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Synonyms: mimeograph
See also: Zine Production, Corflu
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A stencil is the first step in the method of printing mimeographed fanzines. A typewriter cuts letters into a wax paper, which leaves in effect a negative space. When the wax paper is placed onto the rolling drum of a mimeograph machine and ink is applied, the stencils create readable text as they are imprinted onto the zine paper. Some stencil machines were electronic and could punch text for multiple copies at a time. Most fans could not afford an electronic stencil machine and made do with manual typewriters and stencil paper. Errors could be hand corrected with Corflu.

Artwork could also be created with stencils using a similar method. The art - usually a line drawing - is etched into the wax paper. Some artwork was hand stenciled using a utility knife, while others were done using an electric stencil that could be used to burn the paper very much like a woodcut.

an electric typewriter with stencil paper. Note at the bottom the bottle of Corflu or correcting fluid and the small plastic orange shapecutter that could be used to cut commonly used shapes and symbols by hand. Image Source: Dek Skin's History of Fanzines

The life cycle of a stencil could be short - or long - depending on the materials and the mimeograph machine used. When stencils wore out a zine publisher had two choices - re-stencil the entire zine (with artwork) again by hand - or cease publication.

Stenciling also required attention be paid to the white spaces in a zine, or run the risk that the wax paper would fall apart if letters were cut out too close to one another. Often glue was needed to hold the stencils together.

In 2003, K.S. Langley wrote an essay describing the methods of early zine production.

SomeContemporaneous Descriptions 0f Stencils

In 1977, Louise Stange explained stencils to Leonard Nimoy who had come to her house to see how she put together the LNAF Yearbook. From that year's yearbook:
… we went over to the electronic stencil machine, and ran a test stencil to show how it operates. The machine cuts the stencil using a tiny regulated spark and i minuscule wire which emits the spark. The electric eye picks up the varying shades and translates the information via circuit boards to the stylus control. This, in turn* transmits the bursts of energy and burns a regulated hole in a special chemically prepared stencil. All this is going on while a large drum containing the original art and the special stencil is rotating at a very rapid speed. This is the method used to reproduce artwork to the stencils in preparation for running on the mimeograph.
In 1982, in issue 33/34 of the S&H letterzine, Barbara Green Deer described the various printing methods in her article: "Zine Publishing: Choice of Medium.":
In mimeo reproduction, ink (usually black, but can be other colors) is forced through a screen which has been cut out in the area of the copy, generally by being typed on. The ribbon of your typewriter is disengaged when you cut a mimeo stencil, so that a crisp, clear image is cut into the stencil. Some schools and churches (or fans really into mimeo) own electro stencil machines. This machine will produce a mimeo stencil from black on white copy much as a Thermofax produces a ditto stencil. This allows for the use of original artwork instead of art which must be drawn directly on the masters.

The Stencil Burning

Burning the stencils was one way to ensure that there would be no further reprints of a zine, at least in the original form. As affordable photo-copying was still years away, this meant that, aside from the photostat mentioned above, new copies of this zine would be nearly impossible to recreate.

  • "Monday morning was the ceremonial stencil burning... After some searching, our motley crew managed to find a garbage can lid to burn the stencils in. Interestingly enough, stencils burn with a ferocity that is surpassed only by that of napalm. Paula suggested that it might be an omen or something to do with the contents of the zine..." [1]
  • A zine ed said she would reprint Wilderness to run off 100 copies, “and then Laurie and I are going to burn the stencils.” [2]
  • The zine ed wrote in a letterzine about Forever Autumn, explaining that the stencils for Forever Autumn were burned at a mini-con in 1980. [3]

Fandom Usage

example of hand stenciled art, Leslie Fish
  • A zine publisher complains about fans xeroxing copies of Wilderness and giving them to friends. “It’s made 50+ people who’ve been waiting for the reprint wait up to close to another year longer before I was willing to tackle the job again. It’s very easy to reprint a mimeo zine, if the stencils are intact, BUT how many of the readers actually realize the time/effort that goes into printing/collating/punching/bradding/stuffing envelopes/taping envelopes and taking an hour every week to have the zines individually weight at the post office? Why should I go through the trouble of printing/collating etc. for 10 people?” [4]
  • A publisher apologizes to his readers: " I'd originally planned to include the review form for each 'zine reviewed. I've dropped this idea, mainly because I couldn't face the thought of typing up an identical form fifteen times on fifteen stencils (yeah), but also because I can't currently afford to pay $1.50 per electro-stencil. *Sigh*... " [5]
  • A reader reviews The Dark Lord (Star Wars Swedish zine): "First, the reproduction on this issue is truly abominable: not just less-than-good, not just poor, but positively wretched. There are titles written in by hand, blurry print, strikeovers on the stencil left uncorrected, and a number of pages that seem to be in the last stages of some obscure fungoid disease which afflicts them with creeping dark patches." [6]
  • A zine ed writes: "Way back in 1982, two fen looked up from the zines they were reading, looked at each other and said, "Hey, we can do this too!" And they did. They had the stories - two each! They had the technology - an elderly electric stencil printer (100 copies per minute) that went berserk when you took your eye off it." [7]
  • When the Starsky & Hutch zine Crossfire was finally reprinted the publisher apologized: About the official reprints, the author notes: "My apologies for the quality of the print on this xeroxed copy of 'Crossfire.' This issue marked the first time I'd printed (mimeo) on bond paper. It was a disaster. Since the original wax stencils are long gone, I could only use an actual mimeo copy as my master." [8]
  • A zine publisher asks for donations toward the purchase of an Electro-stencil cutter, a machine that cuts art stencils for mimeo-zines. "I have found a beauty of a bargain for $450 (about the 1/3 of the cost new) and they are holding it for [me] for two months. Help! At this time, I have to pay $3 per Electro-Stencil for my zines; the Blond Blintz Bulletin had eleven illo. That alone was $33... Also, for my fellow zine-producers, I will cut stencils for you for $1 a piece plus postage." [9]
"Never and always...the endless sessions at the typewriter
Touching and touched... the stencils and typewriter keys
Parted from me and-never and the typewriter
I await thee in the- appointed-place-the-duplicating and the deadline...


  1. ^ the editor of The Cage describes that zine's end in Spectrum #33
  2. ^ from a zine ed in S and H #12
  3. ^ from S and H #14
  4. ^ from S&H #12
  5. ^ from Fanzine Review 'Zine
  6. ^ from Jundland Wastes
  7. ^ from In the Wilderness, a British series of slash Kirk/Spock Zines
  8. ^ from the editorial
  9. ^ from S&H #4