Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Repurposing Risograph Machines: The Allure of Small-Scale Printmaking in the Era of Big Data


Cite this article:

2020 EPIC Proceedings p 12, ISSN 1559-8918,


PechaKucha Presentation—Paper documents are increasingly being replaced with digital files, infinitely replicable for seemingly no cost. Yet I’ve always felt the pull of paper, with a personal affinity for physical books and a background in magazine production. Through my recreational publishing practice, I learn of the “riso” or risograph, a duplicating machine increasingly adopted by Bay Area artists and technology corporations alike. Upon first glance, most risograph models resemble familiar Xerox machines, with their boxy, gray exteriors, protruding buttons, and hinged tops that cover glass beds for scanning.

Through my own experiences and interviews with subject matter experts, however, I come to understand the allure of the risograph: its temperamental nature as an analog machine and the uniquely “human” quality of the prints it renders. I posit the risograph’s popularity is a response to technological advances and resulting societal changes, acting as a reprieve to digital modes of aesthetic and community engagement. The rise of the risograph machine thus suggests both the appeal and the limits of scale: its origins as a low-cost printer among artists highlight the draw of multiplicity, whereas its adoption among tech companies, ironically, suggest the limits of seemingly infinite content and growth.

Joyce S. Lee ( is a user experience researcher based in Oakland, California. In her free time, she publishes and distributes zines; her work has appeared at events around the world including the New York Art Book Fair, the CtrlZ.AI zine fair in Barcelona, and many more festivals across the west coast.