Making zines with riso scanner – part 3

So, now that I’ve described an abject failure and an accidental success, it’s time to move on to the winner – meaning the zine format that actually worked well with riso scanner.

Out of the three experiments, this one was by far the simplest. Line drawings and only one colour – I printed samples with both black and medium blue. The best part about this zine, however, was the paper. I chose brown craft paper for black ink and off-white for blue ink. The black turned out to be far nicer – and the dark tone of the paper gave the opportunity to add highlights with white pencil.

I have printed the ‘dark edition’ for two local zine festivals and it has sold out both times – people seem to like the feel of the rough craft paper. And to add to all the praises – this zine was also the easiest to make.

All the pages are drawn on separate B4 sheets (standard copy paper in case anyone is wondering) with a black fineliner pen. I use the originals as blueprints for printing. After all the pages were done, I simply taped them together with a paper tape as an almost life-size dummy of the zine.

At first in pairs,


and then in fours.


On the back it looks like this:


I print it on A3, trim the edges with ruler and X-Acto knife after printing and use saddle stitch binding with two staples pr zine. (There’s a special long-armed stapler for this.)


Here you go. This one comes with a recommendation. ūüôā

Happy accidents. Making riso zines with scanner – part 2

When the last post was about a printing failure, then this one goes to show that exactly the same things that ruin one comic, can create atmosphere in another. This is a riso print of my comic called “Eyes of Love”. Originally it was made with ink and orange watercolour, but I was curious to see how it would look riso printed. I weighed the option of doing the colour separation digitally, but as I’ve already written in this post, digital colour separation for watercolour can be a giant headache.

So I opted for handmade colour layers to use with the scanner. The first try was to duplicate the same colour scheme the original comic had. I printed the black layer directly from the originals. On the left one I used ‘Line’ setting (RZ570EP has 4 options – Line, Photo, Line/Photo and Pencil). ‘Line’ turned out to be nice and sharp, with a certain randomness reminding of a mezzotint. However, a couple of trials showed that it needs to be used with either minimal (1) or close to minimal (2) level of ink density in order not to have all details merged into black blots. On the right one I used ‘Pencil’ setting, which gives a softer and more grey result.

only 2 colours comp

These are the colour layers for orange (Sunflower Yellow, to be precise).

worklayer only pencil comp

As you can see, the pencil lines are stronger on the upper panels and it also shows in the orange coverage – the lower ones are a bit too light. Here my intention was to do both lighter and darker orange tones with one master, but technically they can also be separated into a lighter coverage layer and stronger coverage layer. The size of one page is A5. I taped the colouring layers to the scanner with painter tape and in this case it almost seems to have worked. The registration is not perfect, but it’s not too much off either.

After this attempt I figured that as I have three colours, why not try to print the comic with three layers as well. This meant adding a layer of Medium Blue.

3 colours 3 pages comp

This time I wanted the colours to be brighter and sharper, so I made new colour layers with black and grey markers. It helped a lot with the tone, although occasionally the marker line texture remained visible – it’s easy to see on the blue sky in both the upper and lower panels.

These are the colour layers for Medium Blue. No gradation, aiming for the brightest tone possible.

blue layer 3 pics comp

The downside with stronger brighter colours is that registration mistakes also show very clearly. However, here I actually liked them. The unintended white borders added an eerie atmosphere to both the panels where the man is fighting with crows and where the girl is walking through the field holding the torch. I’m starting to suspect that as the registration problems are always most notable with the Medium Blue drum, which is another size (B4 as opposed to A3), perhaps it has something to do with that. No proof yet though.

The orange layers had gradation, so I did parts of the colour layers in grey marker instead of black.

orange worklayer 3 pics comp7

It worked well in larger areas and not so well in smaller ones (torch), as the edges of darker parts remained too clear-cut.

Takeaways from this experiment:
When designing for handmade riso print, simplicity is the key. Larger areas of colour work better than smaller ones, so it’s better to leave details expressed with linework only. Negative space is also great. (I should have only used minimal shading on the girl’s face – it would have been more striking with more pure white areas.)


