Rolling in Color: An Intro to Riso Printing

What is Riso Printing?

Riso printing, also known as Risograph printing, is like silkscreen printing with a printer. Basically, it blends elements of screen printing and offset printing. Many artists like this printing method because it crafts vivid and textured prints cheaply.

Introduction to Riso

a 3D render of a riso print in pastel, which looks like a diagonally placed pink rectangle with reddish pink rectangular pattern across it floating on a light pink background

The risograph has a distinct aesthetic, and it’s also economical.

It swiftly gained traction in artistic and small press communities thanks to its affordability, user-friendly nature, and unmistakable style. Additionally, it empowered printmakers to create vibrant and textured prints in smaller quantities seamlessly. This eliminated the financial hurdles associated with traditional offset printing. It’s a cheap but vibrant process.

A short history of Riso

Riso Kagaku Corporation, a Japanese company founded in 1946, created the first risograph. Riso Kagaku started its career as a manufacturer of stencil duplicators. These were used to make copies of documents in schools and offices before photocopiers became popular.

Then, in the late 1980s, Riso Kagaku developed the technology that would eventually become the Risograph. They eventually combined the convenience of photocopying with some of the artistic qualities of offset printing.

How to Riso Print: Step-by-step

The Artistic Journey Begins: Design Creation

To start making a Riso print, you start making a digital design on a computer. You can use specialized software.

Think of it as sketching your masterpiece on a digital canvas. However, there’s a twist – this printing method favors a select palette of colors. Your palette is often limited to around 1 to 4 hues. This initial design phase sets the stage for our next step.

Colors Take the Spotlight: Color Separation

Then, if our design embraces multiple colors, the process involves dividing the design into separate layers. Each layer is dedicated to a distinct hue. Imagine breaking down your artwork into individual pieces, each with its unique character. Then, we give these layers separate files, and now we have provided a roadmap for the Riso printer.

Crafting the Masters: Master Copy Production

At the core of Riso printing, we find the creation of our master copies. These master copies, much like the blueprints of a building, undergo a meticulous crafting process that draws inspiration from screen printing techniques. Moreover, our process involves the utilization of special thermal stencils, with one dedicated to each color layer. These stencils precisely guide the ink’s path, determining where it can flow. Notably, every color has its own stencil, which is expertly wrapped around distinct drums within the Riso printer.

Ink’s Delicate Dance: Applying Color Layers

Next, the printer bursts into action, initiating the intricate dance of ink application. Stepping into the spotlight, the stenciled drums play a pivotal role by expertly applying ink onto a rotating drum within the printer. As the paper gracefully moves through the process, it elegantly meets the inked drum, resulting in the seamless transfer of a vibrant color layer onto the awaiting page. Envision an artist’s brush, delicately sweeping color onto a canvas, one layer gracefully following another.

The Magic of Mixing: Overprinting

The enchanting journey of Riso printing comes to life through the skillful art of overprinting. With the interaction of distinct color layers, a symphony of colors seamlessly harmonizes on paper, crafting novel shades and intriguing textures. This mesmerizing interplay of hues bestows upon Riso prints their uniquely captivating appearance.

An Interactive Waltz: The Printing Process

The printer takes charge, orchestrating an iterative waltz that seamlessly repeats the process for each color layer. As a result, we guide the paper through the printer multiple times – once for every color. This meticulous choreography guarantees that each hue confidently finds its designated spot in the composition of the final print.

The Grand Finale: Drying and Unveiling

Finally, after we apply the ink, a brief interlude ensues for the ink to thoroughly dry. Notably, Riso inks, celebrated for their eco-friendly composition, take a moment to set. As the drying process draws to a close, your eagerly awaited one-of-a-kind Riso prints are primed for their grand unveiling. Each print proudly showcases subtle variations and endearing imperfections – an authentic testament to the artisanal journey that Riso printing embodies.

Advantages of Riso Printing

Riso prints have a visually captivating and slightly retro look due to the ink mixing and layering process. This aesthetic sets them apart from traditional digital or offset prints, making them highly desirable for artistic and creative projects.

Often times more cost-effective than traditional offset or digital printing, especially for small print runs. This makes it an accessible option for independent artists, designers, and small publishers with limited budgets.

Riso prints showcase vibrant and saturated colors that can stand out on a variety of paper types. The ink used in Riso printing lends itself well to creating eye-catching and vivid visuals.

I will conclude with saying, Riso printing process is relatively quick compared to other printing methods. The digital stencil system allows for the rapid production of multiple copies, making it suitable for projects with tight deadlines.

Working with a limited color palette encourages designers to think creatively about achieving desired effects within those constraints, leading to innovative and thoughtful designs.

Riso Inks and Colors

Now we move into the color pallet and inks utilized in the creation of Riso prints.

Riso inks and colors play a crucial role in the distinctive appearance of Riso printing. Here’s a brief explanation of Riso inks and the colors they offer:

Riso Inks:

As I noted, the inks are specially formulated inks designed for use in Riso printing machines. We use inks that are soy-based, which makes them environmentally friendly and less harmful than traditional petroleum-based inks. People know them for their quick-drying properties, which contribute to the efficiency of the printing process.

Riso Colors:

Riso printing is often characterized by its use of a limited color palette, typically around 1 to 4 colors per print. As a matter of fact, the Riso printing process involves using separate drums for each color, and these drums apply ink to the paper layer by layer.

The standard Riso colors include:

  1. Cyan: A vibrant blue shade.
  2. Magenta: A deep pink or reddish color.
  3. Yellow: A bright and sunny yellow hue.
  4. Black: The darkest color, often used for text and fine details.

In addition to these standard colors, Riso offers a range of special and fluorescent colors that can be used to create more unique and eye-catching prints. These special colors might include colors like teal, orange, green, and more. By layering and overlapping these colors, Riso printing achieves its signature aesthetic with color mixing and variations.

Thus, Riso printers are designed to work with a specific set of colors, and the process involves careful planning of color separation to achieve the desired visual effects. The limitations in the number of colors and the way they interact during printing contribute to the charm and individuality of Riso prints.

Rise Print Examples

I wrote a post about contemporary artists using this printing method. It includes examples of Riso prints in zines, posters, art books, and more.

Risograph vs. Riso Printing

You might wonder, “Is a risograph and riso printing the same thing?”

Yes. We can use the terms Riso Printing and the Risograph interchangeably.

Environmental Impact of Riso Printing

Riso printing offers several eco-friendly aspects that make it an environmentally conscious choice for artists, designers, and small publishers. Overall, the eco-friendly aspects of this kind of printing stem from its use of soy-based inks, minimal waste generation, energy efficiency, and focus on sustainable materials. As more individuals and businesses seek environmentally responsible printing options, Riso printing’s combination of artistic appeal and eco-consciousness makes it an attractive choice.

Here are some of the eco-friendly features of printing in this way:

  • Soy-Based Inks
  • Low Energy Consumption
  • Minimal Waste
  • No Chemical Developers
  • Efficient Production
  • Recyclable Materials
  • Local Printing
  • Limited Color Palette
  • Personalized Production
Ingrid Maria Pimsner
Ingrid Maria Pimsner

Ingrid Maria Pimsner is a painter, arts writer, and educator. Her representational oil paintings depict the people, places and things that are closest to her.

She is also the founder and current director of The International Institute of Contemporary Art and Theory, an artist residency in Romania. In addition, she co-curates the Archive Space Project , a curatorial project founded by Annie Daley in 2010 and originally located in the Crane Arts building in Philadelphia, PA.

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