I recently became the proud owner of a beautiful new-to-me Risograph GR 3750 - pictured above in all of its beige glory. I know what you're thinking: who in their right mind would actually spend money on what appears to be a piece of obsolete office technology? Although it appears to be an innocent copier - this machine can be pretty magical in the right hands. Risographs are not normal copiers, they are more like an automatic mimeograph, sort of the missing link between screen printing and offset. It works by scanning an image, which is burned into a wax paper 'stencil' that wraps around an ink-filled drum. Paper then passes beneath the drum and ink is pushed through the 'stencil' and onto the paper. The beauty of this process is that you can change out the drums to add more colors to your work. Similar to screen printing, you print one color at a time while layering colors to create art. While the printing is not perfect, it is possible to work within the constraints of the process to create beautiful results. Because of this the Risograph has seen a huge resurgence amongst designers, illustrators, and indie publishers in the last few years - it makes it extremely cheap to create large volumes of high quality printed materials.
When the opportunity presented itself for me to buy one on the cheap I jumped at it. My friend and I drove up to Gastonia, NC to buy it from a pastor at a small church, who was very confused what two young guys were doing buying his old copier. After literally almost killing ourselves moving the 400 pound behemoth into my basement, we got to work on making it work. After a full day of tinkering with it, consulting ancient service manuals, and a healthy dose of cursing - it was working.
The challenges presented when designing work to be printed on a 20 year old obsolete duplicator are numerous -the color palette is extremely limited (right now I only have purple and black), the registration is never perfect, the size is limited to 11x17. Although some would see these constraints as a hinderance to their creativity - I see them as an opportunity. Great design needs constraints to push against - you cannot break the rules if there are no rules. The challenge of producing great design is to push the limits just far enough to create unexpected results - whether its creating art on an old copier or designing a logo with a detailed creative brief - creativity thrives when it is has something to push against.
By far my favorite part about having a Risograph in my basement is that it has inspired me to create work for the sole purpose of fun. No clients, no deadlines, no money, just the simple joy found in the act of making stuff. I encourage any creative person to take time out of their busy schedule to make stuff for no reason other than fun - it is a great way to recharge your creative juices and remind yourself why you started doing this stuff in the first place.