002 (PDT)

Hmmm... poor quality black and white... did this perhaps work like printing a newspaper?

Children, children, children: You are confusing two different processes, both in this discussion and in the article itself. Here's the story:

Mimeo machine (mimeograph) used (heavy) waxed-paper "stencils" that the typewriter cut thru. The stencil was wrapped around the drum of the (manual or electrical) machine, which forced ink out thru the cut marks on the stencil. The paper had a surface texture (like bond paper), and the ink was black. It did not smell. You could use special knives to cut stencils by hand, but you couldn't really hand-write on them, because any loop would cut a hole, so you'd have a black blob. If/When you put the stencil on the drum wrong-side-out, your copies came out mirror-images.

Ditto machine (spirit-duplicator) used "ditto masters" that were two sheets together that you could type or hand-write on; the second sheet was like carbon paper that inked the markings on the back of the front sheet. The front sheet was then torn off and wrapped around the drum of the (manual or electrical) machine, with the back (inked, reverse) side out. That was the one with the solvent that could knock you out. The usual color was purple, but there were also a few other colors -- "red" was really pink, "green" was dark mint, "blue" was light aqua. The paper was slightly slick or shiny, like cheap copy paper now. You could make multi-colored designs by doing different parts of it with different colored carbon/inking sheets, because the duplicating fluid was not ink but a clear solvent that dissolved just enough ink to print each sheet as it went thru. Ditto masters couldn't make as many copies as a mimeo stencil could.

The same "ditto masters" worked on the spirit gum machines we used before the rotary ones came along. Instead of a drum and a fluid, those were a metal frame (just larger than a piece of paper) with a roll of orangey-yellow gummed material stretched across it. You pressed the inked side of the ditto master against the gum for some number of seconds and then peeled it off; then you pressed, by hand, each piece of paper onto the bed of gum, and it transferred the design. When you finished that one, you cranked the roll of gum material to the next position, like film in a camera.

If you need any more info, just ask, and please correct the article. My suggestion is to make it "Duplicating machines" and cover all of them in one article, where you can compare them, but of course you'll do whatever seems best to you. -- isis 01:04 Oct 28, 2002 (UTC)

Suggestion - since you know so much about it, why don't you write the article yourself! If I do it I'll just get it wrong - these things are WAY before my time. I just remember the purple pages and practically getting high on the smell of the freshly copied sheets in highschool :) Oh, and do you know the name of the process where you used pans of gelatine? I wanted it for the fanzine article but can't remember the name. And where does a roneo machine fit into the picture? KJ

You've got me stumped on those, but the "pans of gelatin" may be a variation on the spirit gum thing I'm talking about, with the gum in separate pans instead of on a continuous roll. You can find some good info (and some pictures) about mimeo and ditto machines thru Google, but I have at least three briefs I have to write in the next month, so I'm really not willing to do any more about this any time soon, but can you take what I wrote (above) and edit it into a stub for now? Please? (And just for the record, would it do any good for me to suggest they were way before my time, too, but I heard a rumor someplace? Guess not, huh?) -- isis 01:24 Oct 28, 2002 (UTC)
okay - I'll make a stub :) Then hopefully someone else more knowledgable will fix it!

The Pan of Gelatine printer was/is called a "Hectograph" (I still have one in my closet) I have never printed with it but have read many accounts of that struggle. It was a primitive form of "spirit-duplication" because the copies had to be lightly dampened with the "Alcohol-Spirits" to pull a good copy of the printing off the gel surface. "Hecto" was so named as you could 'Optimistically' expect up to a hundred copies Max from this technique. The Ditto or Spirit Duplicator used the horizontal wick or sponge to lightly dampen the paper with an alcoholic coat that was the "Spirits" of the name. Then the reversed carbon/carnuba image on the "Master-Sheet" would melt slightly and deposit a thin thin layer of the image onto the paper copy as it was pressed against the rotating drum. Since all the copies would stack on each other in the tray, the alcohol would stay trapped in the papers until they were passed out in the classes. So the copy would feel cold to the touch, & smell like Charles Bukowski's breakfast. (Well, maybe better.) Expect up to 500 copies Max. The mimeograph was very different, as it used a wax- based stencil which you typed on to cut holes in the wax- or even drew & shaded on using very esoteric tools to create the images. When the paper was pressed against the rollers of the printer- (With an inked pad or silkscreen on the other side) the ink would squeeze through the holes- but be stopped by the wax surface of the stencil. Expect over 1000, copies, before the stencil itself starts to tear. Pretty Labor intensive- but surprisingly sophisticated work could be done with it. I may have done the last hand-cut stencil cover illustration in the western usa in the late 90's. (talk) 02:18, 5 May 2009 (UTC)MBD 07:14pm May 04, 2009 (talk) 02:18, 5 May 2009 (UTC)

Vague and disjointed (2003) (has been rewritten since)[edit]

This article is still vague and disjointed. I don't know enough about the history of the technology to expand on it much.

Zack 20:53, 30 Aug 2003 (UTC)

"mimeo" in bibliographic entries? (2006)[edit]

Hi - can anyone add reference to why "mimeo. " is used in bibliographic entries?

Guy 13:38, 19 May 2006 (UTC)

Supposition here; Possibly because the manuscripts were produced by a 'Mimeograph' process or 'Gestetner' Machine, that gave a printed (ink) image on the page, and is referenced as a 'Mimeo' in a citation as a reference to a particular work.

Usueally the Mimeo type of reproduction was used in office machines and was used to create copies that were only in the number of 20-500 impressions, rather than professional Typesetting and pressing in the range of thousands of copies. --Richard416282 07:55, 7 June 2006 (UTC)

Trademark and patent wars[edit]

2006-06-07 Added details about the trademark and patent wars between Edison and Others. One of the Others was Albert Blake Dick, and his trademarking of the term mimeograph for the reproduction of a typed copy page via a stencil cutout pattern, and a duplicating machine that applied ink from the inside out, as opposed to a 'Offset Press' that applies ink from the outside of a group of rollers, then hits a treated metal or paper 'plate' that then in turn has the image have the ink stick to it which gets transferred or 'offsets' onto a correcting rubber roller or cylinder, that then comes into contact with the sheet of paper as the drum rotates. --Richard416282 07:44, 7 June 2006 (UTC)

Various topics[edit]

The process with the tray of gelatin is called hectograph and no one uses it any more because it's so inconvenient. Mimeo and ditto machines do still have their uses (class handouts etc.) and you can get the equipment extremely cheaply.

Is this the same machine called "cyclostyle" in India? These "cyclostyled" copies are still in wide circulation in Indian government offices.With some luck one may even see a working machine also.

hmmm could anyone find some schematics for the mimeograph (i need to build one for class).thnx. :)

I think the thing that I remember from elementary and high school in the 1970s and maybe into the 1980s was the Ditto machine. I think many people mistakenly called it a mimeograph even though the two seem to be different. I definitely remember the light purple color and strong smell. I also seem to remember some handouts that would smudge a lot right after the teacher duplicated it and handed it out. When did people commonly stop using these types of devices? I don't think I remember seeing pages duplicated this way anytime after the 1980s in the United States at least.

I never used these machines, but I remember seeing something that was hand cranked in the mysterious teacher's lounge or some such place. They're associated with bell bottoms and the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland in my mind.

