The Risograph is a stencil machine. It is eco-friendly, fast, and easy to operate… more or less (once you get the hang of it). It is now mostly considered a Japanese printing machine, although the technique of the stencil machine was developed by David Gestetner in the late 19th century. The Gestetner became a widespread duplicator for offices, schools and small businesses the world round (before the copiers and printers took over).
The Riso has risen to cultish fame with international circles of print-obsessed artists, illustrators and designers. This may have something to do with its DIY appeal – it does not perform perfectly nor does it comply with modern industrial standards of printwork. However: who cares, if the results speak for themselves?
I have learned my Riso “chops” at GRID Graphic Museum Groningen for the past three years. The GRID Riso group do design-and-print projects for the A2 Risograph Digital Duplicator: posters, gift wrap paper, sketch books. They also take on Riso-print jobs for artists, designers, concert venues and publishers.
Interested? Visit gridgroningen.nl/risograaf and contact GRID at firstname.lastname@example.org
So what is it?
It is not a printer, nor a copier. It can be thought of as a screenprinting machine. It pushes a certain color of ink through a sheet with a pattern of teeny tiny holes, onto paper. You, the artist, have drawn, designed or photographed this “pattern”.
How does it work?
The risograph can receive a digital file of your design straight from the computer, and burn these teeny tiny holes onto a waxed banana fiber sheet, or master. It then wraps the sheet around an ink drum (the red cylinder in the image above), and is ready to print the red layer.
You put a pile of A2 size papers on the left tray. Enter your preferred number of copies, and push go. The right tray will soon be cradling your brand new prints, and you will feel proud and elated! Repeat the process for an additional color layer.
As mentioned, the Riso stencil is created by thousands of holes, which create ink dots on the page. Big dots close to each other create a dense area of ink on the page. Smaller dots further apart create a lighter shade of the same color.
It is quite possible – encouraged, even – to print multiple layers of colors on top of one another. This means they will blend, and create ‘secondary colors’. Red and yellow become orange, etc. See also image above.
One may even let the machine reproduce color photos (though not very accurately). The Risograph process, and the raster dots will make your photos look like they came out of an old magazine: warm, analogue hues and all.
Because each ink drum contains only one color, each color layer of your image needs to be printed separately, and consecutively. In the example below, I used red ink to print the wavy pattern on 30 sheets of A2 paper. A few days later, when the sheets were dry, I put the blue ink drum in the machine to print the bubble pattern over the existing red layer.
Below are the original, digital versions of the designs. We send these images to the machine in Grayscale PDFs. We can then use any color ink drum we want to print this design. As in, this poster could have also been neon pink and yellow. Maybe next time.
PS: If you’ve read this far, chances are you will like the Risomania book:
Artwork copyright Jop Luberti. Riso machine infographic by Johan Visser.