Have you heard of Print Gocco? Chances are you have if you follow the pulse of the indie crafting movement. Even if you haven’t heard of it, it’s likely you’ve seen things made with Print Gocco if you shop at Etsy.com or read blogs like Craft:. Sadly, this art niche is way past endangered and is now languishing on its deathbed. Here’s how it happened.
So, what exactly is Print Gocco? In late 1977, the Japanese photocopier company Riso Kagaku began offering a new printmaking product for home users. The first Print Gocco model, B6, quickly became popular as a greeting card and invitation printer, particularly for New Year’s cards which are quite popular in Japan. The Print Gocco system is an easy-to-use, inexpensive screenprinting machine that minimizes both the potential for user error and the mess of printing. Traditionally, screenprinting is not very accessible to the home user because it requires a large workspace and the use of open containers of oil-based inks and other supplies which get all over the silkscreens and squeegees used in the process. Print Gocco innovatively combines the screen, emulsifier and ink in a self-contained unit. This unit then stays in the press and allows users to print from places like their kitchen table without getting ink everywhere or needing a large array of tools such as special lights or difficult-to-work-with supplies like liquid emulsifier. If you would like more technical details on the Print Gocco screenprinting process, please see Appendix 1 at the end of this article.
Print Gocco thrived through the 80s and 90s in Japan and it is estimated that one-third of Japanese households own a Gocco machine. Riso continued to offer new Print Gocco models until 2003. The Print Gocco B6 model was followed by Print Gocco B5, Print Gocco B6 Hi-Mesh, Print Gocco PG-10, Print Gocco PG-10 Super, Print Gocco PG-11, Print Gocco RISOSCRIPT, and even digital models Print Gocco Digital CD-1, Print Gocco Digital, and Print Gocco jet V-10. Riso also offered supplies and even a stamp kit to use Print Gocco models to print on fabric. It was around the time of the introduction of the last Gocco model that Gocco started to catch on outside of Japan, particularly in the United States. Crafters spread the news by word-of-mouth online and posted tutorials and photos of their work to blogs, photo sites like Flickr, and crafting communities such as Craftster.org. People began ordering Gocco machines online from resellers in Japan and from distributors in America, particularly the popular models B6 Hi-Mesh and PG-11.
Despite growing popularity in the crafting community, Riso announced discontinuation of Print Gocco in December 2005, citing a 40% decline in domestic sales. At this time, they announced that they would continue to distribute supplies such as screens, bulbs, and ink for a period of three years. Around the same time, artist and Gocco enthusiast Jill Bliss started the website SaveGocco.com (now defunct) to gather 1000 signatures for a petition and encourage other Gocco enthusiasts to send postcards handmade with Gocco to Riso Kagaku President & CEO Akira Hayama protesting its discontinuation (it is unclear whether Mr. Hayama is related to Gocco creator Noburu Hayama). The signatures were gathered and countless postcards sent. The Wurst Gallery, an online art gallery, ran a show in February 2006 entitled “we heart gocco” that featured only artwork created with Print Gocco machines. Throughout 2006 and 2007 the Save Gocco campaign marched on, and rumors of other companies taking on Gocco or of Gocco production being resumed circulated online. In late 2007, Gocco machines once again started shipping through U.S.-based distributors and Gocco enthusiasts breathed a sigh of relief.
However, the stay of execution for Gocco was short-lived. In late May of 2008, Riso once again announced discontinuation of Gocco machines, but promised that supplies would be forthcoming “for the time being”. Sources in Japan said this would be about five years. Once again, prices for Gocco machines shot up on sites such as eBay and Etsy. Riso said that sales from its Gocco line comprised less than one percent of its total revenue of 92.6 billion yen anually and cited the advent of the personal computer as the cause of the decline. Despite the rumors and promises of supplies, Riso issued a letter to distributors in July of 2008 announcing that manufacture of all Print Gocco products, including supplies, would be discontinued permanently, and that orders from U.S. distributors would not be filled after December 1, 2008. This, incidentally was about three years from the initial announcement of Print Gocco’s discontinuation.
