“One word: PLASTICS.”

I am uneasy with my fortunes resting in the hands of others.

As you may know, every year I design a hand-printed, limited-edition calendar. My wife and I use a RISO Print Gocco screenprinting press to create the actual pages. The trouble is that Gocco supplies have been discontinued by the manufacturer, and inventory on the secondary market is dwindling rapidly. Thankfully, however, enterprising and crafty folk have managed to create workarounds — one of them involves these aftermarket plastic frames. A savvy fellow in Germany manufactures them as replacements for the original Gocco supplies, and (in a fairly savvy business move) he has limited the distribution of them to a single retailer in the US.

Long story short, I am in the market for 38 of these frames for this year’s calendar, and the US retailer charges what I consider an exorbitant price. My question to you is this: how hard are these to make?

Are you involved in plastics manufacturing? Do you have access to a laser-cutter or a water-jet or a die-stamper or whatever would be appropriate to use to make these? I would be willing to manufacture a few hundred of these frames if it meant I would be assured of having calendar supplies for years to come. They’re pretty thin material, maybe 1/16″ or so, and I don’t think the specific plastic used even matters — they just have to be this very specific size so they fit the Gocco equipment.

I’m shifting calendar creation into high gear (watch for the pre-order going live next week!) and would love to somehow get a batch of these rapidly…or if nothing else, find someone who can make them for next year.

Would you like some business, Plastics Manufacturer Who Reads Wondermark? Email me please! Tell me how this process works. I want to seize control of this; I am tired of other people dictating how I can make my things.

UPDATE: Thank you for the kind emails, comments and suggestions! I am currently following up on several different options.

Now then! If you’re not in plastics manufacturing but you’ve still read down this far, here is your reward (hat tip to Kevin McShane):

24 thoughts on ““One word: PLASTICS.””

  1. @Thomas: Last year we had a limited number of frames and had to clean them in between screens — it took so long and was so messy that I decided I wanted the frames to be one-use only. That is my goal anyhow!

  2. oh im sure cleaning after every other use is hell, The way it read gave the impression that you were using 36 this year, then 36 new ones next year.

  3. First, try to figure out the type of plastic they are made from. Second, you will need to find or create a g-code file for the screen. You want to look up DXF to G-code conversion. Adobe and Inkscape can be help full in the creation of the DXF but there are other programs to convert them to G-code. I would also try to salvage what you can from the screens you have. It might be far easier to re-screen them. Email me and I will try to direct you to the best people.

  4. @Sean: I do have a vector schematic for the outline of the frame, as well as a few physical examples for reference, but it seems to me something that’d be easier/cheaper die-stamped or laser-cut from a sheet of thin plastic rather than 3D fabricated. I could be wrong, though! I don’t know much about the technology.

    The screens themselves are discarded; once they’re printed they’re not re-used (because the design only has one print run). Ideally the screens and the frames can be discarded together, otherwise I’m sitting there with solvent trying to clean ink off a frame when I’d rather be filling people’s orders for Christmas.

  5. Dear Mr. Malki!:

    I know at least two companies here in Rochester NY that can produce this product for you.

    With your requirements you will need a solvent resistant plastic. UHMW PE is my suggestion.

    There will be a one-time setup and programming fee, then it’s price per unit… You’ll have to work that out with the companies.

    My suggestion however is to SOLVENT CLEAN them between uses. The initial setup fee and given the low volumes with which you work… A solvent bath is much cheaper, even factoring in your time and frustration.

    Contact me at brian@plastics.com and I can walk you through the design process and get you in touch with some manufaturtoriums that can factorytize your design.

    Also: You do not need to worry about DFX files or G-code, that’s what the manufacturing engineers do. You bring them your design they do the actual “work” part. If you really want a 3D model, try Google Sketchup. It’s free.

  6. Steveeeee is right, Ponoko is your best bet. They do custom laser cutting on several different materials that you buy from them. Unless you can find a local laser cutter (possibly at a local hackerspace), they’re probably the cheapest and easiest around (though still rather pricey since so much material would be “wasted” with those frames

  7. A talented mechanical engineer can apply Design for Manufacturing rules to this such that you’re not wasting massive amounts of material (my guess is that you could make two interlocking “L” shapes that would nest on a larger sheet of material).

    Second, do *not* 3D print these, especially with hacker-grade systems…since precision matters in screenprinting, getting every one the exact shape and size is essential, and that ain’t gonna happen with 3D printing. I also don’t think vacuforming is the right answer. Water-Jet cutting wouldn’t be bad, but there’s usually more Non-Recurring Engineering charges than with laser, especially from a Maker-friendly laser provider, and the edge finish isn’t as nice. Die-cutting something like styrene sheet would work, depending on the exact nature of the inks you want to use.

    We do a *lot* of work with laser cut acrylic: check out this Facebook album of an enclosure we did.


    I’ve put this in front of our mechanical engineer and he’s willing to DFM it for you. You could probably have one shipped to you tonight for approval, with no professional service charges, mostly because your Lipton Tea strip makes me squeal with girlish delight every time I think about the phrase “Bitch, Lipton knows tea!”

    The biggest question, though, is “what do you consider outrageous?” – laser time is Non-Cheap, so bespoke work is *rarely* cheaper than someone who has an injection-molded equivalent part. If the $5 frames I’m finding online are any indication, you’re better to suck it up and buy those. Srsly.

    In any event, if you want to go bespoke, get in touch and we can talk about it.


  8. Depending on the thickness the easiest and cheapest solution would be steel rule die cutting (it’s pretty much a big cookie cutter.)

    With this method you only use the laser once to cut the outline in a piece of plywood and then a steel cutting blade is then placed inside the slot on the plywood.

    Of course the blade will begin to wear out but replacing the blade is as simple as popping out the old one and putting in a new one.

    I don’t know how thick the frames are but if they are under like 3mm this is the best method. 3D printing is absurd and laser cutting each frame would cost more than the calendars bring in. Regular die cutting would also increase your cost significantly due to tooling manufacturing.

  9. @A: I’m in favor of this approach except I wonder if it requires more workshop area than I have available. What tool is used for the stamping?

  10. Maybe you don’t want to hear this but I have to say that given you are working with volume on a regular basis (albeit low volume per page, annually) I think it would be wise in the long run to consider alternative printing methods. Doesn’t the light bulb use get expensive?

    I’d never heard of Gocco until today but have done a lot of DIY traditional printing screen, litho, intaglio, releif. There is a lot of good resources online about Gocco. I really liked http://www.eleventytheblog.com/2009/11/screen-printing-traditional-silk-screen.html

    It seems to me the two benefits of Gocco are that the simplicity, small footprint and two colours at a time (easy registration). The simplicity seems like it is being lost if you have to manufacture parts yourself and supplies dwindle. Also I doubt the small footprint/simplicity holds up when you are working at the scale you apparently are. The next is 2 colours at once: I don’t know if you print that way? But other systems can be designed to do that.

    I know that you seem to be really into this system and it is cute. But it seems the problems you are facing (plastics) are tangent to the goal of the actual printing. You seem to have a high capacity for geeking out and getting the details right and I wonder if that energy would be more effectively/economically spent designing an efficient small scale production model using traditional seriographic methods. You could buy bulk rolls of screen material and reuse frames/dispose of the used fabric if you wanted to not have to clean screens. You would have to come up with a registration system but that there are off the shelf registration pins and whatnot which are pretty reasonable. The registration may be a little harder but the inking easier using more traditional methods. “Traditional” screenprinting is actually a ridiculous term since there are so many variations on how to do it. It’s easily the most flexible method of printing that doesn’t require digital intelligence for each print.

    Anyway, I love your comic/blog and that you upset Glen Beck’s book promotion this year. Keep up the good work!

  11. @David: You wouldn’t be able to do the stamping at home since you need a press (usually a ‘clicker press’ for die cutting) to do the punching.

    Here is a link to a video that shows one in operation including how fast it can be done.


    So even though you still need to pay for a machinist if you watch the video you could easily see a few years worth of frames being made in an hour or two. You could also ask the shop if you can do the pressing and just pay for tool use.

    You might be able to find a small hand powered one but you would need to make sure that it is strong enough. You can estimate the force using

    F = 0.7*T*L*UTS

    where T is the thickness, L is the perimeter to be cut (inside and outside) and UTS is the ultimate tensile strength of the material.

    I would highly suggest you find a local machine shop and discuss this with them (you might even find the clicker press at local textile/leather business.)

  12. Is all of this seriously better than finding a reliable printer to do this for you? What’s your cost & labor come out to per calendar?

  13. @Rusl: Your point is well taken, but the advantage to the Gocco is that it exists, I already have it, and it works pretty well.

    @Jason: I mean I could run these calendars off on my printer but that’s not really the point! The labor and “artifact” nature of the piece contribute to its value.

  14. Sorry, I meant “finding a reliable company that will print this for you”. But I get that the personally handmade nature is partially what you’re selling.

  15. I hear you on the “it exists, I already have it” part. I often end up using an imperfect tool or just plain the wrong tool (for metalwork and woodwork I do) but I have it and I get by. I guess depending on the long term if the plastics work out well or not you may consider a change.

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