Stage One: Experiments
Beyond The Margins
One of the core reasons behind carrying out the experiments is to explore the extent of which common digital printing systems can be used beyond its set mechanical functions. The commonly understood concept is that printing is a linear process—once data is sent through and the printer begins operating, the printed image or substrate cannot be manipulated. Another preconception is that a printer would not operate outside of its intended functions. Thus, interruptions are more likely applied before or after the printed outcome.
Interruptions in Process
The challenge here is to cause interruptions during the course of printing. The first experiment involved pulling the paper while it was being printed on by the desktop inkjet printer. This is possible on an inkjet as the substrate is accessible, and the printing doesn't occur while the substrate is completely within the mechanism as opposed to other printers. In order to set up this process, the printer cover was opened, and a piece of folded paper was lodged into the latch mechanism so that the printer registers that it was closed to allow printing.
During the first trial, it was discovered that there was only enough paper length to be gripped and pulled when the printing has been completed halfway. As such, the interruptions only occurred in the remaining half of the printed image (Figure 1.0). On the second attempt, the paper was pulled even harder during printing in the hopes of creating larger gaps, but the printer recognized this as a paper jam and the remaining printing was suspended (Figure 1.1).
The next experiment within this category was to block the printer head at its sides while printing in order to restrict the printed area. However, this caused the printer to show an error dialog and cease printing. Only minor deviations were caused on the edges of the printed image (Figure 1.2).
Similar to the ways Werkman performed his letterpress printing, interrupting the inkjet printer was a way to appropriate his concept of causing the final image to emerge only during the printing process. While the resulting images were not the most visually drastic, this was enough to prove that even digital printing systems can be interrupted in an analogue manner to produce results that are different from the image designed digitally on screen.
The Conventional Flat Form of Substrates
With the way printers function, substrates that are loaded for printing usually have to be a flat plane, with no change in surface features or extra dimensions. Hence the question: what if a printer could print directly onto a substrate with impressions, or folded? This would possibly remove the step of designing folds digitally and aligning the printed image to it. The following experiments revolve around modifying substrates before they are loaded into a printer.
For the first experiment of this category, A4 sheets were manipulated with various mountain and valley folds overlapping each other, then cropped to an A5 size. The folds were held flat using tape or light amounts of glue to prevent paper jams in the printer. With these precautions taken, the printer accepted the paper with no problems.
The resulting printed image was clear and without error, even across the folds of the paper (Figure 2.0). It is theorised that this is possible due to the piezoelectric print head, allowing droplets of ink to be applied evenly across the seams of the paper. Another interesting result is the gaps between the image upon unfolding (Figure 2.1). This method has the potential to do away with the tedious process of registering the image to the paper where it is intended to be folded—drastically reducing wastage created from test prints. The same image can be printed on multiple variations of folded paper. Through this, there can be multiple resulting prints originating from only one design.
The following experiment saw an exploration of substrate permeability by attempting to print on wet paper. The anticipation was that the printer ink would smear across the paper upon contact with moisture. However, this was not the case as the smearing only happened minimally on the edges of the image (Figure 2.2). This is perhaps due to the almost microscopic size of ink droplets and quick drying time. The results would be very different if the water was applied after printing, but that would mean that the interruption was caused after the printing process was completed.
The next attempt in modifying substrates was to create stenciled images using a printer. In order to set this up, a stencil was made using sticker sheets and pasted onto the paper to be printed on. The main printed image was a solid gradient using the Risograph (Figure 3.0). Both the negative and positive of the cut stencil were used (Figure 3.1).
Upon removing the stencils, the resulting images were revealed (Figure 3.2). The prints were crisp, with an even distribution of ink, possibly a result of even pressure applied by the drum roll. An interesting unintended result was the impression left on the Risograph drum roll’s master print sheet from the first stencil, resulting in outlines being left on the second stencil (Figure 3.3).
This method allowed for analogue interventions to create images without computers. Similar to Maximage’s concept of making mechanical interventions on offset printing plates, this intervention was achieved by modifying the substrate and master printing sheet.
Corrupting Primary Use
The known primary use of common digital printing systems is to print on paper based substrates, with a small exception for laser printers that allow printing on acetate sheets due to its heat fusing technology. For each print pass, the primary function or common use of digital printing systems is to print only once on each side of the substrate.
Direct to fabric printing has usually been reserved for large format printers. While there have been successful attempts at direct fabric printing using desktop inkjet printers by the crafting community, little is known about how printers like the Risograph fare. Home printing on fabric may usually involve printing on a transfer sheet first, so the ability to print directly on unconventional substrates can drastically reduce byproducts.
In order to prepare the A4 canvas sheet for printing in the Risograph, it was taped around all the edges onto a card so that it is rigid enough to be taken in by the printer. Failing to do so, the canvas would scrunch up (Figure 4.0).
Once properly set up, the canvas sheet was fed easily into the Risograph. However, since Risographs use emulsion based inks, the printed image was susceptible to causing smears upon contact. This could possibly be compensated for by allowing ample drying time and spraying a protective coat over it. The successful canvas print had an interesting worn-out effect (Figure 4.1). However, due to the texture of the canvas itself, this method could not create a crisp reproduction of the fine lines on the map imagery (Figure 4.2). Canvas printing fared better for images that have less fine details (Figure 4.3).
Also using the Risograph, the next experiment was an attempt to print on wood sheets. Since wood has a fibrous composition similar to paper, I anticipated the results to be the same as printing on paper. The Risograph ink appeared rich on wood (Figure 5.0)—even filling in the grains (Figure 5.1). It was no surprise that the ink did not cure fully, though better than the canvas prints.
The same experiment was repeated using the laser printer. Printed as a single colour of 100% K, the print appeared duller compared to the Risograph print (Figure 5.2). This could be solved by adding other colours (C,M,Y) in addition to the 100% K to achieve a richer black. The printed image was fused perfectly onto the wood, making it fade and smear resistant. The grains of the wood were also still visible through the ink (Figure 5.3).
The last trial on unconventional substrates was to print on duct tape using the laser printer (Figure 6.0). The prediction was that heat fusing would set the printed image well on the polyurethane material of the duct tape. The uneven surface of the duct tape caused textures in the printed image, as the toner did not set into depressions of its surface (Figure 6.1). The unfused toner left residue trails along the remaining length of the paper.
Another regular assumption of common digital printing systems is that for each print pass, the printed image would be the final outcome and not subjected to further manipulations. In other words, a primary use of printers such as the inkjet and laserjet is to only perform a single print pass on each side of a sheet of paper, and multiple passes are not required to achieve the final image.
The next goal here was finding out how overprinting using an inkjet printer would look like. Typically, someone aiming to achieve an overlay effect on an image that would be printed through a common digital printing system would have this effect applied digitally before sending it to print. The intention here was to make a comparison between a print of digital overlaying compared to an overlaying effect achieved by printing a page multiple times. Three solid colours of 100% C, M and Y were printed over one another (Figure 7.0).
A side-by-side comparison showed the digitally overlayed print contained artefacts such as grains and spots, whereas the overprinted image had less visible artefacts, possibly due to being concealed by the next layer of ink on top (Figure 7.1). Being a single layer of ink, the digital overlay appeared duller, while overlayed areas of the overprinted image appeared richer, and perhaps a more accurate representation of overlayed ink than overlay effects in a digital colour space.
This method was repeated again using text and graphics, which proved to be an unconventional way of printing using the inkjet printer (Figure 7.2). Part of its appeal is not knowing the final colors caused by the overlaying until all print passes are completed—another instance of allowing the final design to emerge from the printer.
Subtractive Versus Additive
Most CMYK printing processes employ a subtractive colour printing process, meaning that cyan, magenta, yellow, and black are layered to subtract brightness from white (Duffy 2013). This is opposed to RGB colour systems where red, green, and blue are added starting from black and ending in white. What if printing with CMYK was used as an additive process, by starting with a substrate that isn’t white?
This concept is a direct challenge to the perception that printing with common digital printing systems should result in a clear contrast between substance and substrate for legibility or visibility of an image—coloured ink on light substrates, or dark ink on coloured substrates. The first experiment of this sort started with printing black ink on a black substrate. Based on an attempt for a previous project using the Risograph, black Risograph ink is absorbed by the black card stock, causing very low visibility. Upon discovering this, the laser printer was used instead. The lustre of the heat-fused toner provides ample contrast, its glossy appearance standing out against the matte surface of the black card stock (Figure 8.0).
This was followed up by an experiment on colour printing onto coloured paper stocks. Starting with the laser printer, a master image was scanned and the output settings were defined as single colours corresponding to the colour of the substrates (Figure 8.1). These prints appeared duller or as a darkening of the coloured paper stocks. This may be due to these single coloured print settings still being a mixture of CMYK colours, and was proven upon closer inspection. Repeating this experiment on the Risograph provided printed colours almost consistent with the paper stocks, especially the fluorescent colours. They had enough contrast to be optically legible because no two ink or paper would ever be exact colours. The Risograph prints had a more pleasant, natural appearance due to its use of real inks (Figure 8.2) as opposed to spot colour combinations by the laser printer.