Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gocco Part II: How-to - Family Reunion Napkins

Provided you’ve managed to acquire a Gocco printer and get your hands on the basic supplies -- Gocco flashbulbs (either 2 or 4 per screen, depending on your Gocco printer), blank Gocco screen, Gocco ink (either ink for paper or ink for fabric will work for the napkins), and of course a big stack of blank napkins -- you’re ready for the Gocco magic to begin. The images here are from some commemorative Family Reunion napkins Carrie and I made a couple years ago.

First off, Making the Image
To make your screen you will need a black and white printed image at least slightly smaller than the size of your screen (a good rule of thumb is to leave about ½” margin at all sides to assure proper printing). Consider whether you want your design printed square to the edges of the napkin or at a 45-degree angle. Also keep the crimped napkin edges in mind. It’s a personal preference, I guess, but I prefer to keep my image entirely off the crimped edge.

Black and white means black and white. When making your image, it’s important to remember there are really no shades of gray with Gocco. A graded dot pattern will give you a fading effect, but you should basically think of your screen like a stencil: either ink comes through, full color, or not at all.

Equally important is to realize that you cannot print two different colors directly adjacent to each other (again, like a stencil). Different colors will either need to be separated by at least 1/2" of space (more is better) or printed with two separate screens. (This is possible, but it’s very tricky to get the screens to register exactly the same. For a “simple” project like paper napkins, I don’t think it’s worth the trouble.) So, for instance, for the Family Reunion, we started with this cute color image:

You'll notice these cute little chickens have several colors (yellow, orange, red, black) touching each other – a big NO for doing a single-screen Gocco print. I brought the image into Photoshop and made some adjustments to get it Gocco-ready. First the hen: I deleted the color from her head and feet, leaving a heavy outline at the edges. This means the head will be left the background color of the napkin, allowing the beak, comb, wattle, and eye to all stand out. Because the rooster has the same color for the head and body, I removed the color from his eye, beak, comb, and wattle (leaving an outline around the edges), as well as his feet. The little chicks mainly needed their eye-color deleted, similar to the rooster. I also gave them a little more definition by “cutting out” a partial outline under their little wings. Finally, I scooted the entire rooster further to the right, so it would be easier to use a different color ink for him than for the chicks. Here’s the resulting image, ready for the next step:

Now, because the Gocco process relies on carbon-based inks to burn the image into (or out of) the screen, take your printed image to the nearest black & white Xerox machine and run off a copy or two (one should be enough, but I’m a big believer in back-ups). Please note that it is very important that you use a black & white copier, NOT a color copier, or else you won’t get the carbon ink necessary to cut the screen. It may also be a good idea to make a copy a little bit larger than full-size and one a little bit smaller, so you can be sure you end up with the right size for your napkin.

Making the Screen

Before you make your screen, decide exactly how you want your image positioned on the napkin. I do this by cutting away the excess paper from the edges and laying the image on the actual napkin. (Here's where you can try out the various sizes you printed.) Now take the napkin and place it on the Gocco printing pad, with the image in its desired location on top. Mark the location of where to place the image. (I use a couple of strips of masking tape for this.) Insert a blank screen and four fresh flashbulbs into the printer lamp. You’re ready to cut your screen – almost.

This next step is more or less important depending on how “old” your photocopy is. If you’ve run it off within the past 30 minutes, you can probably go right ahead and burn your screen. If it’s been sitting around for awhile, though, take out a hair dryer and blow-dry your print (yes, seriously) for about two minutes. Somehow heating up the carbon ink helps in the screen burning process.

Now reposition your image on the ink pad, put the lamp on top of the printer, and press down until you hear (and see) a flash.

Close your eyes (they probably should have been closed anyway in anticipation of the flash) and pray. Remove the lamp from the top of the Gocco, and lift the lid. If all went well, your paper image should now cling to the underside of the screen, and the image should be "burned" out of the screen. To see if you got a successful burn, carefully peel back a bit of the paper. (Don’t peel it off all the way. You want to leave it “stuck” so that you can use the paper as a guide for where to put the ink.)

Inking the Screen

On to the fun part. If you plan to print in multiple colors, you’ll need some of Gocco’s handy foam ink-blocking stuff. This is like a large foam sticker that you can cut into strips and place between different-colored parts of your image to stop ink from running from one area into another. Make sure you ink the right side of your screen! The cellophane side should be face-up. Pull back the cellophane to expose the screen. Cut foam strips about ¼” wide and stick them in place as necessary, making sure you have a continuous wall between the different areas.

Keep in mind that once you start the inking process there’s really no stopping until every last napkin is printed. This is because the ink will dry out if left in the screen for too long. Also it’s very useful to have a helper for the inking process. It can be done alone (trust me), but it’s faster, and easier to avoid screw-ups, with a second set of hands. If you’re sure you’re ready, take your ink tubes and squeeze a generous amount of ink over the cut out portions of the screen (the black areas of your image). The ink will eventually spread, but if possible try to keep it as far from your foam separator tape as possible.


When everything has been inked, fold the cellophane back over the screen, insert the screen back into the printer, and carefully peel off the paper. Before you waste ink on your precious (if inexpensive) napkins, it’s always good to do a few “starter” prints on some scrap paper. It usually takes a few goes to get the ink fully flowing to all areas of the image. When you feel like your tests prints are looking satisfactory, bring out the napkins. Now, bleed-through isn’t as much an issue with napkins as with t-shirts, but it remains a possibility. For this reason, I like to keep scraps of thin cardboard (cut-up manila folders are handy) to slip inside the napkin, just under the top layer. Slipping the cardboard in is one of the many little jobs you can have your helper do.

The printing process itself is very quick and easy: insert napkin/press/remove napkin. The trickiest thing, in a way, is finding somewhere to put all the napkins until they’re dry. (Don’t want to stack them while the ink is wet.) A very useful tool, then, is a laundry drying rack. These will hold several napkins, and they make your house (apartment, whatever) look very crafty and productive in the meantime. Invariably, though, I end up using every horizontal surface available to me as well. From time to time you’ll notice an area of the image that’s not getting its full color. Simply remove the screen, lift up the cellophane, and reapply ink to the fading areas, then get back to business.

And there you have it! Unique, personalized napkins for any and every occasion!If you think you might want to print your image again in the future (more napkins, t-shirts, whatever), make sure to clean the screen well. Using a rubber scraper or a scrap of cardboard, scrape off as much as the ink as possible. (The thrifty among us will store this in an airtight container for another day. The rest of us will toss it.) Then use simple soap, water, and LOTS of paper towels to remove as much of the rest as possible. (Don’t expect to completely remove all color from the screen – just make sure no ink is left in the cut-out portions.) You don’t want your screen to warp, so be careful not to get the cardboard edges wet. I typically lay the screen on some reliably sturdy scrap paper, and rub gently with a damp, soapy paper towel. You will have to frequently change the paper underneath. Cleaning the screen is the messiest part of the whole process.

If you want a more thorough tutorial, with pictures, on how to Gocco, check out this website.

As mentioned in the previous post, these little gadgets are becoming increasingly scarce. I know there’s a new home-crafter screen printer out there called the Yudu, but I haven’t heard a lot about it. From what I can tell, though, the Yudu screen-cutting process is much more complicated and time-consuming than the flash-bulb burning of the Gocco. The scarcity of Gocco products (screens and bulbs especially) may have all of us looking for another way soon enough, but we can always hope another manufacturer resurrects this fun, if only marginally useful, technology.

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