Risograph printing is a rising trend in the design community. Learn how you can create this look yourself.

Invented in Japan in the 1980s, the Risograph machine is a distinct method of printing that marries the functions of a copy machine and a screen printer. This technique is popular in the creative community due to its low cost, speed, flexibility, and aesthetics.

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The Riso machine prints in single-color layers and is notorious for printing vibrant hues with a richer ink output than laser printers. The beauty of Risograph printing is in its texture, irregularity, and the overprints created when two inks overlap one another.

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Recent print design trends show an exponential increase in the use of Risograph printing for posters, postcards, zines, and more. This method of printing deviates from digital techniques by introducing a sense of irregularity to each result. Designers have used this printing method to create informative books, personal business cards, and design periodicals.

Read on to discover the four ways you can reproduce a Risograph effect in Adobe Photoshop.


Single-Color Print

Risograph printers work with single-color depictions for each print layer. To truly emulate the look of a Risograph, designers must convert illustrations and photographs to just one hue, much like a duotone effect.

Duotone Mode

When working with full-color photographs, you need to make some edits to give the images a Risograph feel. Traditionally, when prepping an image for a Riso print, you have to convert it to black and white then feed it through the printer with a specified ink.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Duotone Mode
Image via Kolpakova Daria.

To begin, bring your image into Adobe Photoshop, then convert it to a black-and-white adjustment layer. You can find the adjustment layers at the bottom of the Layers panel; simply click the half-shaded circle, and hit Black & White.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Black and White

This will bring up the Properties panel, where you can control how dark or light each hue appears when translated to black and white. Take your time and experiment with different levels until you’ve achieved optimal contrast.

Now, it’s time to add a vibrant hue to your black-and-white image. Merge the black-and-white layer with the image layer by holding down the Shift key and clicking both layers, then hit Command + E. This retains the level of contrast in your black-and-white image before converting to grayscale.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Grayscale

Navigate to Image > Mode > Grayscale to convert the entire image to grayscale. Then head back to that dropdown and select Duotone. A Duotone Options menu will pop up, prompting you to select from the various duotone types and colors. Select Monotone, and click on the color box to choose from a range of hues. I opted for a bright, vibrant pink to bring in that rich ink quality.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Monotone

Color Fill Layer

If you’re working with black-and-white illustrations, inject some color with the Duotone mode, or if you don’t want to change the color mode, add a color fill. Bring up the adjustment layers button, and select Solid Color, then find a hue that works best for the illustration. Move the color fill layer below the image layer, then set the blend mode to Screen or Lighten to allow the color to shine through.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Color Fill
Image via Nadezhda Molkentin.

The Risograph fun doesn’t stop here; add some textural components with halftone dots or noise. Mimicking a Risograph design means embracing irregularity and overlaps.


Halftone Screen

Another popular technique used by designers when prepping an image for a Risograph print is incorporating halftone dots. Halftone dots create texture while adding an imperfect quality.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Halftone Screen

Start off by bringing a black-and-white image into Photoshop. Make sure the image mode is set to Grayscale, then head back to Image > Mode > Bitmap. This will bring up a Bitmap menu asking for input on resolution and method.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Grayscale Bitmap

Set the Output to 600 pixels per inch and select Halftone Screen in the Method tab. Hit OK and then set the Frequency to 100 lines per inch, the Angle to 10 degrees, and the Shape to Round.

The Bitmap mode sets every aspect of your image to either black or white. To incorporate color into that halftone screen, convert the image back to Grayscale, then to RGB Color. Unlock the background layer by holding down the Option key and double-clicking the layer.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Unlock Background

Bring in a color fill by navigating to the adjustment layers button and selecting Solid Color. Select your hue, then bring the solid color layer beneath the image layer. Set the image blend mode to Screen to allow the color to shine through the halftone dots.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Add Color

To act as the paper background, let’s add another solid color layer. Head over to the adjustment layers once again and select Solid Color. Bring in a lighter hue, like a pale yellow, in order to avoid overpowering the halftone image. Drag the color layer beneath the halftone image, then set the blend mode to Multiply.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Solid Color Layer


Overprinting

In the land of the Risograph, overprinting occurs when two or more inks print on top of one another. This creates a unique effect when printed, but you can easily achieve this overprint technique with the help of Photoshop’s blend modes.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Overprinting

Overprinting spruces up a simple illustration by emphasizing the overlap of two layers. Begin with a hand-drawn illustration or a nature-inspired drawing and bring it into Photoshop. In this instance, I wanted to create an overprint with the background, but you can also incorporate text or shape elements by adding layers on top of your illustration.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Add Text and Layers

Activate the Magic Wand Tool (W), then click outside of your illustration; hold down the Shift key, and click in other areas to make an addition to the original selection. Add another layer on top of your image, then activate the Brush Tool to draw non-destructively. Set your brush color to a light hue that complements the illustration’s color. Fill in all components of the magic wand selection, then deselect the layer with Command + D.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Using the Magic Wand

With the Move Tool activated, nudge the solid color layer with your keyboard arrows. A subtle overlap is what we’re going for here; this slight overlap mimics the overprint that often occurs with a Risograph machine. Set the layer’s blend mode to Multiply and take in those glorious overprints.


Noise and Grain

Last, but certainly not least, another way to mimic that gritty Risograph effect is to bring in noise and grain.

4 Ways to Mimic a Risograph Effect in Adobe Photoshop — Noise and Grain

You can achieve this effect by heading to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. A menu will pop up, asking for the noise amount and distribution. Keep the Amount around 15% or less; any higher may create too much noise (we’re aiming for subtlety here). Set the Distribution to Uniform, then hit OK. Rinse and repeat for the remaining layers, if necessary.


Cover mockup via mirtmirt. Leaves via Alenka Karabanova.

Searching for more techniques to add character to your designs? Look no further: