Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a risography workshop at Riso Hell, a cool little riso operation here in St. Louis. I’ve seen riso prints around and really liked the aesthetic–the print quality can be kind of grainy and uneven, but in a good way. It makes for some cool effects; really deep, lush color or super duper soft tones. I also noticed that most riso prints are usually 2- or 3-color, and I personally really like working in limited color palettes. Like letterpress and blockprinting, I like it when my printing processes have some limitations. It makes for a more challenging and fun process by seeing how far I can push myself to the boundaries of those limits. Anyways, I wanted to learn more about riso printing and saw that Riso Hell had workshops, so I signed up!
I learned that Risograph is actually the brand of the machine that makes these prints. It was originally marketed as a cheap copier for schools and businesses to produce a high volume of prints. The way it works is kind of similar to screenprinting but is based on the technology behind an older print machine called a mimeograph. A “plate” gets made by burning tiny holes in a master sheet which then gets wrapped around a drum and ink is forces through the voids to make the print. Because of this, you can only print one color at a time, but the ink and drums are interchangeable so you can print multiple colors for one job.
Risography gained popularity with artists and designers pretty recently, within the last decade or so. It can actually thank the internet and Instagram for its popularity boom, as that is pretty much the place where artists started sharing his they were using them for zines and prints, and how it spread so quickly as a creative medium. It’s intended for low-cost, high-volume print runs. I think it’s embraced by artists for partly the same reason, hahaha. Who doesn’t like saving money and making a bunch of prints? I think people are also drawn to the unpredictability of the print, the “happy accidents” that occur and make really unique prints.
It was really cool to see the machine in action and even get a print made! I think the coolest thing I learned about riso is that it is a much “greener” printing process than others. The inks are soy or rice based, so they are biodegradable. Additionally, since it is a cool printing process (unlike conventional copiers and printers that use heat to burn the toner into the page), it uses a lot less energy than typical printers. Probably the most frustrating thing about riso is that most risographs you can affordably get your hands on these days are from around the early 2000s, so you are reliant on early 2000s technology, which by today’s standards, is suuuuper slow.
Regardless, I really love the quality of this printing process. I am excited for the possibilities of this medium. As a designer in the year 2019, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by ALL the possibilities; there’s literally a million ways you can make an image, it’s just a matter of finding the one you like. As a designer with a lot of printmaking under my belt, I find myself designing for print processes whether or not I intend to get the thing printed, and, like I mentioned earlier, I always find myself taking limitations into consideration for the challenge and fun of it all. It’s just the way my head works. But going through the whole process of woodblock printing or screen printing is super time consuming, tedious, messy, and a lot of work. Riso printing has some of those same limitations, but it’s way faster, greener, and a new aesthetic to play around with. I’m excited about this new realm of print I’m just now dipping my toe into and will be doing more of it soon.
Check out my print below!