It is difficult to imagine modern life without technology: thanks to various devices, any person may easily get the result they need. In ancient times, to make a duplicate of the written text, it was necessary to manually re-write it from the source to obtain a so-called copy. It was a hard and lengthy process. To improve the result and speed of copying, the hectograph was created – a type of copying machine. Hectographic printing was invented for a cheap and fast replication of medium-quality materials. Hectographs were significantly improved during the development of printing and were used mainly by small printing companies.

Mikhail Ivanovich Alisov – a Russian inventor in the field of printing. The hectograph creator

Mikhail Ivanovich Alisov – a Russian inventor in the field of printing. The hectograph creator

Such printing was carried out in three ways: gelatin process (the original method), using flat hectographs like boxes, with a mixture of glycerin and gelatin diluted in water inside. After adding wood glue, such mix was frozen in tin boxes, and then the manuscript with aniline ink was tightly applied to it. After a few minutes, the print would appear on the hectograph, copied onto the attached sheets of paper. As a result, there were up to 50–60 good-quality copies. The alcohol process of hectograph printing, although more laborious, made it possible to do color copies. Mirror text was applied to chalk paper, then the form was completely impregnated with alcohol for a clearer and more high-quality image of 100 to 200 copies per print. There was also nitrogen method, deemed too hazardous, hence nitrogen hectography was not used.

Mikhail Ivanovich Alisov, a Russian inventor in the field of printing, was the first to design a hectograph duplicator in 1869, christened “Poligrafia” (Polygraphy). Later he will develop “Skoropechatnik” (Fast-typer), the first Soviet typewriter. Alisov’s hectograph was easy to use and was widely popular during the revolution.

Alisov's Hectograph

Alisov's Hectograph

The birth of a new copying system

Historians believe that the predecessor of modern copiers was the mimeograph, invented by Thomas Edison. Sheet stencils were inserted into a special paint drum. The use of such stencils made it possible to produce up to 5,000 copies; then a new device had to be built. The improved mimeographs firmly entrenched in copy stations with a high print run. In addition to mimeographs and hectographs, the dry electrostatic photocopying method emerged. The process consisted of reprinting documents with copy paper, carried out by typists’ hands since it was cheaper and more accessible, but less efficient. Therefore, in 1938, an American physicist and inventor Chester Charlson created the first high-quality copying machine. Having written in ink “10-22-38 Astoria” on a glass sheet, he rubbed the sulfur-covered metal plate with a cotton rag, placed it under the glass with the inscription, and turned on the lamp. Under the impact of light, the electric charge “flowed down” from the section of the plate not covered with letters. He sprinkled the latter with lycopodium (powder made of the strobili of common club moss) and firmly pressed the waxed paper. This process is now automated in modern copiers, such as Xerox, only that toner is used instead of lycopodium. An interesting fact was observed: in some of the first models, the toner was poorly fixed inside, so it had to be heated a lot. As a result, when a sheet of paper got stuck inside the machine, it instantly caught fire. This is why copiers in the 1950s and 1960s were produced with an in-built fire extinguisher.

Chester Carlson – an American physicist, the inventor of the first high-quality copier

Chester Carlson – an American physicist, the inventor of the first high-quality copier

 Characteristics of modern copiers 

All the copying equipment is divided into several types.

Blueprint copiers are used to make photocopies. This technique is used to create quality images with high definition in color format. For example, to make a copy of a reproduction of a painting or photograph.

Electrographic copiers became very popular in modern companies and organizations. They’re divided into six groups based on such parameters as speed, document print format, and the maximum number of copies per month:

— portable: mobile devices that have a moving part of the working surface, but operate very slowly, and can print no more than 6 copies per minute

— low-speed: these copiers can print up to 20 standard sheets per minute

— office middle class: have a speed of up to 40 sheets per minute, can do automated two-sided copying, and have a multifunctional LCD screen, making it easy to change the copy settings. These are considered the most popular devices in many companies

— high-performance: more serious copying machines, can print up to 90 sheets per minute. High-performance copiers can zoom documents and are equipped with automatic feeders, stapler, sorter, a continuous diagnostics system via landline, document folding and stapling device, post-printing processing. They can print brochures and booklets of different formats

— digital black and white: these are combined devices with several functions: copying, scanning, laser printing, faxing. They work in a digital format with high resolutions, making it possible to do high-quality printing at a speed of 120 sheets per minute

— color digital: these make high-quality copies of color images from computer or paper original. They work similarly to the previous type, except for color printing. The copying speed reaches 40 sheets per minute.

— stencil models: these copiers are used to make a large number of identical companies. Stencil technology is a very complex and labor-intensive process. To carry out high-quality service of a stencil device, you would need a qualified specialist. These devices produce a lot of noise while operating and have large overall dimensions; therefore, stencil machines are not suitable for standard premises but can be conveniently used by small printing houses and typographies.

As you can see, modern copying methods are far superior to their predecessors. Of course, thanks to hectographic printing, now we have multifunctional devices (all-in-one printers, scanners, copiers) that produce high-quality copies similar to the copy source. With different models, you can get from 1 to 20 copies within a certain period of time. Everything is simple and easy now!


  1. Hectograph. Wikipedia. 

  2. Hectographic printing.

  3. How the first copier was invented – the history of creation

  4. Types of modern copiers.

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