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DIY Definitions: Print Gocco

Filed Under: art, Crafts, DIY Definitions

Print Gocco B6 model and some of its supplies and accessories, by M.E. Williams

Recently, we talked about screen printing: the versatile medium in which you can create anything from a simple t-shirt to a complex, multi-layered fine art print. Screen printing is easy, if you pay attention to detail, but people sometimes avoid it just because it can take up an inconvenient amount of space.

Another way you can screen print at home is with a small machine called a Print Gocco (pronounced go-co, not gah-co). It's made only by a single company, Japan's RISO, and uses proprietary supplies. It's compact enough to use in even a very small apartment, so it's a great solution for people with limited space... as long as you don't mind that it makes small prints.

Over the last few years, Print Gocco has become one of the most talked-about tool for artists and crafters. You can join me after the break to read more about it!

Made with Print Gocco(click thumbnails to view gallery)

Gocco postcard printGocco-printed t-shirtGocco, not block-printedRetro girl printCollage card

The Print Gocco was developed specifically as a "kitchen table printer." In its home country, it's been so popular over its three-decade life that it's estimated that one-third of Japanese households own one. (That would put it on par with things like toaster ovens and sewing machines in the US.)

Print Gocco is a small version of a few elements commonly used in screen printing: the hinge clamps that hold your screen and the exposure unit that frequent printers use to create their screens. The screens themselves have several layers, one solid. The ink goes between the layers, and pressure is applied, causing the ink to squeeze out and onto your paper.

You can clean screens and save them to re-use, and you can buy special fabric that will allow you to make screens on the Gocco that you can use to screen-print in a more traditional way. However, Gocco ink doesn't have the same consistency as other screen-printing inks, so substituting common Speedball inks for the special Gocco ink is not recommended for beginners.

The Print Gocco system was patented in the US in the late 1970s, yet it was not widely known until quite recently. This might have led to RISO's decision, a few years ago, to discontinue shipping Gocco units to the US. They planned to have three years of supplies available for American print-makers, but no more than that.

Save Gocco!

RISO seemed to be unaware of the craft renaissance of the last few years; for example, news of the Gocco's American demise seemed to hit around the same time that a feature on the system was published in the well-known DIY magazine ReadyMade.

Just as the Gocco began to explode in popularity, it was suddenly unavailable. The "three years of supplies" didn't last nearly as long as they were meant to, as people began to hoard them. Screen masters were particularly difficult to get. The Save Gocco campaign, still currently running, was created by artist/designer Jill Bliss to address the issue.

I'm not sure that RISO has relented, exactly, but for the last few months, various Print Gocco kits have become available in the US from a few different domestic sellers. They are newer models, some with improvements, that work like the old models did. The supply shortage also seems to have ended. The Gocco has not returned to the shelves of its previous major suppliers, like Blick, though... it has become largely a mail-order product.

Models, materials, and pricing

The current small kit is PG5. It's materially similar to the previously available B6 kit, only more recent and with some negligible design changes -- for one thing, it's now orange instead of blue. It uses the same supplies: if you have an older B6, you can use the screens that are sold for the PG5. Prices vary, but you should be able to find one for around $100 to $150 or so. The kit comes with a few more small accessories than the B6 did, like a drying rack.

B6 came with a special "registration sheet" to help you line up paper for multi-screen prints. I'm not sure whether PG5 does or not: I haven't seen it on the list of included items, but that doesn't mean it's not there.

Screens (called "masters") are sold in packages of five. The cost comes out to around $3 per screen. Special flash bulbs are required to expose the screen (burn the image into it): two are used at a time, and a package of ten is also around $15. So, as far as the machine itself goes, it costs about $6 and change to create a master screen.

(Please note that supplies recently underwent a price increase in Japan, and newer supply packages may be smaller. The new default number of bulbs in Japan is four per pack. B6's kit came with ten bulbs and five screens, enough for five prints, but the PG5 basic kit now comes with only four bulbs and two screens.)

There's another version, PG10 or PG11, which uses the same supplies and makes prints of the same size. It's geared towards people who primarily want to make multi-screen prints. Although it looks different -- the handle orientation is landscape instead of portrait, and at least in photos, the plastic shell appears to be tougher -- the major difference is that it has a built-in registration system to help you line up your paper precisely when you'll be printing on it several different times. Look for this at prices around $170 and up.

Finally, there's the Gocco Arts kits, formerly B5, which come in paper or cloth flavors. They are quite expensive (around $500) and can make a print double the size of that made by a B6/PG5... using double the number of bulbs. They also have a built-in registration system.

* Prices in this article do not include shipping, and are an estimate: a seller based in Japan may seem to sell for a lot less than a seller in your own country, but that cost won't include shipping from Japan to you.

Purchasing a Print Gocco:

  • Print Gocco and its supplies are sold at Paper Source, Wet Paint, Northwood Studios, and ARCH (no online orders from ARCH, but you can call them).
  • You may be able to get a basic kit at a relatively inexpensive price on Etsy, where the seller FeltCafe takes orders for them, or on eBay.
  • Print Addict Japan sells both on their own site and on Etsy, and has great prices on the large Gocco Arts kits. Shipping from Japan will kill you, though (if you lived there, you probably wouldn't have any trouble finding a Gocco kit).
  • Think Ink carries just about all imaginable supplies, as well as The New Gocco Guide by Claire Russell, a 245-page instruction and idea book.

How to use a Print Gocco

Print Gocco is easy to use: the most intimidating and time-consuming part is probably the process of creating the art you plan to reproduce. It must be printed in black, on white, with carbon-based toner, so if you can't print it with a laser printer, you have to get a photocopy.

All you have to do is load the art, a blank screen, and (often) a special filter into the machine, use the bulbs to burn the art's image into the screen, ink the screen, and print. Printing is as simple as putting a card into the machine, closing the lid, lifting the lid, removing your printed card, and allowing it to dry.

Clean-up can be a little bit messy, but nowhere near as much so as cleaning up after traditional screen-printing.

You can express your creativity not only through the design you print, but also through color combinations, the way you ink the screen, and how many layers you decide to use (you can print one screen's image on top of that of another).

Look for a much more detailed tutorial later today, when I'll show you how to make holiday cards with a Gocco and some clip art fonts.

Helpful Gocco links

There's a wealth of information about Print Gocco available on the Internet. Here are some useful and interesting sites to visit:

  • NEHOC Australia is the best place to get English-language information about Gocco techniques and possibilities, much of it directly from RISO and available nowhere else (NEHOC was founded to import RISO products to Australia, so the two companies have a very close relationship). Anything you need to know is here. See the Training menu for tutorials, and see the downloadable Print Gocco Club magazines and the Art Gallery for ideas and inspiration. If you're interested in making wedding invitations, there's even a wedding tutorial: one of the owners of the company used Print Gocco to create invitations for his own wedding.
  • PRINT GOCCO is RISO's official American site for the system. It's outdated, but you can still find useful information here, especially in the User Info section. Since RISO US no longer supports the product, using the "Help" link to email them will probably not be very helpful. (Remember that the decision to stop importing the Print Gocco to the US was not made by the company's American branch; it was one that came down from the parent company in Japan.)
  • Shu-Ju Wang's Print Gocco & Pudding is the site of a zine created by an artist who also teaches classes where people learn to use a Print Gocco. The zine, which is about to cease publication, prints the results of experiments and tests involving the Gocco. If you want to know what happens if you use different types of ink to draw your originals, or burn a screen twice with two different images, or try to print with acrylic paints, or try to print onto pieces of glass, it's the place to visit.
  • Gocco at The Last Bedroom: Shu-Ju Wang's studio blog. Want to know what it looks like when you use a Gocco to print on puff pastry or slices of cheese, with peanut butter, Nutella, or Hershey's chocolate syrup? It's all there.
  • A Gocco FAQ from Northwood Studios, one of the retailers. Worth reading, particularly for the screen cleaning method, which is different from the official one recommended by RISO. Also includes a good comparison of the different models that are available.
  • Yahoo!'s Gocco group is highly recommended, but doesn't get so many messages that it would become annoying. The Gocco Printers group is slightly more active.
  • Flickr's Gocco pool is equally praised. At this writing, it has almost 3,000 images and over 1600 members. Projects shown run the gamut from beginner-level to impossibly complex, but the majority seem to be totally achievable single-screen prints. The Loco for Gocco pool is for Etsy sellers on the Etsy Loco for Gocco Street Team; it is much lower-traffic and has a lot of overlap with the other pool.
  • Meredith at Monster Town has a list of Gocco-compatible pens: those you can use to create a drawing that will work in the machine without needing to be photocopied. The inclusion of Sharpie pens on this list is incorrect, though.
  • Red Instead describes the "artwork clean-up procedure" using the special clean-up paper sold by NEHOC. This allows people to sidestep common problems with their screens (basically, little specks on your original can cause dots of ink where you don't want them on your prints). You can also see a multi-colored print being made with a single screen, here.
  • How to Choose a Gocco is a comparison of different models, so you can be sure you're getting the one you want.
  • Katy Horan describes what you can use a Gocco for, and what you should leave to regular screen printing.
  • Souvenir Kattunge explains why she's not going to buy a Print Gocco; she's in Sweden, and her concerns are particularly relevant to Europeans.
  • Kraf-O-La poses the question: Which is better, inkjet printer or Print Gocco? and an informative discussion follows.
  • Contact! (3:46): YouTube video showing a Gocco in use from start to finish with musical accompaniment. The artist prints onto stickers in multiple colors. He puts a piece of paper on the sticky pad in the machine, under the sticker (you would normally place your printable blank directly onto the sticky pad, which will help stop it from sliding around). I think he does this so that the sticker backing won't stick to the pad if the sticker surface sticks to the ink. Ou est Charlie? (9:01) is a similar video by the same creator; both videos are interesting and entertaining.
  • "The Cult of Gocco" by Rob Walker: a New York Times article discussing the recent past and potential future of the Print Gocco system.

The following links are a little more personal, describing people's experiences with their Print Gocco systems and showing off some things they've made (some of which might even be for sale):

And finally, there's the Print Faux-co: an Instructables tutorial showing how to create a Gocco-inspired printing apparatus. Using it would be a little more complicated than using a Gocco, but it's definitely less expensive.

Don't forget to join us later today for a detailed Gocco tutorial: we'll be making holiday cards!

(Edited 12/14/07 at 12:10 PM to add an important missing negative: using the email link on RISO's official American Gocco site will probably not be very helpful, because to my knowledge, RISO US doesn't currently support the product. They seem to primarily sell copy machines.)



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