Among the publications sold at bespoke printing press and bookstore Neighbourhood Press is the comic Return to Space. Written and illustrated by the store’s owner Scott Alexander, its cover is minimal yet vibrantly coloured and has a textured, painterly look, like if it was hand-printed. On the opening page the text reads, “This book was published and printed by Neighbourhood Press in Fremantle on their very old and outdated Risograph Printer.”
Riso printers were introduced in the late ’80s as a means to economically publish commercial volumes of work. Quick and easy to set up, the process became popular with schools, churches and other community organisations.
Recently, illustrators and designers have gotten in on the act. Riso printing is lauded as time-saving alternative to manual methods such as screen printing. Larger printing presses, such as Hato in London, have now caught on, offering Riso printing services to students and professionals seeking affordable ways to self-publish.
Alexander owns Neighbourhood Press with his partner Nora Mironov, who was introduced to Riso when working as an in-house graphic designer for Boden in London.
“We did an intensive Risograph course with a printing press as an alternative way to showcase the new collections,” says Mironov. “I just loved the aesthetic of it. I thought it’d be a good idea to gift Scott a zine-making course.”
Alexander, who finished an undergrad in mechanical engineering, became involved with the street-art scene while living in England’s capital. He says that Riso became the medium to transfer the immediacy and rawness of graffiti art to print.
“I was listening to a lot of DIY punk and reading anarchist literature at the time – George Orwell, Noam Chomsky,” he says. “I like it when people tell it how it is, the idea that there’s no filter between the content you’re creating and content you’re receiving.”
Unlike digital printers, the Riso printer uses an environmentally-friendly soy-based ink. Alexander says the style of ink has high clarity that’s apt for printing blocky, crisp details. It also has an impressive range of tones that can be layered, providing opportunity for a greater spectrum of colour and experimentation.
The downside is the machine can only use one colour, sometimes two, which is held in a heavy cylindrical drum and has to be manually loaded and unloaded. To print multiple colours, each artwork must be run through the machine multiple times.
Rather than seeing it as limitation, Mironov says that the parameters inspire a more creative approach.
“It just adds another dimension to the artwork,” she says. “The process has become an art in itself.”
The hands-on nature of Riso printing has led to the duo offering weekend workshops. Having the retail store means Mironov and Alexander can help locals get work out into the community (Mironov’s background in print design also means she can help put work together).
“The benefit is that you can come in, chat to us, get it printed here, then sell it here,” says Alexander. “It’s readily produced and very close to the creative.”
Mironov says Riso printing is an ideal stepping stone to creating books that bypass the competitive process of going through larger publishing houses. And with a colourful career in print design, Mironov can also provide assistance if you’re having trouble putting it all together.
“Every creative in Perth is hustling. It’s all about creating as much work as possible while working to stay alive,” says Alexander.“We’re passionate about working with that group, providing a means for it to be exposed to the wider community.”
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