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Risograph 101: What's the Difference Between Photocopiers and Risograph Printers?

Often a question we get when folks see our Risograph greeting cards: didn't you just make that with a photo copier? Well, not really! They are quite different. I'll give you this, they both do look similar and both produce "copies", but there are many differences in the way they do so.

To get the gist, photocopiers are more like huge laser printers vs. Risograph machines which are more like compact duplicator presses.



EZ590 RISO Machine






While both machines can create copies, or print a digital file from a scanner or network connection, the way they output that 'copy' is a completely different process.

Photocopiers use a laser to heat up toner that fuses the powder to the paper. The process creates detailed images that can output at a medium to high speed. Each print is created individually, so it doesn't matter if you are printing 1 copy or 500. However, toner cartridges for photocopiers are expensive over time and can only use up to four colors. The balance of quality, expense and speed makes them suitable for high-end photorealistic copies and a popular choice in offices. Photocopiers can range in price between $500-$3000 new.

On the other hand, Risograph machines (RISO) create duplicate copies by etching a master template into a rice sheet (master) and creating all copies from that single master. Hence the classification - duplicator. The master is applied to a circular drum that pushes ink through tiny holes burned into the master. The paper is fed past the drum as the drum rotates, transferring the image. This creates copies very quickly, and is most effective when printing lots of copies of one document.  Limitations of the RISO machine is that they can only apply 1 or 2 colors at a time. This creates the need for multiple passes of a sheet of paper to get full color prints. RISO machines are popular in churches, community centers and art studios due to their low expense and creative flexibility.

Used/refurbished RISO machines range in price from $1000-$12,000 depending on the features, print count, condition, and number of colors (1 color or 2 color).

New RISO machines can be acquired through RISO approved suppliers and cost around $25k-$30k, or can be leased for a monthly rate.

If you're interested in learning more about Risograph printing, check out our other articles: