Remixing old riso ink

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since my last blog post, but now it is time. This one is going to be on the issue that messed up my black drum for a good while – I first got it serviced for about a month ago.

Essentially the story started with ordering 2 tubes of black ink from eBay which turned out to be way too old – in one of them shaking the tube produced a happy sloshing sound. The other one made no sound, so I thought it was all right to use. As it turned out, I was wrong. The ink in that one had separated just as well, and enough water managed to seep out to clog the ink pump and get behind the drum screen before I discovered it.

However, this meant that I had two tubes of old ink for experimenting and I remembered that someone in the Facebook riso group had successfully remixed old ink so it could be used for printing (will try to find a reference to the post later). They had used electric drill and paint mixer and added some distilled water. In case you are wondering what an electric paint mixer looks like, there are many versions:

drill mixer comp

I don’t have an electric drill at home, so I took the low-tech approach of straining the ink to regain the original or near-original consistency. The first challenge was to figure out how to open the ink tube and after some examination I did figure it out (in case it’s absolutely obvious for some, no need to judge). I used a can opener and a pair of tongs from my Ikea tool box.

can opener comp

Firstly one needs to pry off the black ring. Then proceed to pull out the lid slowly.

opening comp

As you can see the ink has become a thick gunk. For the next step, I recommend covering your immediate surroundings with as much plastic as possible and arming yourself with a pair of good rubber gloves, as it’s going to get MESSY.

I covered a one-liter empty yoghurt bowl with a loose gauze cloth, fastened it with a couple of clips at the edges and scraped/poured the ink onto the gauze cloth. It couldn’t be there all at once as it didn’t seep through fast enough, so I squeezed some through into the bowl and filled then more onto the gauze. Once the all the ink had been strained through the gauze, I took a second yogurt bowl, a new piece of gauze and repeated the whole gooey process once more, poured it back into the ink tube and mixed through with a stick.

straining comp

As you can see from the middle photo, straining leaves the ink with the consistency of a latex paint, which I believe is still too liquid. (I couldn’t test at first as the drum was messed up and I didn’t want to test later when it had been fixed, in case it would mess it up again. So take it as a theoretical experiment.)

The importance of rubber gloves cannot be stressed enough as riso ink is unbelievably difficult to clean off. (Mine crumbled a bit during the straining). This was the result after a mixture of dishwashing liquid, Ajax and white spirit. It took about a week to wear off completely.


The final part of closing the ink tube again is tricky in its own way. As the lid is designed to fit very tightly (for obvious reasons), every failed attempt chips the edges a bit and makes it harder to fit in. After about ten failed attempts, I discovered that the method that works is somewhat contrary to logic.


riso ink tube closing

Slide one side of the cover quite deep into the tube and then press down the other side. It shouldn’t go in too deep either, because that creates pressure between the air under the lid and the ink, so it’ll start pressing out from the opening on the other end.


All in all, I reckon that the electric drill mixer or straining and a round with the mixer in the end could get the ink back to usable consistency. Straining only leaves it too liquid and doesn’t provide the slight foaminess it needs to have.

Adjusting a hand-drawn psychedelic poster to riso printing – Part 1

Well, it’s been a good while since the last riso experiment blog post and hence high time to do something about it. And this was simple enough – as I’m organizing open live drawing sessions, I also make a new poster every Sunday to advertise it on Facebook. (Still not sure how well it works, but never mind that right now.)

Anyhow, with the last one I decided to ditch the ‘modern’ poster aesthetic and go with the style I actually love and make it look like the flat colorful psychedelic 60’s posters that couldn’t care less whether the viewers can read them or not.

So, first I made a sketch, inked the lines, scanned it and colored it in Photoshop and was done with the poster for original purpose. Fine, fine. However, the original line drawing was still there, so I figured there can be no harm in coloring it a bit. Besides the super-multi-color psychedelic style, I’m a great fan of its Art Deco predecessor – mono- and duo-chromatic images, that are colored only with different tones of the same color or different tones of two different colors that form a mosaic instead of mixing or overlapping. Having in the back of my mind that this technique is in many way perfect for riso printing AND that my only usable drum at this moment is fluo orange, I went ahead and colored the poster with three different orange markers (and black, which I intended to add to riso print later with stencil).

Here they are – the original, the colorful and the monochrome version.


*The monochrome one is on peach-colored paper.

Now, the question arose – how to turn the monochrome version into a riso-printable one. Just converting the scanned image into grayscale is simple but does not print well, because the marker-colored parts are not evenly filled. Quality-wise it made better sense to use the monochrome version as a guide and color the ‘clean’ version again digitally for better quality. My original idea was to go for the Art-Deco style duo-chrome and print it on blue paper (as I had some). This way blue would act as the darker contrast to the fluo orange, lighter tones of fluo orange would overlap blue and soften the contrast. At least that was the idea.

In order to make the process easier, I started by filling in the original clean background areas with blue. The rest are different tones of the original “Live Drawing” text orange. (I use the super-handy site 0to255¬†for finding tone gradations.). I replaced all black parts with white (in my CS2 – Image -> Adjustments -> Replace color), as those I wanted to add with stencil later. Next step, I replaced the blue parts with white as well, because that was to be the color of paper and finally converted the image to grayscale.


And made a couple of test prints on different papers.

Test prints revealed a lot – mostly design mistakes. The blue paper was way too intense – I had underestimated the natural semi-transparency of riso ink. (After all it’s not acrylic or tempera.) All the softer tones were completely overpowered and even full coverage looked rather weak. Yellow and peach-colored papers produced delightful surprises. Yellow, that I had not even considered as viable option and only tried because it happened to be at hand, produced the best contrast and color combination of all. The scan unfortunately doesn’t do it justice. Peach-toned paper came in second, although the background tone blended at bit too well with the softer tones of fluo orange and hence the contrast was not the best.


The last test print was on white paper to allow for corrections. So, here’s what I’m going to change in round 2 (left is test print and right one with corrections) – get rid of most soft tones and go for maximum contrast (and fix the “shift to the right” that my printer tends to do…)


To be continued…

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.


Drum conversion and error D04-534

Finally a Christmas miracle! Second day into trying to convert one of my drums from Sunflower Yellow to Fluorescent Orange and at last I found a fix that worked.

The tutorial on seemed otherwise simple enough.

  • Insert new ink tube. – Check
  • Hold right and left position arrow keys down and turn on the machine. it will start in Test mode. – Check

and the error message D04-534 appeared. Apparently it means either that the ink tube is incompatible or the code at the bottom of the ink tube has been damaged, so the machine is unable to read it.

(I believe it was here in the sequence that the machine (it’s RZ570EP) for some reason locked the drum into its position, so it was not possible to move it either with the ink tube inside or removed. As the master roll also needed changing and the machine was prompting to have it replaced, I replaced it and after a few restarts the drum unlocked itself. I have no idea whether the master change had anything to do with it or the restarts (test mode and normal) fixed it. Either way it seems not to have been a mechanical, but a software issue of some kind.)

I turned the ink tube into unlocked position and the error message disappeared. So I tried to complete the steps from

  • entered 117 on number pad
  • pressed Start (green button)
  • pressed Stop (red button)
  • entered 890 on¬†number pad
  • pressed Start (green button)
  • pressed Stop (red button)
  • pressed Reset (yellow button) shortly and restarted the machine (by switching it off and on)

First thing to appear – error message saying that ink tube was not detected or it was of the wrong type. (As the drum still wasn’t properly locked into position, it was hardly surprising, but as soon as I locked it, D04-534 error message reappeared.)

So, after some googling I found a slightly different fix from Fixya for a similar machine (RZ390UI) and this one also worked on mine.


  • enter Test mode by holding down left and right position arrow keys and turning on the machine
  • when the error message D04-534 shows, press yellow reset button
  • press ‘C’ on the number pad
  • enter 890 and press Start (green button)
  • when the machine beeps, press ‘C’ on number pad again and enter 112
  • when the machine beeps again, press yellow reset button and hold it down, so the machine will reboot

And voil√°, after the reboot there stood ‘Fluoresc. Orange’ in the lower left corner of the display. As the colours are rather similar, I did not clean the drum, but will prefer to see how the transition phase will look on prints. The current ones are still sunflower yellow.

Merry Christmas!




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.