My Top 7 Risograph Lessons
Ellie Andrews The Risograph is a printing machine for high volume production; it came out in the 80s from the Japanese company Riso Kagaku Corporation. It is also referred to by other names: RISO Printer, RISO Copier, Digital Duplicator and Duplicator. The machine comes with interchangeable drums of inks that …
The Risograph is a printing machine for high volume production; it came out in the 80s from the Japanese company Riso Kagaku Corporation. It is also referred to by other names: RISO Printer, RISO Copier, Digital Duplicator and Duplicator. The machine comes with interchangeable drums of inks that act like ink cartridges, so if you have the red drum inside the Riso it will print red ink only. When you need to add another color, you open up the drum door and change the drum to use purple, for example. The Risograph prints one color at a time, but there is a version that prints two colors at once. I printed projects using both; I prefer the MZ1090, the model that prints two colors.
How does it work?
The process of printing starts with placing the ‘original’—a printout of something created in InDesign or even a pencil drawing. Each color you are planning on reproducing should be on a separate printout (if you ever screen-printed before, this will sound familiar). The Risograph scans it and creates a ‘master’ by exposing the original on to very thin paper. The master then wraps around the ink drum of that color you picked, and you are ready to produce copies up to a thousand! Check out a video of the equipment at work.
Here are the top 7 things I learned from using the Risograph:
1. Embracing imperfection
The printing process of the Risograph is unpredictable; sometimes you get skid print marks on paper and sometimes things are off-register. Actually, you can always count on getting things slightly mis-registered. You can either freak out and keep reprinting until everything is perfect. Or you can learn to embrace the beauty in imperfection and find inspiration in unpredictable results!
2. Going back to basics (creating hierarchy through color value)
With the limitation of colors available, you are forced to take into consideration how the colors you are using translate to what you have designed. You can always create a rainbow of values using one color only! Just by changing the percentage of the color, the Risograph converts the different values by printing the right amount of dots (bit-mapping).
3. Planning and organizing files pays off
For printing to go smoothly, organize your paper stacks: originals on one side (each separated by color, so you don’t accidentally print something in red when it was supposed to be blue!); a separate stack of good prints that are for registration, in case you are adding more colors; paper for testing; and a clean surface for all the final prints. Printing is so much fun, and in all of the excitement you might misplace paper—I once printed the back of 5 sheets upside down because I placed them on the table in a different direction than all the other sheets. I was done printing the front, and did not see it (the side of paper facing you is the side where the ink prints)…
No more blue ink? Teal drum having problems in making masters? Try purple instead! Especially if you are working in a shared facility at school, or in an open studio environment, being flexible is key to staying sane. Supplies run out, and you have a deadline: the best way to cope is to embrace what obstacles are thrown at you. Again, go back to basics. Use another color that has the same value. Or be ready to call a supplier to buy ink and get it delivered the next day.
5. Observing one’s own process
Using a method that slows down the process from designing on the computer to sending off the file to a printer, you get to re-examine and re-evaluate what you have finished designing. Every time I have designed and illustrated a project to be produced using the Risograph I learn something new, get a new idea, or learn from a mistake that looked great on screen but not as good when printed!
You can stretch the color options if you combine the limited inks at your disposal with papers of different colors. It is an exciting part of doing mock-ups. I would buy one sheet of each color I liked, print mock-ups using the Risograph, and finally purchase a whole packet of the paper that worked best to start production.
By extending the time period of looking at your design work, you get to observe your habits and gain an understanding of your process. Having that awareness brings growth to your work. I hope this list got you excited about experimentation. If this post nudged you to try the Risograph, we would love to see the results!