ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Help Me Find Invisiclues 2000 —

I’ll give you what I’m doing, what I have, what I want.

I’d like to add a level of Invisiclues to the packaging for one of the versions of GET LAMP. Let me explain what invisiclues are in this context. They’re a method of printing in “invisible ink”, such that you can’t see the printing on paper until you take a marker, which has a different chemical on it, and rub it on the paper, causing the printing to turn opaque. It’s very neat to watch. It appeals heavily to children.

The massive giant in this field/approach currently is Lee Publications, who make a mass of products that utilize this invisible ink technology. I do not really see a way to hire them to make booklets and there’s no indication of if there’s some other printer they use to make this stuff (i.e. someone I could contract for a few thousand booklets).

Way back when, Mike Dornbrook and the folks of Infocom’s marketing department had to go around searching wildly until someone let them know they wanted “Latent Image” printing. Then it apparently fell into place. A citation because citations are awesome:

He was getting quite bored explaining what to do about the Thief, and giving the answer to the riddle. He wanted to do hint booklets if only he could find a way which would be easy to use without spoiling any part of the games for anyone. After months of searching for a solution, he came across an invisible printing process and InvisiClues were born.

An additional one:

At a party, a friend suggested using invisible ink, which could be made visible by running a special developing pen over the hidden answers. Mike loved the idea and immediately tried to get started on it – only to find a major obstacle in his path: Where to find a company to produce the books? It turned out there are only two manufacturers in the U.S. capable of printing up “latent image process” books, a fact Mike discovered after exercising the same sort of perseverance that helps him solve adventure games. Luckily, one of the printers was nearby.

This is less an easy process in the modern era because a lot of things call themselves latent image printing.

Good luck with the term “invisible ink”, too: I find way too many places sell ink pens that work under blacklight, like this one. Cool, but not what I want.

I am sure it will be a process of finding “the printer” who almost never deals with end-user customers, who has this buried in their catalog, which almost nobody uses but which I will produce a sizeable order for.

If you find this, you will get a credit in the movie.


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  1. steph says:

    Perhaps this is a hint in the right direction: it’s not the printer which is special, but the ink.

  2. ~ says:

    here’s a forum for printers prfessional and recreational;

    you might find someone here who could help.

  3. Flack says:

    Just brainstorming here … are you dead set on this specific technology? I remember lots of ways text was hidden or obscured back then. For example, I remember owning a code wheel that had blue writing on a red background. The text was impossible to read without one of those red plastic filters. That might be a neat thing to include on the DVD’s package.

    Another idea — you could autograph each copy of the DVD with one of those blacklight pens. That would be kind of neat and sneaky.

    My dad retired from the printing business after putting in 30 years. I’ll ask him if he has any ideas about your elusive ink.

  4. palad says:

    You could see if the folks at would do custom orders.

  5. Palad says:

    Sorry, maybe I should read more carefully. I skimmed right over your whole “Lee Publications” paragraph.

  6. Palad says:

    OK, let’s try this again. How about ? They offer ‘Chemically Reactive Ink – An invisible “watermark” is revealed with special pen authentication’.

  7. Josef says:

    “Another idea — you could autograph each copy of the DVD with one of those blacklight pens. That would be kind of neat and sneaky.” – Flack

    Awesome idea, but no longer a secret or sneaky now you’ve posted that 😛

  8. Jim Leonard says:

    An easier option, but not what you want, is to do hintbooks the other way: Print light gray answers underneath a perturbed red busy/noisy pattern. Then you look through the included red gel to see “through” the red pattern to see the answer. Sierra used this for both copy-protection and hint books.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’ll third the notion that having a hidden message that can only be seen by using the piece of red cellophane would be awesome. I don’t remember any old games that used invisible ink but I certainly remember a few games that came with the little red cellophane viewer thingies that would allow you too see hidden text.

  10. Lazlo Nibble says:

    I think the term of art is “pen reactive ink”. Seems like all you need is a) a supplier for the ink and b) a printer who’s willing to use it for your job if you tell them where to get it.

  11. Josh Renaud says:

    I think the problem with the red cellophane, at least in Infocom’s case, is that you could too easily reveal clues inadvertently.

    I don’t know if that bears on Jason’s usage or not.

  12. Kevin Savetz says:

    Jason: what are you quoting in the citation? An interview from Get Lamp or a book or …? Thanks.