As announced, Print Gocco supplies became unavailable from Riso at the end of 2008. Gocco enthusiasts expressed disbelief that the handmade, indie craft movement had failed to turn around sales of Gocco supplies and equipment. David Murphy, VP of Marketing for Riso remarked in early 2009, “Riso empathizes with all of our loyal Gocco customers who have shown such passionate commitment to saving this fine product. Unfortunately, we have discontinued production of the product and its supplies and there is no consideration or plan for selling its patent.” This statement rang false with many Gocco users who wondered why Riso wouldn’t sell the patent if the interest were purely economical. Several U.S. corporations and individuals reportedly had expressed interest in taking the reins in continuing to offer Print Gocco machines and supplies in the United States. Gocco enthusiasts also wondered why supplies were offered for such a short time and many expressed feelings of betrayal.
Despite the seemingly untimely death of Print Gocco, one can find many traces of it still thriving. Multiple wanted ads for Print Gocco units can be found on crafting communities despite the scarcity of supplies. Used machines with basic supplies are fetching up to $250 on eBay, even with international shipping from Japan topping $70 in some cases. Suppliers are selling off their remaining stock for average prices that are twice what they used to be. A cursory glance at Etsy.com shows nearly 5,000 Gocco-produced items for sale, and the Gocco group at Flickr has nealy 3,000 members and over 6,000 Gocco-related photos despite being less than four years old. The Yahoo group Gocco-Printers has nearly 2,000 members, and both this group and the group at Flickr remain very active, with post topics ranging from “Is it worth it to get started with this little printer that’s going to break my heart?” to possible alternates to Riso-produced supplies to yet more wanted ads for Gocco machines. Craft blogs still post Gocco tutorials with apologetic disclaimers that Print Gocco has been discontinued. With all this activity, can Gocco really be a losing proposition economically?
It is hard to say if there is the possibility of any future for Print Gocco. Katie Stephenson of Paperday Studio has resurrected the Save Gocco campaign at savegocco.blogspot.com and other Gocco enthusiasts discuss the possibility of using thermal printers to image masters and then transfer the screens to a Gocco machine. With thermal printers costing over $1,000, the love for Print Gocco of these individuals is immense. Gocco discussion groups mention alternate products that might work with the Print Gocco system, but the general consensus is that nothing compares to the supplies manufactured by Riso. Since Riso Kagaku abandoned this niche market, will another company step into its place? Will Riso ever change their mind and begin production again or agree to sell their patents? With the enthusiasm of Gocco lovers, it’s hard to imagine the Gocco community dying out anytime soon. One can only hope it either invents or is presented with a long-term solution to keep Print Gocco alive.
Appendix 1: Print Gocco Screenprinting Process
To make a print with Print Gocco, you need a Gocco printer, a master image printed with carbon ink (such as a photocopy or something printed on a laser printer), a Gocco screen, two Gocco flashbulbs (very much like one-use bulbs used in photography), and Gocco inks. All of these except the master image used to be manufactured by Riso. By placing the master under the screen and attaching the lamp housing with flashbulbs to the Gocco unit, you can flash the screen by closing the unit and create a thermal image. This essentially causes the emulsifier in the screen to be pulled away where the image was and creates small holes for the ink to come through. The Print Gocco screens have a transparent plastic layer on the other side of the screen to hold the ink on the screen and keep it from getting anywhere else. So, to create your own prints, all you need to do after flashing the screen is to remove the screen from the unit, lift up the transparent layer, apply ink to the screen, and put it back in the unit. Then, you can put paper on the print bed and make your print by closing the unit just as you did when flashing the master. Ink comes through the screen and onto your paper and you have a print.
Bliss, Jill (2006). “Long Live Gocco”. CRAFT:, 1, 50-51.
http://www.savegocco.com via http://www.archive.org