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- Print & Production

Exploring risography

It was time for a change. And designers Laura Sirch and Sascha Wellm had not only discovered risograph printing – but fallen in love with it. Relatively simple, as printing processes go, risography was nonetheless destined to pose them some new challenges. Today, while recognising that this new art of printing demands considerable respect, they love the new scope for creativity that risography allows.

Photo: Hannes Rohrer

You started using risography in 2015, when it was still almost unknown in Germany. What gave you the idea?


Sascha: As students, we took the Communication Design course together at university in Munich, and we would also work together a lot, even then. Once we’d graduated, Laura got a job with a large agency and I was freelance. But after a while we both needed a change. We sat in the sun with a bottle of wine and threw some ideas around. And one of these notions was risography. Three months later, the joking was over and we were committed. We were living in the same shared accommodation, I had a tiny room there that we put the printer in, and that was where we ran off our first jobs. We stacked the finished work for collection in between the clothes-horse and the bottle return crates.
Laura: One of our friends was at the University of the Arts in Zürich, where they had a Risograph, and showed us the prints he had made. Risography has an aesthetic all of its own. And it was a surprise to be told the technology is not in fact all that new: it was unknown in Munich, but there had been risography studios in London for 15 years past. As designers we naturally fancied trying it out, but nobody had a machine, and so we thought over our glass of wine, why not give it a go ourselves, we could surely manage that. So we decided to hand in our notice and buy a Risograph.

Sascha: This without ever having laid a finger on the machine, mark you. Unbelievable.

Laura: We started off using cheap paper, and our first job literally ran all over the place. The paper was far too smooth, we had not allowed ourselves enough time, and then to cap it all the counterpressure roller packed up. We had to pay for our inexperience. There was no manual, you see, nothing to warn us. And even when you have been at it a while and got some experience with it, you still find the machine has a mind of its own and keeps doing things you don’t understand. There’s an international Riso group, and they all have the same problems. You simply have to learn that some things can’t be done, and stop trying.

Sascha: Otherwise you are binning sheet after sheet of expensive paper and totting up in your head what it’s all costing.

Photo: Hannes Rohrer

Who do you get coming as clients?


Sascha: We get all sorts. Agencies, wanting things printed for their clients, but individuals as well, and it can be anything from an IT company to an art college.

Laura: Also, there’s a bit of a trend now away from digital, people want something more physical, maybe even the odd flaw. Perfect is too perfect.

Sascha: It took me working and tinkering with this machine to grasp properly just what a complex subject it is, printing. Once you can get superb qual?ity online printing and pay peanuts, you very quickly forget just how complex a process it really is.

Photo: Hannes Rohrer

Unlike conventional printing, risography is supposed to be environmentally friendly. Why is that?


Sascha: It’s because the inks are soya-based and the machine’s energy consumption is only 200 watts maximum. A hairdryer – for example – is two kilowatts, and even an ordinary office photocopier takes 600 watts, that’s three times as much. An offset printer of any size will use masses of water – tens of thousands of litres over a year – and huge amounts of alcohol too. We can happily forget about all that. We need a bottle of meths every three months.
Laura: We use very little electricity, very little water, and the riso pigments have only a minimal solvent content.



What kind of print runs is risography best for?

Laura: We start from ten A3 sheets per subject, but we have also printed as many as five hundred 120-page paperback books. If we’re given enough notice we can do 5000 books. But obviously we can’t give quantity rebates that would compare with online printing.


What is it that keeps you interested in risography?

You can never say you’ve cracked it. Even after years of using the machine, new situations keep cropping up.
Laura: Another thing is that we like the personal contact. Usually we talk it all through beforehand with the client, and offer some advice. Starting on a new project always means a fresh set of adjustments. If the client says no, it’s too dear, we think hard about how to get the costs down.

Sascha: The Urban Festival was a good example of that. The organisers had a very tight budget – but wanted 5000 programmes. We did the sums this way and that, but it kept coming out too high. In the end we said: Look, we’ll print 1200, and you charge 20 cents a time. So a family of five would only get one programme, but in practice that worked out fine – and there was a lot less waste paper.

Laura: In fact risography brought a step change in people’s attitude to costs. Printing had become so cheap, the thinking used to be »more more more«, even if it all went in the bin the day after. But we always advise and discuss beforehand. And the great thing about risography is its versatility. The whole range from pulp comics to posh wedding invites, risography does the job. With an aesthetic spectrum as wide as that, we’re never bored.

This interview was first published in novum 04.18. Single copies are available:


For our April issue students at the University of Applied Sciences in Münster designed 14 illustrations that interpret the theme of »hand-made« in different ways. Herr und Frau Rio produced these art works and here you can buy a bundle of 7 pieces (21 Euro):