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The Vintage Japanese Copy Machine Enjoying an Artistic Renaissance

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Cool piece from Atlas Obscura.

At a New York storage space some time in 2010, printmaker Pan Terzis was left alone with a friend’s Risograph machine. The friend “told me he got this machine that was like a screen printing machine, but automated,” Terzis says. “I see this weird old copy machine and was like: ‘Where’s the Riso?’ And he said, ‘This is the Riso!’”

Within 24 hours, Terzis had used the machine to print a 50-page book, joining the ranks of 21st-century artists and publishers who are using old technology to make new creations.

The Risograph, a machine that duplicates like a mimeograph but dispels ink like a screen printer, has come a long way from its humble 1958 beginnings in a small home in Tokyo. Originally intended as more of a courtesy to Japanese businesses than a printmaking phenomenon, this ordinary, grey machine’s bulky exterior belies the innovation within. Around the world, the Risograph is now used by independent artists and publishers to create unique, high-quality zines and art prints. Aside from the vibrant ink it uses and the relatively low overhead costs it demands, it insists on the use of both digital and analog printing methods (it prints computer-generated designs but the ink drums must be handled manually), which makes for an equally modern and nostalgic experience.

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