The Risograph is a copier made in Japan by the Riso Kagaku Corporation. Pronounciation guide: リソグラフ (ree-so graph)
The Risograph is an automated mimeograph released in Japan way back in 1986. It was designed mainly for high-speed, high-volume photocopying and printing in an office environment. When printing multiples (generally more than 20) of the same image, it is typically far less expensive per page than a conventional photocopier, laser printer, or inkjet printer. For schools, clubs, and other short-run print jobs, the Risograph bridges the gap between a standard photocopier (which is cheaper up to about 50 copies) and using a commercial printer (cheaper over about 10,000 copies).
It is also better for the environment than regular digital printers or photocopiers. The machine itself is energy efficient, and uses recycled, uncoated paper. It also only prints with soy-based ink, which is better than toner in appearance, and does not require the extra process of setting the ink with heat, as photocopiers do with toner.
It looks like a bulky photocopier, but inside it has a silkscreen mesh that is uses to print, along with stencils made from a roll of banana paper. It uses spot colours in a limited palette of vibrant inks. The finish of the print is similar to both lithography and silkscreen, with results that are sometimes unpredictable. Oh, and it prints FAST!
So, How can I use this process as an artist?
Spot colour means that each colour is printed separately, and layered to create new colours. This can be used to great advantage to create beautiful effects. I love how 2-3 colours can be blended together to recreate hand painted tones, or how the semi-opaque quality of the inks can lends itself to very clean layers. There is a limited palette, sure, but sometimes working with restrictions helps you to make something you wouldn’t have thought of normally. It forces you to learn to work with what you have. Anyway, there are beautiful florescent colours, a metallic gold, and plenty of subtle greens, reds and blues to work with. Keep in mind, though, that not many places will have the full range of colours available (they are hard to come by, and you would need a very large storage area!).
Cost is also something to consider. If you’re only going to print 5 copies of something, Risograph may not be the best value for money. The more copies you print from one stencil, the more cost efficient it is. It is designed to print 50-2000+ copies at a time. Great for posters, zines and booklets. You can print on different colours and textures of paper, too! Because it uses uncoated paper, this opens up a whole world of options. This book was printed on a coloured paper stock, which can change the perceived colour of the ink quite a lot.
Overall, as with all printmaking processes, it has its own quirks and benefits. I personally love making riso prints! I’ve been working with lots of local artists recently on a Dundee Print Collective project called Riso Soup, and it’s been a rewarding challenge to really experiment and play with Risograph Printing. I’ll make a separate post about that, as this post is getting pretty long. But it’s been fun blogging more regularly! I’ll be back soon.
Like the idea? Do you want to make something with this process? I am a trained riso tech, so I can try to answer any questions you might want to ask. :)