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Printing a Stern Political Missive Using the Humble Risograph Printer

We’ve all heard it’s easy… But Tan & Loose Press show us just how easy it is

Bridging the gap between a laser printer and a humble, conventional photocopier, Risograph printing is the go-to for those on a shoestring budget with something to say. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It’s rough and ready to boot. If you’re an Eye on Design regular you’ll know we love to champion the cohort of contemporary Risograph masterminds that have gravitated towards the ’80s machinery for its speed, versatility, and charm, especially Hato Press in London and Risotto in Glasgow. We love what they produce, we love how they support their artistic business through their presses, but something we wonder: is Riso really as easy as they all say it is?

Enter Tan & Loose: our favourite LA-based Risograph studio run by the sharp-witted illustrator Liana Jeger and gentle-humored comics artist Clay Hickson, who we interviewed just last month. Finding ourselves in near to their home town of Chicago a couple weeks ago, we invited them to our inaugural Eye on Design conference in Minneapolis to show us just how easy Riso really is. Turns out, it’s even easier than we thought.

With a stack of disintegrating Letraset, piles of orange, pink, and powder blue card, a rickety Risograph printer, and plenty of enthusiasm, a group of millennial first-timers and Letraset know-it-alls came together to celebrate the simple power of the Riso. As Tan & Loose are the brains behind The Smudge, a satirical monthly political newsletter inspired by the ’60s alternative press, Jeger and Hickson though it best that we come together as a group to make something that really matters: angry postcards.

Get ready Minnesota congress: you’re about to get quite the heap of  uncompromising messages rendered in chunky Letraset delivered through your letterbox. For those not at the workshop, here’s Jeger and Hickson’s guide to printing political postcards with a risograph machine.

There’s the rub!

“Take the Letraset and… You just rub it onto the card! It’s not perfect, but that’s the charm,” says Jeger, scratching a large F onto a pumpkin orange background. “The material is 20 years old so it might crack a bit but that’s all part of the process. Letraset is a commercial tool, it was once used in the punk movement, and the quality is hard to imitate digitally.

“Making letters tipsy and wobbly might take hours on the screen, but with these old Letraset sheets, it’s easy and probably not on purpose. Write anything you want. Maybe a stern letter,” she continues, using a bone folder to rub the remaining E, M, M, E onto the card.

“Some Letraset sheets crack more than others. Some won’t work at all. You can fill the cracks in with Byro later on. Go wild!” says Hickson.

Load em’ up

“Turn the risograph printer on. Load your postcard design into the scanner. Make a master by clicking the ‘M’. There’s a whole roll in there where the master image gets burned onto: it looks like a long, giant roll of toilet paper, and you can get at least a couple hundred parchments on each roll,” Hickson says as a crowd gathers round to watch the Riso machine do its thing.

“Print a few test sheets because the ink always starts out a little patchy. We’ll randomly switch the drum color later—the machine only prints one color at a time. You could do multiple colors by running the postcards through the press multiple times.”

Lick a stamp, and hey presto, you’re ready to go!

“That’s it! Now cut your postcard from the rest, simply add a stamp and send off your message,” say Jeger and Hickson in jolly tandem.

For the lucky folk at the Eye on Design conference, their postcards will sit snuggly inside the next not-to-be-missed issue of The Smudge. You can subscribe to the Riso newsletter on Tan & Loose’s website, and we highly recommend that you do. Proceeds are donated to a different charity each month, and each issue is filled with delicious satire and wittily illustrated puns. What’s not to love?

From our Eye on Design conference Risograph Workshop with Tan N’ Loose Press. Photo by Frank Aymami.

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