Inside the Rise of Risographs With BearBear

How a printer once used for business now creates beautiful artwork and brings people together

When artists Diana Chu and Ben Grzenia moved to Milwaukee after grad school in 2018, they bought a risograph printer and put it in the wood-paneled basement of their 1947 home. They wanted an affordable, compact and minimally messy way to keep creating while Chu worked at the Milwaukee Art Museum and Grzenia freelanced, before starting a new job at Generac. But they also felt like the machine shouldn’t be kept in a basement where no one would know about it. So in 2019, they started BearBear, a micropress and creative studio, with hopes of sharing the risograph with Milwaukeeans, empowering them to disrupt the status quo through art and storytelling.  

“We [were] like, this is really cool, people should know about this,” Chu says. “Especially artists, but also writers and photographers and art-adjacent people who just want to share something.” 

Risograph zine; Photo courtesy of BearBear


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Risograph printers were first developed in Japan in the 1980s as a more efficient and affordable alternative to laser printing. The name comes from the Japanese word riso, which means ideal. The printers were largely used in business settings until artists started realizing the bright colors and unique grainy texture could be used as a more affordable alternative to screen printing. The machines are also more environmentally friendly because they use vegan/plant-based ink made from soy or rice bran oil and take minimal energy to print.  

“People can find them out of church basements, fire departments, schools,” says Chu. “Because that’s what they were originally meant for,” Grzenia adds. “And then artists were like, whoa, these are really interesting colors. Why is this company making bright fluorescent pink, and green and whatever, for just businesses?” 

Diana Chu and Ben Grzenia of BearBear; Photo by Caleb Santiago Alvarado

In August of 2021, Grzenia and Chu moved their risograph printer into The Bindery (347 E. Ward St.), where they offer self-service riso printing, along with custom-designed art books, illustration and design services – and community classes open to the public. 

Photo courtesy of BearBear

“We discovered that there were no public access risographs in Milwaukee at the time, which was one of our goals,” Chu says. “We wanted to find some way to be community-oriented.”  

And when Grzenia and Chu are not designing or printing, they’re collecting risograph prints and zines from around the world. Anyone can flip through their collection, learn more about riso and sip some coffee at their free monthly meet-up, Slow Mörn, with the next one on May 21.  

“It’s definitely an appreciation of the tangible object,” says Grzenia. “[Risographs] have such a special look to them. And a lot of people connect with that.” 


You Can Learn Riso, Too!

Once a month, BearBear offers a RISO Basics workshop. With no prior experience needed, you can learn how the process works, do it yourself and even take home 15 two-color 11×17 prints that you designed. “You don’t need to know squat to come and have a fun time and make your own prints from scratch,” Chu says. Learn more at

Risograph prints; Photo courtesy of BearBear



This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s May issue.

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Brianna Schubert is the associate digital editor and writes about art, culture and more at Milwaukee Magazine. When she’s not writing/editing, she’s likely reading (follow her book reviews on Instagram at @read_with_bee), cooking or listening to Taylor Swift.