Risograph Printing with RISOTTO STUDIO + Corners

Friday was a Big Day for me: I had a free-pass sans bébé AND I was taking part in a Risograph printing workshop at The Lighthouse, run by RISOTTO STUDIO in conjunction with Corners; a cool riso duo from Seoul, South Korea.

It was sunny and I was in town in the early am with an empty portfolio case and my reusable takeaway mug and it felt like I was on holiday. (Glasgow is like that; a city of many facades and Friday proffered a particularly sunny vista.)

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

The workshop area was 'wallpapered' in A3 riso prints with displays of funky risographed zines from all over the world and prints from pro artists + the other workshops hosted by Atelier Bingo (France) and Wobby Club (the Netherlands).

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow
Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow
Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow
Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

Just seeing the shapes and ideas was so inspiring, but also just how much you can achieve with only a 2-colour riso print.

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

For me, it's the colour options that make riso printing so fun and funky; they are bright and light and fluoro - options you just don't get with a normal printer.

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

Risograph printing is basically a cross between screen printing and photocopying. The Risograph is an environmentally friendly and cost effective printer, which uses soy-based inks to produce unique outcomes.

As a surface pattern designer with an interest in textures and mark-making, the outputs from the previous workshops were really fun and inspiring to see. It reminded me how amazing it would be to work in a shared studio space with like-minded creatives on a day-to-day basis. 

"Which design do you prefer?"

"Which colour-way is best?"

"Anyone got a phone charger...?"

Working freelance + solo can be quite isolating, which is why attending a workshop like this is so much fun and so important to generate new ways of working, learn new techniques and just meet other people and gather inspiration like a little hamster; saving it all up for a rainy - or just less inspiring - day.

I love the pineapple print above and just the sheer energy that springs from the quick and fun images there were created.

For the Corners workshop however, the focus was more on the technical side of preparing artwork for riso printing, so we all brought our own (digital) images to work with. Even just going around our small group a real mix of styles and influences came through in each design.

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

Onto the printing...

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

I had really wanted to create a new design for this workshop, which I did ('RAINBOW GIRL', below), but on the day I realised I needed something a little more simple, with less layers and detail while I was still learning the process. (And because there are always limitations on what can be achieved in one day, despite wishful thinking!)

Rainbow Girl illustration, Rebecca Johnstone

The key to riso printing is colour separation, while one of the best things about it is the ability to layer colours to create other colours (yellow + pink = orange, yellow + green = blue, etc).

The only exception to this was the metallic gold which prints opaque, but the others can be adjusted in the initial separation to allow varying degrees of transparency. It's also not good riso practice to print too densely in large areas of the paper anyway, because it becomes too saturated and risks smudging and tearing.

Colours available to us for printing were: Aqua Blue, Medium Blue, Fluorescent Pink, Fluorescent Orange, Bright Red, Yellow, Violet, Metallic Gold, HD Black and Grey. Each colour requires its own drum that slots into the printer.

Handily, you can download the exact colour swatches from the Risotto site (+ other templates) when working on your design, in the best format for the software you're using (usually Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator). All very helpful when trying to make important colour decisions!

Risotto Riso Room, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

The printer 'reads' in greyscale, so the colour layers/channels have to be stripped out of the original design to create the layers for print, like a clever digital version of exposing a screen for traditional screen printing.

This was the crux of what I wanted to learn so that in the future, I can fully prep my files myself and get some funky-cool riso prints done, on demand!

I got a little confused at first between 'channels' and 'layers' in terms of the colours, but basically layers give a more clear-cut print and would perhaps lend themselves more to vector-based images, whereas channel separation gives a more blended, softer finish (often using more colours overall) and is more suited to rastor-based images.

So far so good, only that I don't normally use a laptop and I had an image that was created as a vector but that I'd rasterized, duh! Nevermind. It was a learning process.

Under pressure to choose my design and start stripping out the colour, I went with my back-up file of the Glasgow Coat of Arms/Crest, based on the 'Miracles of St Mungo'. So far I've only ever had this traditionally printed in obvious primary colours + green. Can't forget green as in 'the dear GREEN place'!

Glasgow Crest/Coat of Arms illustration, Rebecca Johnstone

Deciding which colours to go with for the riso print was hard, especially when I had to stick to four main colours max. With the two-drum printers we were using, that still meant two passes of the paper through the printer, and each time, 'registration' had to be adjusted (lining up the blocks of colour in the image to ensure a good print).

My first print used pink, yellow, teal and gold, making a fifth shade of orange.

My second print used pink, yellow, federal blue and gold, again making the fifth shade orange.

I took advantage of the coloured paper on offer too, to see how that would affect the overall print. Although these were fun, I prefer the bright white as it gives the best colour vibrancy, particularly with the fluoroscents.

And I'm delighted with the results!

Glasgow Crest Illustration, Rebecca Johnstone.jpg

The image is totally transformed in neon and with the fabulous opaque gold outlines. Notice the 'gold' bell in the first print?

I managed to get a sneaky print of just the gold outlines on white paper too which is ace, and I just wished they'd had black paper available on the day because I know the gold will really pop on a black background. 

I'll definitely be doing more riso printing and was so happy to have the opportunity to attend a workshop like this in my home city. Riso still feels kind of edgy and underground, yet it's so instantly recognisable.

Limited edition prints from this first run will be available to buy soon, with more variations and sizes in the pipeline. 

Thanks so much to Gabriella at RISOTTO Studio and the guys at Corners, plus the print technicians helping out on the day with all the tech Photoshop details. I couldn't have done it all in time without Mari! <3