Hand-printing multi-layer images with riso

By far most of my work is done by hand – for different reasons – but the most convincing of them being that I love the tactile aspect of creating. Basically, I want to touch the paper, not just see it on the screen.

So, how does this fit together with risograph, that already has inborn issues with registration. Actually, not that bad. I wouldn’t recommend hand-printing images that have very small details – they could be messed up quite badly and chances are they will be. However, when the oddities of the process are taken into consideration, things get interesting.

I’ll describe here how I hand-printed two three-colour images only by hand (here meaning that pc was not involved at all). It occurred to me much later that hand-printing would lend itself well for riso workshops, as it allows greater collaboration, better space (no computers cluttering the table) and, well, in case there are not enough computers for all participants, no problem. As my studio is in my living room, I haven’t tried it as a workshop activity myself, but should my dream of having an actual studio come true this year, it’s in the cards.

So, here we go.

First, of course, there was the original image, an ordinary pencil sketch. The ink lines on the sketch of 6 guys I drew in the end, in order to print them as the final layer.

I used all my three colours for layers, so first one was Sunflower Yellow, the lightest. I copied the outlines of the sketch to a new paper (the six guys with help of lightbox, the boy with the cat through carbon paper, Transparent copy paper would do the job as well, although now after having tried it, I’d say it’s easier to do the layers on white paper  – it’s easier to see the lights and darks.)

When the outline was ready (as there was to be three layers, I copied it on three different papers), I filled in the Sunflower Yellow parts. Medium gray for lighter areas, black for strong orange. I used “Photo” setting for flat colour areas and if I remember correctly, print density 4 for both Sunflower Yellow and Medium Blue and print density 3 for Black.

Next blue layer, same logic.

The image of 6 guys also got a separate black layer.


After printing these layers, the images looked like this:

The registration wasn’t great, but on the other hand not dismal either. Proper design of the images is the key here and much inspiration can be found in images from Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, where litho printing was commonly used. This will be the topic of one of the next posts.

Both images seemed to lack some definition, so I decided to add a black linework layer for both. As you can see, I overdid it. The boy and cat would have been nicer with a much softer pencil outline (“Pencil” setting is actually great for duplicating pencil texture) and the six guys could have just used a few extra lines on the black layers instead of a whole new linework layer on top.

Here are the final images:

A final note – choosing tones for greyscale layers can be a bit of a hit and miss. So it’s helpful to have a printed value scale of all inks. Another invaluable item is paper tape for taping the image on the scanner, so it would move as little as possible.


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