R.I.P. Gocco

Times are tough for “analog,” or non-digital, media these days.  Last year, Polaroid announced it was ending production of its namesake cameras and film.  As supplies run thin, many enthusiasts are racing to find the last caches of film, and paying hefty prices for them.


Photo: Gretchin Lair

As personal computers make a easier and cheaper tool for self-publishing, enthusiasts are saying goodbye to another lesser-known, but equally-cherished product: Gocco.  The Gocco is a tiny printing machine brought to us by the Japanese Riso company and a favorite of DIY printmakers.  To find out more about the device and its demise, I spoke with two master Gocco printers at Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center, Gretchin Lair and Shu-Ju Wang.

“It’s a very easy to use silkscreen printing system that uses flash bulbs to expose pre-coated screens,” says Wang.  “You can go from artwork, through exposure and inking, to print, in 5 minutes or less. It’s also very portable and suitable for small workspaces.”  “I say the Gocco is magic!” adds Lair. “Its many geniuses include using non-toxic materials to print & clean up and the ability to print with multiple colors on the same screen (which avoids registrations hassles). ”

save_goccoFor a few years, Riso had been theatening the end of its product, and the Gocco community responded with a “Save Gocco” campaign that seemed to keep hope alive.  The Wurst Gallery, an online gallery based out of Portland, held a show at the time to raise awareness and exhibit the work of local Gocco artists.  But last Summer the last machines rolled off the line, with inks soon to follow.

I asked Lair and Wang a few more questions to see how they’re dealing with the final nail in Gocco’s coffin.

What is your favorite way to use Gocco?

Edible Gocco Crepes

Edible Gocco Crepes, Photo: Gretchin Lair

Shu-Ju Wang: I’m not sure that I can list ONE favorite way to use the Gocco, they’re all my favorites. You can do very ‘traditional’ Gocco printing — graphic images on card sized paper — this is very functional, very utilitarian. You can print a lot of greeting cards or business cards very quickly. But I also love the different ways you can expand beyond that — CMYK printing; printing over-sized prints (larger than the print bed will allow); printing with an open screen; printing on food using edible inks. I’ve used all of these techniques to create fine prints and artist’s books (well, except for the printing on food part). I’ve produced and editioned about 40 prints and artist’s books since 1999. Actually probably more. I love to teach the Gocco too. It’s always so priceless when you pull the first print and you hear everyone gasp.

Gretchin Lair: I love making cards, but I’ve probably printed on food more than I’ve printed on paper! For instance, I’ve printed a poem onto crepes for an “Edible Book Tea” party, and one year I printed a big bowl of “unnecessary” quotes onto mini pancakes for the IPRC Text Ball.

With such a useful product and devoted fanbase, why would Riso cease production of Gocco?

Shu-Ju Wang: Well, now that’s just NOT explainable!  My understanding is that the Japan domestic market, the main market for the Gocco, has declined so much that it’s no longer worth Riso’s while to continue production. Print Gocco is (was) designed and manufactured in Japan by Riso, and that’s their main focus. The international market and outcry over its demise have had little impact on Riso’s decision-making process.  To be fair, Riso is a huge company, and Print Gocco is such a small part of what they do that it must seem like a thorn on its side.

Gretchin Lair: I wish it could become like the typewriter or camera industries, where it’s still possible to find ribbons and film for products that have long ceased to be sold. I’ll really miss Gocco.

What does this mean for printmakers?

Shu-Ju Teaching a Gocco Class

Shu-Ju Teaching a Gocco Class, Photo: Gretchin Lair

Shu-Ju Wang: I don’t know…we’ll all retreat into a corner somewhere and cry our little eyeballs out?  I’m still thinking that it’s a great opportunity for some entrepreneurial person to come up with a suitable alternative. It can also drive current Gocco users to come up with creative ways to continue printing with the Gocco’s. I know that I can keep printing by using and reusing open screens, but I’ll run out of suitable inks to use in the Gocco eventually. So then the quest would be on for replacement inks…  But I’m not sure that the larger printmaking industry has noticed the Gocco much though. So they might not feel so much pain, and in fact they might benefit from the Gocco’s demise — all these people who have been introduced to printmaking through the Print Gocco now have to get their printmaking fix some other way.

Gretchin Lair: I think DIY craftspeople will miss out on easy ways to get creative by printing greeting cards, business cards, wedding invitations, gift tags, stationery, T-shirts, skirts, bibs & onesies, stuffed animals, dolls, toys, ornaments, tea cozies, bags, pins, book covers, wall stencils and more. The Gocco was also a wonderful tool for people with limited spaces or who didn’t want caustic materials in their homes.

What will you do as the last supplies run dry?

Gretchin Lair: I’m stocking up on supplies and storing them in my basement for the coming Gocco apocalypse. But I’m also watching the gocco-printers Yahoo! group to see what materials other Gocco printers are experimenting & succeeding with. The inks are more flexible than the bulbs & screens, so at some point I’ll just be able to print the screens I’ve already burned, which means packing as much art onto a screen as possible.

Shu-Ju Wang: I’ve tried other products to use with the Gocco, and none have worked all that well using the traditional Gocco press printing technique. I plan to keep Gocco’ing for as long as I can, but I’m also getting a small table top etching press. I plan to use the press either standalone or in creating combination etching-Gocco prints. I’ll also get more letterpress time…I do have that letterpress sitting in my garage!

To find out more about Gocco resources, you can visit Shu-Ju Wang’s webpage on the subject here and follow her blog here.  On the blog she recently wrote about her final trip to buy Gocco supplies.

This article was originally posted on my Blog it Yourself blog.