Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gocco, Part I: Party Napkins - A Last Gasp for a Dying Technology?

Time for a little divergence into near-obsolete technology!

Gocco (rhymes with “cocoa”) printers, made in Japan, are essentially a very easy way of making and printing from your own screens. They use flash bulbs to burn any black (carbon-based ink) & white image into a screen which can then be inked and printed onto virtually anything. Pretty cool, maybe, back in 1980. Now that everyone in the world has access to photo-quality inkjet printers, not to mention laser printers, it’s a little hard to know what use to make of Goccos. Yes, an inked print is longer-lasting and possibly more satisfyingly tactile than a standard inkjet print, but is the difference really worth the expense and trouble? To put it another way, what can you do with a Gocco that is truly unique and otherwise impossible?

Let’s examine the facts.

Gocco Negatives

Increasingly harder to find supplies (production appears to have ceased several years ago, and supplies are only available from online sellers (etsy, ebay, etc.))

Screens can only be made from carbon-based prints – meaning you have to seek out old-school black&white copiers

Screen-burning process is incredibly finicky – make sure to have back-up bulbs and screens at the ready

Screen-burning process is fairly expensive: 4 bulbs and 1 screen (minimum, see above item) = upwards of $15

Multi-color prints only possible when colors are separated by at least ½” or so

Gocco Positives

Incredibly cool and gratifying, when it works

Multiple, multiple prints from a single screen

Very fast printing: you’ll be done in no time

Unique projects (see below) to impress your friends and intimidate your foes

I bought my Gocco in a triumphant ebay bid several years ago. The printers come in two sizes: the smaller can print an image up to 4”x6” and the larger up to 7”x10”. I knew I wanted the larger model, as my first line of Gocco endeavor was t-shirt printing. For a couple of years my roommate and I went crazy making t-shirts – snagging designs out of books, making our own out of thin air, or abstracting photos into posterized black & white images. The results were quite neat and unique, and we got the technique down pretty well (masking-tape markings for shirt positioning, cardboard inserts to stop the ink bleeding through, testing and re-testing on paper before printing on the precious t-shirt, etc.).

Inevitably, though, there were a lot of throw-away shirts in the process – probably the biggest downside to t-shirt printing with Gocco. Either not enough ink would come through, or too much ink, or despite your best efforts the design was crooked. Attempting to print a design both on the front and back doubled the risk of disaster. I began to associate a queasy sensation in my stomach with the whole Gocco process and the terror of opening my eyes to see failure. (At least, thanks to H&M, we had a good source of relatively inexpensive shirts.) The t-shirts, at least in the quantities we were making them, also failed to take advantage of one of Gocco's greatest features - the ability to make so many prints from one inking.

A sampling of old used Gocco screens from projects past:

A couple of years into Gocco-ing, I diverged into what has become my favorite type of Gocco project. What else, besides clothing, is fun to personalize but impossible to run through an inkjet printer? Party napkins! Now, in my mind, these are the perfect project for the otherwise obsolete Gocco printing method. The issue of cost and waste is negligible; IKEA’s fabulous FANTASTIK napkins are four cents or less apiece, so no sweat over the odd screw-up. But aside from cost, I think the napkins are more unique and useful: how many weird little t-shirts do you really need? There are only 52 weekends in a year, and in Boston half of those are in sweater season! Besides, the napkins make for great conversation-starters, depending on your design, and it’s more acceptable to personalize. (I don’t know about you, but I haven’t gone around with my name on a t-shirt since about age ten.) And of course the Gocco will let you print as many napkins as you need - tens, hundreds, thousands!!! (Yes, probably thousands, if your arms, and your ink, hold out.)

Sadly, and stupidly, I don't seem to have hung onto samples of all my napkin projects (although, since I still have the screens, I suppose I could always print more). Here, though, are a couple of favorites.

This first one I did for one of my best friends' wedding - not the wedding itself, but a cocktail party the night before. (That meant it didn't have to be too formal.) I was stumped initially as to the

design, but she sent me an image of one of the fabrics they were using for the wedding (except they used blue, not red):Then I looked through their online registry for ideas, and hit on their champagne flutes (still available from Crate & Barrel, if you're interested):

I brought these two images into Illustrator, played around with them for a bit, and came up with this design:

Cute, yes? But not how the napkins turned out. Why, you ask? Because light-colored inks just don't show up well enough on dark colored napkins - the ink sinks into the fibers of the napkin and well, the resulting image wasn't as peppy and fun as intended. This is one of my many learned lessons of Gocco-ing. Napkins are cheap, though, so after a wasted afternoon of printing lackluster, faded dark-blue napkins, I woke up the next day and printed the following:

Front side:
Back side:And of course the entire thing unfolded:
MUCH better contrast, much better result. AND my first-ever two-ink, two-sided design! I was happy, Julie was happy, a good time was had by all, etc., etc..

This next napkin, for a birthday party, is simpler, but to me is just a perfect confluence of all the right ingredients: inspiration, color, design. For this one I found a favorite photo:

(Sunglasses pics are always a plus for this kind of thing as it gets around the problem of weird, ghostly eyes. They also tend to be flattering, so you're not likely to get a "Why did you use THAT picture?!!!" from the honoree.)

Anyway, I brought the image into Photoshop, made it grayscale (you might want to play with the Brightness & Contrast a bit first), and posterized it with the minimum number of levels (2). I cropped out the part I wanted, then added in some text, courtesy of VH1):

And here's the result:(Yeah, it's awesome. You know it. I know it. Definitely my favorite so far.)

Stay tuned for some more specifics on how the actual printing is done, in Gocco, Part II.

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