Thermal Copier

A Thermal Copier is required for the Thermal Screen Printing process which I use in a Graphic Communication Technologies class I teach. Unfortunately Thermal Imagers are no longer being manufactured. As a result, obtaining one has become difficult.

There is a market for used Thermal Copiers on ebay and a few niche websites are selling old stock. But, each 10+ year-old machine can cost $750 or more. Instead of buying a machine that may not survive for much longer (with questionable access to repair parts) I want to explore an alternate solution…

I have started this page to document my best efforts to fix, to recreate, or to make a thermal copier.

Pictures of the Machines:

07st34520244a.jpg Thermal Copier Thermal Copier 518-1011.jpg

How it Works:

Thermally-Sensitive Materials – Special materials that are heat sensitive are put through the machine. When parts of the material are heated chemical reactions occur.

  • Overhead thermal transparencies – These have a layer of Silver Salt/Silver Halide. When any part of it is heated that part turns dark brown.
  • Riso Thermal Screen – These silk screens have a special emulsion on it. When heated, the emulsion burns off exposing the screen.
  • Spirit Master Paper – ?

Internal Heat Lamp – A special lamp inside the machine heats the original image – a carbon-based photocopy – causing the black toner on the original to heat up (the white areas deflect the light and don’t get as hot). While the black areas of the original are hot, it is pressed against the heat-sensitive material. The lamp is only an indirect heater to the developing.


Exposure Time – The thermally-sensitive material needs __ seconds of heat at __ degrees for the chemical reactions to occur.

Heat Lamp – Carbon Toner heats up best from light with wavelengths of 0.7 – 1.2 microns, which is “Near Infrared” or “IR-A” light. A 1500 watt IR bulb generates __ joules of radiated heat and light per second.

    1500watts = __ joules/hour = __ joules/second
    (_ joules/sec) x (_% heating efficiency) / (_bulb length) = _ joules/inch-second

    Heating Time – For the black toner to reach __ degrees. With a 1500 watt bulb it will take __ seconds to reach that temperature.

    (_ degrees) – (72 degrees room temp) = _ degree change
    (_ specific heat of toner) * (degree change) = _ joules
    (__ joules) / (_ joules/inch-second) = _ seconds

    Design Idea #1:

    Thermal Copier Design 1a

    Two rollers are positioned like a laundry wringer. One roller is a glass tube with the Infrared Lamp inside to provide exposure at the point of contact. The other roller is a motorized rubber roller to grip the materials and feed it through. Pressure is applied downward on the rubber roller to hold the materials together.

    IR Bulb:

    This setup is similar to the “Apollo Portable Thermal Copier“.

    Design Idea #2:

    Old scanner

    No mechanized parts.

    This setup is similar to the original flatbed.

    Test #1 – Infrared Heat Bulb:

    IR Heat Lamp

    I bought an Ir Heat Bulb (250Watt) from a hardware store and tried shining it on a Riso Thermal Screen + Photocopy.  I had some success, but it took 15+ minutes from 4inches away and the results were not usable.

    Perhaps this is giving off more heat than Ir light.  I wish I knew how to tell what type of Ir this is producing and how much.


    30 Responses to Thermal Copier

    1. john says:

      how much do you want for all of them?

    2. thetechnologyteacher says:

      Sorry, I can’t sell these. I only own the machine in the last of the 4 pictures (the Apollo Portable). Perhaps you’ll find this page interesting as a homemade design develops.

    3. Kelly says:

      You can purchase new thermal copiers for between $250- $350 direct from China try or i’m not sure what shipping runs, but I’m sure its cheaper than any other options I’ve seen

    4. Rowdy says:

      Any luck?

    5. Hi to all,

      if you want to buy a brand-new thermal copier -Made in Germany- please check this website:

      We offer two sizes with diff. inner width, A4 for US-letter-size and A3 for 300+ mm / 11.8 Inches.

      If you want to know sources in US or Canada please send a request from our website,

      kind regards, Guenther Panenka, Munich, Germany

      Panenka Design Products Munich, PDPM

    6. Jason says:

      I want to know before I buy, I have 5 computer and i have 1 mouse, 1 keyboard, 2 monitors, I wonder can I contorl with 1 mouse and keboard in vnc with 5 computers?

      As I want know how much for cost?

    7. Jim says:

      I Sell parts for the 3M transparency maker aka thermal copier aka thermofax machine
      I stock the clear carrier belt and the 12 amp 1350 bulb or lamp.
      Please visit my web site:

      I also sell the machines, see website above.

      These machines are out of production but made to last 50 years yes 5 decades!! The machine will need serviced over the years and of course need consumables the belts and lamps, but they are made to last and give years of service.

      Thank You,

    8. Wow, I just came across your site today. I’m on the same path, my friend… the thermal printers on eBay are ridiculously expensive for something you can hardly get parts for, and Gocco machines are no longer being manufactured, not to mention use proprietary bulbs. I’m sure you might have abandoned this for the time being, or I’d be reading about your successes… but if you have any advice, I’d be happy to hear it!

    9. j21 says:

      take spirit master paper or squirl master as i call it place design to me copied inbetween pigmented side and protection sheet and place all together down on flat some what heatable surface (with a cardboardish like gaskt like a cerl box piece under it all) take a blowtorch….dun dun dunnnn jokeing no really tho take a household iron the type used in ironing fabrics make a couple somewhat fast swipes across top
      play around untill you find your likeing

      or just quit being cheep and spend 1100.00 and get a nice new one……………..anyway itl work
      and ive seen it done by some really gifted tattooists
      kinda scratcherish but…………

    10. Slater says:

      I have the one pictured(very similar) top center. How do I use Spirit master to make a stencil? Email

    11. andy says:

      iv just used an old fax machine with a copy option to print a very crisp tattoo stencil

    12. stephen rutt says:

      will a intel1270 thermal fax machine work if I make a roll out of spirit master paper?

    13. Goose says:

      I’m wondering if there has been any more progress made on this endeavor. I’m a tattooist without a thermofax, hand drawing stencils is no fun.

      I’ve just been given an old Xerox 5009 R/E copy machine with a thermal option built in. It’s got the bulb, insulating tube, rubber roller, darkness adjustment switch, and a paper tray. I’m thinking that I can rip it to pieces and build my own thermal copier from it, but I’m not much of an electrician and I haven’t a clue as to where to begin with the wiring. Any help would be much appreciated, I can’t even find the diagram for the existing unit.

    14. didiertattoo says:

      ask price for the thermo copiers.

    15. locnar says:

      Any luck with the homemade project? I am in the same/similiar boat and am trying to find a relatively cheap solution. The german links posted above are still a bit expensive, and the china ones don’t exist.

    16. sabi sue says:

      Do you think an older laminator would fuse riso thermo screen like a thermal copier?

    17. Lindsey says:

      Hi, couldn’t one use a thermal copier like they use in tatoo shops to make stencils? They use carbon paper and expose the negative of the image (I think). I am also currently looking for help with my Thermofax machine, as we got half way through my Art class’ images and it stopped pulling the page into the machine. There are a few people I’ve found so far that service these machines: George @ GC Services in Brooklin, NY at 718-951-8293; Gil in Yreka, CA at 909-790-9588; and Gil’s son in Sacramento, CA at 916-488-1432.

      Lindsey O.
      Fairfield, CA

    18. Leslie Todder says:

      Interested in purchasing a Panenka thermal screen maker
      Are there any suppliers in New York City?

    19. zenchild says:

      I recently bought a 3M thermal copier and unfortunately in the shipping process something seems to have come loose or disjointed. The lamp does not light, though I am almost certain it’s not due to a broken bulb…
      I would be willing to send this it to you this week and pay for the repair cost if you think you could possibly repair it?

    20. thomas massari says:

      i have been looking for 2 weeks trying to find out who makes the spirit masters paper for the thermofax machines! i want to buy it from the maker on a wholesale level. any help will be much much appreciated! thanks in advance…

    21. Kathy says:

      I was reading your blog and find it very interesting!
      Did you ever make one to work?
      My brain is really working on a solution to a inexpensive
      thermal copier!
      Do you know of a source for thermal screens that aren’t really expensive?
      Thanks for this article!

    22. Johan says:

      Hello i have been trying this with a ir bulb similar to the one you suggested but i cant get it to work it heats upp way to fast. and ruins the transfer would like to know if there are someone who has got this to
      work in an homebuilt machine? regards johan

    23. chris says:

      Nehoc sells new models for tattooists, and screen printers. I have a 3m machine. I have had some luck feeding risograph stencil roll, (digital duplicator), tissue through it to use on a antique gestetner. Textile Screen printing ink seems to work fine on the machine.

    24. Logan says:

      First of all, thank you for writing this and sharing it with everyone. This is the only information I can find on making a home made thermofax / thermocopier. I have been trying figure out if the process of burning screens is heat activated or light activated. I guess it could be a combo of both, but that seems unlikely.

      I would love to hear / see how it response to an iron being passed over it. A light from three inches away may just not be getting hot enough for the reaction to occur. The light tubes in the thermocopier is crazy hot, but just for a very short period of time. I believe that’s what I read today when trying to find info on this…

    25. Kay says:

      Hi – I am a textiles teacher and would love to be able to get a riso thermal screen. Any suggestions

    26. Melainie says:

      I am also trying to invent an alternative to the old thermofax… If it is just heat needed how about a laminator?

      • I think IR is important in fusing the carbon based toner to the thermal screen as I had been using the Gocco imagers I’m running out of light bulbs. I found a different way of making stencils with photo process and they can be used for metal etching, glass etching, screen printing and the process is simple. Take a photo sensitive stencil film print your image on a transparency lay it over the film in a dark room environment, cover it with a glass panel and over that cover it from light. Take this outside on a sunny day and expose it to the sun for about 65 seconds then cover it back on and use the developer solution to develop your screen as it is instructed by the seller of the photo sensitive film. You can get it at etch-o-matic’s web site and the screens last for long time. I abuse it with electrolytes and heat and so on and they produce laser sharp images over and over. Hope this helps. I was also thinking on the same line of design #1 on the top, but I think if I just use the Gocco method by applying pressure to the screen on top of laser image and put it out to the sun to scorch it for a day the carbon may stick to the screen from the IR provided by the sun. I yet to try this method but I think it may work. I had laser printed documents out on the sun sometimes for long time and they stock together from the heat and the printing had transferred to the other pages. I mean there is so many ways but we need to play with it. The key is Carbon based image pressed to the screen under heat provided by IR source like the Sun or IR bulbs and so on. Take care

    27. § says:

      Too bad I didn’t read this 6 months ago, just sent 10 of these to the recyclers. Try contacting your local electronics recycler and see if they have any you could cannibalize.

    28. august moon says:

      the thermo copyers from china are like anything ealse , garbage dont waste your time or money.

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