Copier vs. Risograph

By Elizabeth Mott

At first glance, a Risograph looks like a copier.
i Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

You can meet your business's copying needs using one of two related but different output technologies. In terms of design and supplies, a copier shares common ground with the laser printer on your desktop. The Risograph, on the other hand, operates more like a printing press, and is often referred to as a printer-duplicator because of its dual function as a network printer as well as a standalone duplicator. Which works best in your office depends on what you copy and how many copies you make.

Copying vs. Duplication

A photocopier produces its output by creating a digital scan of an original and printing the result through the same heat-set process used in laser printers. Prior to the era of digital technology, copiers used a system of lenses and mirrors to produce analog output. A Risograph, however, scans an original and creates a wax master based on the scan, printing copies from the master instead of the scan itself. Whereas copiers can print in black or in full color, the Risograph works in monochrome; however, it can use two masters to create the equivalent of spot-color output on a printing press.

Toner vs. Ink

A copier relies on one or four colors of powdered toner made from a combination of ground plastic, coloring agents and additives that keep the mixture flowing. It uses a heat source called a fuser to melt toner onto the surface of a sheet of paper, forming a permanent bond. The Risograph uses an ink-based output process more like a printing press or an earlier form of duplication hardware, the mimeograph, which also relied on ink and a stencil.

Full Color vs. Spot Color

A color copier combines its toner colors to produce output, using cyan, magenta, yellow and black to create the continuous-tone imagery in photographs as well as the letter forms that make up text. Essentially colorblind, the Risograph makes no distinction among the tints and shades used in an original unless the operator programs it to use a different ink color on part of the page. Depending on the model, the Risograph prints one color at a time or up to two colors in one pass through the machine.


A copier must lay down multiple toner colors to produce each copy of a page individually. Although it can incorporate a hard drive to store projects sent to it from networked computers, enabling it to function like a laser printer, it must image each sheet as a separate mix of toners. Once a Risograph scans an original and makes the master of that page, it can print at speeds that reach 130 pages per minute, pressing ink through the tiny holes in the stencil that represent the dots in its 300 or 600 dot-per-inch resolution.


A copier holds the cost advantage on runs of fewer than 50 copies. At those short-run quantities, a Risograph costs more to operate because of the need for a master from which to duplicate. Once the quantity rises above 50, however, the Risograph gains ground thanks to the cost differential between expensive toner and relatively inexpensive ink. In addition, with no internal heat source, the Risograph uses minimal energy, especially in standby mode, and can image on items and surfaces that don't tolerate heat.