Charmingly Imperfect – The Wonderful World of Risography
Classic screen printing had competition four decades ago and hardly anyone noticed. Or have you ever heard of risography? What is that, actually? And what's so special about it?
I felt the same way when I met Alexander Branczyk and Florian Haberstump from Drucken3000 at Typo Berlin in spring 2017. They presented colorful Riso paper samples and patiently explained the printing principle to me. Basically, a risograph is a kind of digital screen printing machine, which can be imagined in the form of a large A3 color copier. Not much can be seen from the outside, but its interior is completely different.
In comparison to screen printing, instead of a screen, a master film is exposed here, which is stretched around a large color drum. Since only two of these bulky drums fit into a risograph, you can only print with a maximum of two colors at the same time. (By the way, that also explains why most of our motifs are only one or two-colored ;)
At Drucken3000 you now have the choice of 40 brightly beautiful Riso colors that make any conventional print pale! Of course, my favorite colors include fluo orange and metallic gold – beautifully bright and classy. But every other color (such as mint or sunflower) is also very intense due to the pure color pigments, since it is not composed of the four printing colors CMYK – as is usually the case.
Wabi-Sabi and the Art of Imperfection
The special thing about printing is that the result – similar to screen printing – is not always perfect. On the contrary, there are slight shifts, uneven application of paint and so-called flashes. These arise when two colors do not match 100%, so that the color of the paper flashes through. This effect is even desirable for some motifs, as it brings in more liveliness. The crazy thing is that you can't really control the risograph. All the small inaccuracies can even change within one edition and are guaranteed to be different again in the next edition. Sometimes it is magical that the same print file can lead to different results. The Risograph seems to print on a whim and inexplicably has a life of its own!
On the other hand, I realize that it's good to let go. Does everything always have to be so perfect? The Riso prints are very charming, precisely because that's how they are! Whether in small or large editions, each print is unique. This charm also corresponds to the Wabi-Sabi principle, a Japanese aesthetic concept. Closely linked to Zen Buddhism, the art of imperfection is accepted here as beautiful and valuable. In Japan, this attitude even means that for example, small flaws are deliberately incorporated into factory-made ceramics to make them look handmade! Who would have thought? With Riso this happens all by itself and I even feel a certain gratitude for this somewhat strange quality.
The Renaissance of Stencil Printing
Incidentally, the first Risograph was launched in 1980 by the Japanese company Riso Kagaku Corporation. This digital duplicator convinced authorities, schools and companies around the world with its ease of use and low costs – especially when printing the same document in large quantities. But only in the last few years has risography been rediscovered by many artists and designers from all over the world and led to a veritable boom in the art scene. The advantages are obvious: it is an artistically interesting and particularly sustainable printing technique. The cold printing process has low power consumption and uses ink instead of toner. No toxic toner fine dust, no ozone. The special Riso colors are even vegan and are brand new produced with rice bran, instead of soy. The good thing is that rice bran – compared to soy – is not a food, but a waste product of rice production. This ingenious upcycling makes every green heart beat a few beats faster!
Serendipity or just a Happy Coincidence?
Back to Typo Berlin in 2017, to the surprising discovery of something I wasn't looking for, my serendipity moment. As charmingly imperfect as it is, risography presented itself to me as the perfect process for my project. I had just founded my Feinladen design studio in Berlin. My vision was to bring sustainable cards to the market that stand for a special appreciation. As well as individually printed invitations, Christmas greetings or art prints. And suddenly everything was clear. This unusual and at the same time environmentally friendly printing technique is just right for me. So I would like to say at this point: Thank you dear coincidence! I am very happy that I discovered the wonderful world of risography.