The Ditto Machine

A spirit duplicator (also referred to as a Ditto machine ) was a low-volume printing method used mainly by schools and churches. The term "spirit duplicator" comes from the alternative term for alcohols, which is "spirits." Alcohols were a major component of the solvents used as "inks" in these machines. The spirit duplicator was invented in 1923 by Wilhelm Ritzerfeld. The best-known manufacturer in the United States was Ditto Corporation of Illinois, hence that name.
A ditto machine used a solvent like methylated spirits or ammonia to transfer ink from the master copy (the template, if you will) onto other pieces of paper.

The master copy was a smooth, waxy piece of paper which was thickly inked when printed. The procedure for printing on a master was like the reverse of a carbon-copy; instead of writing on the normal paper and having the carbon underneath, the text and pictures were printed onto carbon paper of varying colours to transfer print to the master. If you want to know exactly how thickly a master was inked, put your printer on the best quality and print about two or three passes onto the same sheet of paper (so that you are printing over the previous printing, I mean).

The master was then wrapped around a drum, and the solvent was applied as the drum rotated. The solvent either softened or melted the ink so that just enough of it would stick to the blank sheets of paper. A lot of the copies produced in this way came out with purple ink because purple “provided the best contrast” As you can see in the following photo Ditto copies were far from easy to read.

Both the isopropanol and the methanol found in ditto solvents are toxic substances. These chemicals can cause a host of medical problems when humans are improperly exposed. Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) guidelines recommend the use of personal protective equipment during exposure to methanol, however, most chemists work with methanol and isopropanol wearing only medical exam grade gloves, goggles and a working fume hood as the chief, no-ingested or inhaled reaction with methanol is limited skin irritation.

Ditto machines were popular in schools and churches as no electricity was needed to make quick stinky copies. Nothing smells quite like a fresh slightly wet Ditto copy.

They have gone the way of the typewriter and the dictaphone.
They Always Come Back:
Thanks to the efforts of this site they are not forgotten.


Luke said...

Ah, the ditto machine. THe school I used to work at had the machines in a tiny, unventilated room. It was bad enough when you ran dittos on regular paper, but when you had to ditto on thick, hyperabsorbent construction paper- that's when the fun would start. I'm sure a good chunk of my brain has been killed by those fumes.

Then they tried to make them safer by switching to a water-based solvent. It made fewer fumes, but took forever to dry.

You know who still uses ditto machines? Low rent tattoo parlors. YOu bring in or choose a design, and they run it through the Thermofax to make a ditto master. Then they rub deodorant on the spot where you want the tattoo, and press the ditto to your skin.

Marko said...

Wow, you have really done your research on this stuff. It's pretty amazing!

Ms. Bizarro said...

I love the smell of Ditto in the morning! Smells like... grammar school.

Scot said...

makes me think of math tests and helping Mom on "TAP" days

Anonymous said...

If someone could help me by telling me how to make a portable one, a ditto house use. We want to donate one to a town where they don't have electricity neither material for a rural school in lima, peru. Thanks a lot.

Bineet said...

Interacting with a computer using a keyboard and mouse is really starting to get old.EOT Cranes I recently purchased a Tablet netbook

and I have found the touch screen interface a pleasure to use over using the mouse; coupled with

Vista's excellent handwriting recognition, the tablet has become my number one machine for use


Silent 3 said...

In grade school we used to get handouts made with the ditto machine. If they were freshly run copies, most of us kids would gleefully put the sheet to our face and inhale deeply...

jayesjay said...

Around 1970, in my experience, German restaurants typically had a menu folder with a "pocket" holding the day's menu in blue, which must have copied using a spirit duplicator. I don't think they would have had a duplicator machine - is there a static "pad" version?

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Anonymous said...

Here is a link for a company that sells the liquid and paper Dont know if its still running.

Phil said...

In reply to the comment about menus in German restaurants, many small cafes used a tissue thin blue paper with a heavy white wax coating. You could stack up to 10 or 12 pages, then type on the top sheet, The wax would transfer from the top of the tissue sheet, to the back of the tissue above it in the stack, exposing a blue image on the lower sheet. A sort of "negative" carbon paper, but cleaner because you were transferring white wax from one surface to another.

There is also self-copying paper which works like NCR paper, but does not require matching top and bottom coated sheets. It is often used in duplicate check books. Write on the check, and a matching image appears on the underlying paper. It is still available, but somewhat expensive, around $30 per ream.

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