Making riso zines with scanner – Part 1

One of the main reasons why I bought a riso printer in the first place was to print my own zines and save the trouble of looking for a print shop with a decent price/quality balance every time. Naturally it didn’t turn out to be as straightforward a process as I had imagined. However, now after having printed 3-4 different zines, it’s probably a good time to make a summary of the lessons learned.

I’ll divide it into three parts: grand failure, accidental success and expected success.¬†And in order to set the expectation level low, let’s start with the epic fail.

This zine is actually the last one I’ve printed, so the traditional learning curve does not look like it’s working. So anyway, what was wrong with it?

First of all, the panels turned out to be way too detailed. Registration errors which otherwise can turn out to be a good surprise (just wait until part 2), here simply threw off the whole panel.

Secondly, the original technique – watercolour + graphite pencil – did not help. It is generally a difficult combo for a riso to handle, mainly due to colour separation issues. Riso loves even tones or gradations and watercolour as well as graphite pencil are anything but.

BID page 2 colour

So, here the plan was to work around the Photoshop colour separation headache and use extra pages (“riso sheets”) with coloured spots filled in with marker or graphite pencil. It’s a method I’ve used before and it can yield nice results. Just not this time.

The”riso sheet” for this page looks like this. Two pages from the dummy zine taped together on the back and the orange parts in black or grey depending on the intensity of colour I was aiming for.

BID worklayer 4

The pencil layer for orange turned out to be too light. The black parts worked fine, but as the registration was so imprecise and the image itself small, on some pages the boy’s T-shirt and its colour have only about 50% overlap.

BID page 7 colour

Using several different media for black (ink/graphite pencil/fineliner) didn’t give good results either. Smudgy pencil line next to clear black did not soften the image, as hoped, but simply made it look dirty.

Just to give an example, registration of the blue layer was no better. Occasionally it seemed to shift during the same print run, which I found perplexing. I normally tape the “riso sheets” on the scanner with paper tape to prevent them from moving, but even this was not enough this time around.

So, this was the failed zine. As it was so bad I didn’t even bother making a cover and stapling it together. Now in aftermath I reckon that it might have worked in monochrome (only black and white) and a much more simplified and clear line in drawing. Perhaps one day I’ll make a redo.

And that’s all for Part 1. Part 2 will follow soon!

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.


Riso printing on different paper stocks

Finally time to continue noting down my riso experiments thus far. One of my favourite features of risograph is that it can print on a much greater variety of paper stocks than a ‘normal’ printer. Uncoated paper types are the best, as they allow the ink to absorb into the paper.

RZ 570EP can according to its specs print on paper weighing between 46 g/m2 and 210 g/m2. Three of the samples I’ll show are within this range and the other two over the maximum limit.

These samples show orange ink printed on black Canson paper, uncoated, thickness I’d estimate about 140-160 g/m2.


This was originally a collage, and the print imitates the different textures rather well. Here is a closeup of one piece as well.


This one is riso print on Fabriano Elle Erre, a rather thick textured paper that is mostly used for charcoal drawings, thickness 220 g/m2. As the design (mistakenly) had a thick dark blue stripe on the top, this printed uniformly, but afterwards the paper got stuck and the coverage became uneven. I don’t even want to think about how much ink one of these prints takes, as it is A LOT.

A piece of image here:


And a closeup:


The following one is printed on “White Rose” (Russian brand) canvas-textured watercolour paper (unusual texture for that), 260 g/m2. Coverage was – as expected – uneven like on Elle Erre.


And a closeup:


Pastel paper stock, however, was a different story. Quite much thinner than the previous ones (estimated 100 g/m2), textured, uncoated – riso loved it. This particular paper was actually leftovers from book covers, but the texture reminds very closely that of Ingram pastel paper.


And closeup (the dots are back!):


The last one is “White Rose” watercolour paper, cold-pressed with a typical texture, 200g/m2. The image here is the same as on the black paper example. This type and thickness is great for riso art prints. (The unevenness of colour in the down right corner might speak against is, but the other images in the same print run did not have it.)


And a closeup again:


And that’s it for this time.

