Risograph is a high-speed digital printing system manufactured by the Riso Kagaku Corporation and was designed mainly for high-volume photocopying and printing. It was released in Japan in August, 1986. Increasingly, Risograph machines have been commonly referred to as a RISO Printer-Duplicator, due to their common usage as a network printer as well as a stand-alone duplicator. When printing or copying multiple quantities (generally more than 20) of the same origin, it is typically far less expensive per page than a conventional photocopier, laser printer, or inkjet printer. Printing historian Rick O'Connor has debated that the original, and thus correct, name for the device is RISSO and not RISO. This debate spawns from the notion that an extra 'S' is added because the inventor's wife found it more pleasing to the ears.
The original is scanned through the machine and a master is created, by means of tiny heat spots on a thermal plate burning voids (corresponding to image areas) in a master sheet. This master is then wrapped around a drum and ink is forced through the voids in the master. The paper runs flat through the machine while the drum rotates at high speed to create each image on the paper. This simple technology is highly reliable compared to a standard photocopier and can achieve both very high speed (typically 130 pages per minute) and very low costs. A good lifespan for a risograph might involve making 100,000 masters and 5,000,000 copies. The key master-making thermal head component is manufactured by Toshiba. Similar machines to Risographs are manufactured by Ricoh, Gestetner, Rex Rotary and Nashuatec. All these other brands are now owned by Ricoh. Because the process involves real ink - like offset printing - and does not require heat to fix the image on the paper - like a photocopier or laser printer - the output from a risograph can be treated like any printed material. This means that sheets which have been through a risograph may be put through a laser printer afterwards and vice-versa.
Risographs have typically had interchangeable colour inks and drums allowing for printing in different colours or using spot colour in one print job. The Riso MZ series models have two ink drums, thereby allowing two colours to be printed in one pass.
Interview on Hato Press' website:
Aesthetically its warmth colour is something difficult to replace, but its also the accessibility for young designers and studios. Its a really affordable method of production and therefore allows a lot of experimentation. Of course there are various restrictions, such as not being able to print on glossy or silk papers but these restrictions only make the process more creative. It forces the artist or designer to really delve into uncoated paper stocks, for which there are hundreds! And find papers that really add a new context to the project.
Explain the process of Risograph printing – how are artwork files prepared, printed and fed back into the printer?
This is pretty straight forward, when a client sends his artwork over, we will check it for any obvious problems. Given everything is good, we then put his artwork onto a printing template and add the necessary crop marks and registration marks. We export the artwork as a PDF and send it through to get printed. It undergoes the same process as litho printing but its a little more flexible and hands on as were only dealing with A3 plates.
Describe the colour limitations with Risograph – are there any popular colour combinations?
Risograph is a spot colour process, there are roughly twenty-odd different colours available. So if you want a colour outside of that spectrum you have to reproduce it by overprinting different colours together. It is not an exact science but this method of reproducing colours have resulted in some interesting and beautiful outcomes. Over the past few years we’ve found that red and black are the most popular colour combination.
How does the Riso / screenprinting processes inform your use of colour, if at all? What limitations exist in these processes and how are they overcome or capitalized upon in your design processes?
Unlike screen-printing, risograph is limited to its use of colour, you buy the colours ready mixed and there’s only so many that are available. So when we talk to people about colour its always really interesting to see what they think of what we can offer, there is, also, the option of mixing colours, riso (again) unlike screen-printing, uses soy based inks that really work with paper and with each other, you have an amazing amount of idea’s come from being restricted especially with colour. We get excited when projects take on an experimental attitude to colour, we enjoy nothing more than overlaying colours that wouldn’t normally be used. for example, SNIMKY, a project from former Hato studio resident Dario Utreras, uses photographs that have been split into three channels. These were then printed in teal, yellow and fluorescent pink, and look completely unique and unreplicable. I guess part of the excitement comes from knowing that what you see on screen is never exactly the same as the printed outcome.
Have you observed a rise in popularity in this type of printing? Why do think this might be?
We have definitely seen a rise in popularity in Risograph printing in recent years, we think that is mainly due to more people knowing about this particular method of production. When we first started in 2009, hardly anyone knew about it. Even now, it is still a relatively new and obscure production technique when compared to other printing methods. Also the rise in digital marketing and self publishing rather than killing print has put more of an emphasis on its printed counterpart. When designers and agencies are after something that is much more bespoke and tactile, the risograph along with other printing processes fit this really well.
List the main advantages to this print technique over others out there.
Environmentally friendly. Economical. Quick. Affordable. The results are quite unique as well and experimenting on it is super fun.