Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nintendo Copilas - part 2 (コピラス, 1971)

The Nintendo Copilas (コピラス) was a revolutionary budget-price photocopy machine, released by Nintendo in 1971. After the introduction in a previous post, it is now time to take a look at how this wonderful machine actually works.

Nintendo Copilas (1971)

The Copilas runs on mains power, which is 100 volts in Japan.

top view

But before we watch it in action, let's first take a closer look.

The machine is emblazoned with its name on an impressive expensive-looking name plate. It the same type of name plate which was used for the Nintendo Light Telephone, dating from the same year.


The Nintendo logo can be found on the left of the front.


On the top of the Copilas we find two controls.


A push switch is used to turn the machine on and off, and a speed dial sets the pace of the copy process.


The mechanics of the Copilas are covered by US patent 3,7289,024, titled "Copying Apparatus", which Nintendo filed in 1971. It was granted in 1973. Nobuo Nagai is listed as the inventor.


A key element of the invention is a belt system that transports the paper (original and copy together) along a rotating fluorescent tube-light.

Cross section of the Copilas, showing the belts

The four belts are made from black rubber. Together they form the width of a piece of paper.

When the top lid is taken off, the innards become visible

The manual included with the Copilas shows the copy process in clear step-by-step instructions.

Copilas manual

The first step is to load developing liquid into the machine. The Copilas comes with a plastic tank, that allows handling the liquid without getting messy hands.

Ink tank

The developing agent is provided in powder form in a sachet. It is mixed with water in the tank.


The liquid is then poured in a basin in the back of the Copilas.


This liquid will develop the special Copilas photo paper that is needed for the photo copies, after these have been exposed to ultra violet light. [More about these supplies can be found here.]

Copilas photo paper pack, with 50 sheets

Just like modern-day printer companies make their money on the ink cartridges, Nintendo's business model for the Copilas was based on selling this special paper and providing maintenance service. The machine itself was sold for a very affordable price, but paying for supplies and service support to keep it running was actually quite costly.


The Copilas is tailored for B4 and B5 type paper (two ISO standard paper sizes).


The Copilas photo paper is sold in tick paper envelops, lined with black plastic to keep the light out and prevent early exposure.


To make a copy, the original and a piece of photo paper are placed on top of each other, and fed into the slot in the front of the Copilas. The belts inside ensure the two sheets stay aligned while they are transported along the fluorescent tube-light.


After the sheets have made a full round, they are ejected again at the front. The photo paper now has been exposed in the areas not covered by the text and images on the original.


In the final step, the exposed photo paper is fed through the slot on the top. Here another set of wheels transport it along the developing liquid in the basin.


The developing liquid reacts with the areas that are not exposed, thus creating a copy. It is not quite laser sharp, and requires some time to dry, but it does the trick.


A television commercial that was made for the Copilas provides a good demonstration of the copy quality.

In the image below, the original and photo paper are inserted into the machine. You can see the fluorescent light shining through the front slot.


The original that is used in the television commercial contains the Copilas name (in katakana script) and the retail price of ¥9,800. As the low price was the main selling point, it was a clever idea to include it so prominent in the commercial this way.


The television commercial features an office lady (or "OL") - a very typical phenomenon in the Japanse business world. She shows how easy it is to make a copy with the Copilas.


See. Just feed the sheets twice through the machine, exposing it first and then developing it, and it is already done!

A copy produced by the Copilas

When the copying work is done, the Copilas can be stored away using the included dust cover.


The first part of our story about this interesting piece of Nintendo history can be found here. More information about the Copilas paper and developing liquid in this post.

By the way, Nintendo used the same copy process for the 1971 toy Monster Copy set.

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