Cleaning up hand-drawn images for riso printing

A quick, yet important note on printing hand-drawn images with risograph. Even if the drawing looks nice and clean in RGB, it is (apparently) NOT enough simply to scan and print. Because…



This lovely grey haze around the edges, yes. Invisible if you zoom in on the RGB image on the screen and very visible, when riso printed. Zoomed in, it looks like this:


However, good news is that there is a rather simple (and meditative) way to get rid of them. Assuming the image is originally saved in RGB, open it in Photoshop (I have CS2, but I think these functions are still in the same place in the new versions), choose ‘Image’ -> ‘Mode’ -> ‘Greyscale’. Say ‘yes’ to discard colour information and voil√°, now the image is in greyscale. Then go back to ‘Image’, choose ‘Mode’ and ‘Bitmap’ to convert it to black and white only. When saving the image, you’ll be asked about the type of coverage you prefer. In this case I used ‘Halftone screen’, but from image cleaning point of view, it does not matter which one you choose. Now, with the image in bitmap, zoom in to 300%, choose a good eraser size (I switched between 4-12px) and get to cleaning. It gives about the same level of satisfaction as cleaning dirty windows, so it’s a great meditative task for anxious days. After the pesky extra pixels are all cleaned up, I’d recommend to switch to brush about same size or smaller (2-5px) and fill in the white gaps on the black areas. When this is done, you’re done and can either save the image in bitmap or convert it back to greyscale.

rose card clean.jpg

And the text looks now like this:


There you go.

Printing watercolour with risograph

A few months ago I was experimenting with printing my watercolour images with risograph, and as I haven’t come across any other articles about this, I thought I might share the experiences. I printed a small watercolour portrait in three colours and daresay the result was successful – meaning that it looked nice.

So, let’s get to it. First, the technical data.

Risograph printer RZ 570EP, A3, with three colour drums – black A3, sunflower yellow A3 (which I’ll soon have to to change to orange or fluo orange) and medium blue B4. The different size of the blue drum means that in practice any print in three colours should be maximum B4 and ideally A4.

Scanner -Epson Perfection V37, A4.

Programs I use for colour separation and conversion – Irfanview v. 4.38 and Adobe Photoshop CS2. (As my laptop is old, it can’t really handle the newer ‘heavier’ versions)

The image I used was this little portrait in same colours as my colour drums – pure watercolour on cold pressed A6 (postcard size paper), no pencil lines.


I scanned it with 300 dpi resolution and ran directly into the main conflict issue between risograph print and watercolour, namely colour separation. Ironically, the same lightness and mixing of colours that gives watercolour its beauty and charm, makes its conversion into riso layers a proper pain in the neck.

However, magic wand in Photoshop, with tolerance upped to  78 (it needs a bit of playing around in order to find the best value) did a decent job. Not perfect, but decent Рluckily this type of watercolour painting does not need absolute exactness.


Clearly, none of the layers are separated cleanly, but for printing it didn’t actually prove to be a problem (in terms of the end result). I’m not sure whether it is an issue of the separation method I chose or it is simply inevitable that below a certain level of darkness, Photoshop doesn’t seem to distinguish between colour and value.

Anyhow, as the next step, I converted all layers to greyscale. For this I used Irfanview, as there it can conveniently be done with one click (I’m not particularly good with Photoshop, so I use Irfanview for most things). Values remained unchanged.


And then to risograph… Unfortunately I forgot to save the orange layer on its own, but together with blue it already looked pretty promising.


In fact, riso seems to duplicate the watercolour effect rather well. And after adding the final, black layer:


The black layer left a stripe down from the beret, but as the whole image doesn’t have exact lines, it almost seems organic. Now, let’s see both the original and riso print next to each other:


Everything considered, I’d say that it worked. I used ordinary copy paper to make the riso print, and quite probably¬†using a paper with some texture might have produced better results. Also, designwise, having the strongest colour (black beret) just at the upper edge of the image was a mistake, as it got stuck to the drum. Some space (from other experience, minimum 1 cm) at the upper edge is definitely necessary.

So. This was the success story. One of the next posts will be about the spectacular failure of using the same method on riso printing a comic.