In Brazil, we called these things "alcohol mimeograph" (the Ditto Machine) and "oil mimeograph" (the Mimeograph). The "alcohol mimeograph" was found in almost every school of my time, and I remember how good was/is the smell :)

The "oil mimeograph" was rare. JeffersonRyan 20:33, 16 July 2006 (UTC)

Science fiction fandom?![edit]

What does the mimeograph machine have to do with science fiction fandom, as the first paragraph indicates? If it was used to copy fan fiction for semi-mass distribution, then it's been replaced not by photocopiers but by the Web. NeonMerlin 01:25, 6 August 2006 (UTC)

Yeah, I don't quite get that either. Seems more like anything that had to be self-published on the cheap would've been done by mimeograph; not just fan fiction but music zines, political or religious leaflets, etc. Andrew Levine 10:47, 8 August 2006 (UTC)
As I understand it, it was used to produce fanzines back in the day. You can find a good discussion of it in on George R. R. Martin's podcast on "Fans", number 8. [unsigned]

Science fiction Fans used mimeographic printing extensively from the 1920's on. A young HP Lovecraft printed an early fanzine on astronomy using a flatbed mimeo from what I remember. All the early fans who connected through the letter pages of Amazing Stories in the 30's began printing numerous amateur magazines & sending them to each other. & one of the early subjects of the "Per-zines" (Personal-Journal-Fanzines) was their love-hate relationship with the printing technology they were limited to. Hecto- or Spirit or mimeo. (The expense & technical requirements of Letterpress or early Offset were wayyy beyond most people in the depression.) Art Widner, one of the remaining members of early "First Fandom" of the 30's was still using his mimeo up to 2001. Both Harlan Ellison & Roger Ebert Did their early fan writing for Mimeographed Fanzines in the 50's. I've read pretty good Fan-Fic (SF fan fiction) printed in the late 40's by Marion Zimmer Bradley & many other later Pro writers, in old Mimeographed fanzines- that were never re-printed anywhere else. And of course all the major conventions (This is Wwaaaaayyyy before the San diego Comic book convention) were organized, voted on, reported & critiqued through the Fanzines. There is still a yearly convention held around the USA dedicated to fanzine publishing called "Corflu" -named after the nasty blue "Correction Fluid" that was a sort of glue that you used to fill in mistakes or fix tears in the stencil master. When I attended some people still brought their ol' crankin' machines & messed around with some publishing. But I doubt that happens today :-( Anyway, Just sayin' ... (talk) 02:51, 5 May 2009 (UTC)MBD 7:47pm, May 04 2009 (talk) 02:51, 5 May 2009 (UTC)

To the anonymous contributor at IP (MBD?), I find your comments on the use of mimeographic printing in the science fiction fandom world most interesting. Why don't you work them up with some references and put them in the article proper under Uses and art or create a “Science Fiction Fandom” subsection therein? I took the liberty of adding some wikilinks to your text to get you started. By the way, the Corflu conventions are still being held; there was one in Toronto in 2006. SpikeToronto (talk) 15:59, 5 May 2009 (UTC)


If someone has a scan or can scan one of these in, it would be interesting to have an example of what a page from one looked like! Isoxyl 16:38, 28 November 2006 (UTC)

I will attempt to do that from my collection- I could include one of my drawings done on Hand cut stencil- but I am unsure if that would be considered "Personal research" or something & would be verboten -Could someone vet that Idea? I did some Fannish beer-labels at a convention that I saw Poul Anderson & James P. Hogan peeling off the bottles to keep- thought that was pretty complimentary If I do brag so myself ;-) Anyway, Just sayin' ... (talk) 08:24, 08 May 2009 (UTC) (talk) 03:23, 9 May 2009 (UTC)MBD208.74.107.254 (talk) 03:23, 9 May 2009 (UTC)

Various rewrites[edit]

Tightened a bit and added back in offset printing; availablity of *cheap* offset from paper plates shoved mimeo out as much as photocopying. PCs were not so much a factor. Early dot matrix and daisy wheel printers could be and were used to make mimeograph stencils. Also tried to consolidate the science fiction fan stuff, which was really a very tiny percentage of mimeo use, although they may have elevated it to an art form. Fijagdh 00:47, 22 December 2006 (UTC)

At first I didn't agree with the idea that PCs were not so much a factor, thinking of all the schoolteachers who have printed classroom materials at home on their own printers. However, I guess it is true that usually a teacher will print one copy at home and then run off most of the copies on the school's photocopiers; the cases where teachers use their own resources are the (not infrequent) exceptions rather than the rule. However, many teachers do often use their own resources when (a) they're in a hurry and it's simply an expedient, or (b) when the school's resources are lacking (for example, outnumbered, overworked photocopiers that are out of order). But anyway, I suppose that, on balance, this aspect of the revision is correct. Lumbercutter 14:24, 22 December 2006 (UTC)

Removed section[edit]

I removed the following section. There is no point including a big quotation that confuses this with another type of machine, and then explaining the confusion. Better to just not include it at all. Confusion between the two types of machine can and should be explained in the article, but this quote is not necessary or helpful for that. Perhaps it would be appropriate at Spirit duplicator.--Srleffler (talk) 20:42, 12 April 2008 (UTC)

The smell[edit]

Bill Bryson in his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, writes "Of all the tragic losses since the 1960s, mimeograph paper may be the greatest. With its rapturously fragrant, sweetly aromatic pale blue ink, mimeograph paper was literally intoxicating. Two deep drafts of a freshly run-off mimeograph worksheet and I would be the education system’s willing slave for up to seven hours."[1]

It is likely, however, that the author is confusing the product of the Mimeograph process with that of the spirit duplicator (also called the Ditto machine after the most prominent manufacturer of the device in the United States) which, when fresh, gives off the fragrant odor of the alcohol mixture used to transfer pigment from the master to the copies. In Britain, this device was usually called ae "Hectograph". Unlike the fresh dittos, Mimeograph copies are not known for a particular odor.

The picture that accompanies this article: is of pages printed with a spirit copier, not with a Mimeograph. Densely (talk) 04:21, 9 August 2011 (UTC)

Proposed move[edit]

stencil duplicator is the more general term. Mimeograph may well be generic in America but not in Britain.Dejvid (talk) 12:50, 6 September 2008 (UTC)

I think that the article should be "Mimeograph." My rationale is the popularity of this term vs "Stencil duplicator." Google shows 400k uses of mimeograph vs 10k for stencil duplicator. I'd like to hear what others think. --Zippy (talk) 19:29, 17 March 2009 (UTC)

Renaming article to Mimeograph[edit]

I'm being bold and renaming this article to "Mimeograph." The rationale is the popularity of mimeograph over stencil duplicator, rather than a regional preference for one or the other. As of Apr 09, Google shows 418k uses of mimeograph vs 29k for stencil duplicator. --Zippy (talk) 05:54, 8 April 2009 (UTC)

More images[edit]

Here are some pictures from the Library of Congress of people using mimeograph machines, in case anybody wants to upload them: Learning to use a mimeograph machine at Woodrow Wilson High School, Wire room of the New York Times newspaper, Mimeographing the camp paper. Dreamyshade (talk) 09:42, 31 July 2009 (UTC)

But why?![edit]

WHY was the ink purple most of the time? :D (no-one seems to have explained that yet) (talk) 16:57, 27 September 2010 (UTC)

Purple ink and scent of alcohol on freshly printed pages are a feature of spirit duplicator copies, not mimeograph. Mimeograph copies were generally black ink with a blotchy appearance and an oily smell. Purple aniline dye must have been the most cost-effective color, i.e. long-lasting, giving more usable copies per original. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 20:37, 27 September 2010 (UTC)

Ribbon lift disabled, ribbon not removed[edit]

See this diff— In the era when mimeograph was common, most typewriters lifted the ribbon into place just before the type slug struck, and lowered it afterwards, so the typist had a clear view of the text. Many typewriters had a ribbon selector with three positions: black, red, and stencil. The red position required a two-color ribbon, which was lifted so the red half lay under the striking slug. With an all-black ribbon, the red position essentially doubled the service life of a ribbon.

The stencil position of the selector disabled the ribbon lift, so the type slug directly struck the wax-fiber matrix of the stencil, cutting through the wax. This position was also useful for cleaning the type slugs when they got clogged with inky lint from the ribbon. Any letters with small closed areas, such as "e", "a", or "A", were liable to print the open area as a dark spot when they got dirty enough. Special cleaning sheets of velour-like paper were available— the fuzz would do a mediocre job of cleaning problem letters. A more thorough cleaning called for solvent, a stiff-bristled brush, and a good hand-washing afterwards. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 20:37, 27 September 2010 (UTC)

Confusion of mimeography and spirit duplicators / Comparison photo requested[edit]

There seems to be a bit of confusion/conflation of these distinctly different technologies. I tried to add some comparisons and Wikilinks where appropriate, such as in the section discussing "Limitations". Also, it would be very instructive to add a clear closeup photo of some mimeographed copy, and still better to have some sample spirit duplicated copies in the same shot, for direct comparison under the same lighting conditions. Reify-tech (talk) 17:13, 9 August 2011 (UTC)

I uploaded copies of a page created by a spirit duplicator (ditto) and a mimeograph machine to Wikimedia Commons. (Leslie Slape (talk) 13:27, 21 June 2015 (UTC) Leslie Slape 19 June 2015)
Sample page from mimeo machine, 1970s
Sample page from ditto machine, 1970s-1
Thank you. The ditto picture is good, but the mimeo picture is confusing because it's on pink paper. Could you find a mimeo on plain white paper? If you are producing the pictures yourself, it would be even better to have the two different copies side by side in the same picture, under identical lighting conditions. Reify-tech (talk) 14:46, 20 June 2015 (UTC)

I found one on white. Sorry about the pink on the other page. We rarely used white for the Sparks. These are scanned, not photographed. My battery is charging now, but later I will try to take a side-by-side photo as requested. (Leslie Slape (talk) 13:27, 21 June 2015 (UTC) Leslie Slape 21 June 2015)

Mimeo page from the "Sparks" school newspaper of Cle Elum High School, published Dec. 7, 1973.

Important byproduct[edit]

I'm not sure how, but someone should remark on the unique smell of every mimeo page produced. Aromatic pungent ink will forever transform me back to those early school days.

PcGnome (talk) 23:52, 12 May 2012 (UTC)

I think we have another case of confusion between spirit duplicators (dittos) and mimeographs. Wschart (talk) 01:43, 12 June 2012 (UTC)

Time needed to print 500 sheets[edit]

How long did it take to run through a ream of paper? Could it be done within three minutes?

Also, the main page of this article doesn't mention it, but what was the most common printing error? Was misfeeding the most common way to jam the mimeograph?

If there was too much ink, would this make some of the pages come out soggy or blurry?

Was there an input tray for loading a mimeograph up with a ream of paper? Or was it always significantly smaller than an entire ream of paper? The main page of this article could be improved if there were a description of what the parts were called. Did any of the fancier presses have a way of folding a sheet of paper automatically, or was this more properly a feature associated with offset printing? I was hoping to find these answers in Wikipedia, but the main page of this article doesn't answer any of them. (talk) 06:19, 16 October 2012 (UTC)

A: Depends on the machine. The latest spirit duplicators on the market (in the late 80's) through the 90's could print 100 sheets a minute. Some of the spirit duplicators (made by DUPLO, RONEO, and STANDARD) could hold an entire ream.

Later models had better designed pressure feed trays that would prevent jams (yes, spirit duplicators).

you could extra dampen the pages in spirit fluid (methanol) by controlling the fluid output (or machine speed) for brighter/darker purple print. This would run the master weak faster, with less prints though. Ditto machines (spirit/fluid duplicators) could usually make good copies with a master up to 150-200 copies- depending on the solvent. The fluid varied from pure METHANOL, to Ethanol mixed with Methanol (50/50), to Ethanol (90%) Methanol (5%) sometimes with another 5% solvent (an ethyl ether). 100% methanol being the best. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:45, 10 May 2013 (UTC)

More references[edit]

Three sections of this article are completely unreferenced: "Durability", "Contemporary use", and "Uses and art". howcheng {chat} 07:16, 6 August 2015 (UTC)