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Risograph 101: What is Risograph Printing?

Risograph printing is a type of duplication-printing technique and printer developed in Japan in the mid 1980's by the Riso Kaguku Corporation.

The "Riso" machine, is a type of mimeograph printing using master plates and ink drums, that can produce hundreds of duplications a minute in color. Often seen as a combination of a photocopier and offset printing press, the printer has been used by companies as an efficient and dependable alternative to color and inkjet printers.

Next Chapter Studio's EZ 590 Risograph Duplicator Machine

From a first glance, the printer looks like any old photocopier, but inside is a color drum/plate system that allows for extremely fast printing. Each drum contains a large well of colorful soy ink that can only print on un-coated paper. While initial setup can take much longer than a normal printer, once the master plates are created, the machine can run thousands of copies fast and continuously, at very low cost.

For adding different colors and layers, a print can be run through the machine multiple times, each pass adding a new color based on the selected plate and color drum.

 Risograph ink drums

While Risograph printing is usually compared to photo copying, there are many differences. Photo copiers use a digital image of the file and use a laser to produce the final result via toner. Riso machines use the scan to create a master wax template. That master template is then used to apply each color via a color drum. Because of this setup, Risograph machines can print at much higher speeds, up to 130+ copies per minute. However, if you need 3 or 4 color prints, the paper must be put through the RISO machine multiple times. 

Today, the Riso Kaguku Corporation develops, maintains and distributes RISO Printer-Duplicator across the world. Companies can purchase or rent new or user machines directly from the Riso Kaguku, or through a distributer. Or if you just want to try out Risograph printing, there are hundreds studios across the United States that rent out time on their machines. 

Here's a great list of resources for those just getting started with Risograph printing: