Simply stated, a Raster Image Processor (RIP) interprets the data from your image file into a form your printer can understand. Most wide-format printer manufacturers provide some type of basic RIP to interpret the information in your files. However, most users need more than this in order to achieve optimal results. A professional RIP optimizes the performance of virtually every wide-format device available today, in terms of color reproduction, throughput speeds, and workflow efficiency, in ways that lesser RIPs simply cannot.
While many companies will overlook the RIP offering when purchasing a large-format printer, this can be a big mistake, according to Jeffrey Nelson, product marketing manager, Inkjet Equipment and Software, Sericol Unit, Graphic Systems Division, Fujifilm North America Corp. “The RIP is the engine that drives the press,” he said. “The efficiency at which one can get files down to the press that will print as desired is critical to the productivity of that device.”
In most regards, the RIP makes a significant difference between simply printing and printing profitably, according to Robert Eversole, director of sales and marketing at ColorBurst. He said it should do this by not just minimizing material waste, but also by maximizing usability. Eversole compares this principle to the profitable Southwest “single-model jet” archetype. “At Southwest, every jet can make every flight, so every pilot can fly every jet, so every mechanic can service every jet, so every part fits every jet,” he explained. “In the print shop, the Holy Grail is the RIP that every operator can use for every application regardless of his or her experience or the job’s complexity and without sacrificing quality.
Ashley Schaumburg, marketing coordinator for Wasatch Computer Technology, agrees that RIP software is a necessity in today’s competitive printing environment. “Companies using a large-format printer will see amazing benefits to color accuracy, production time, and overall print management by adding a large-format RIP to their workflow,” she said, noting that RIP software gives users the ability to print to multiple printers at once, send off multiple files in nested layouts, and achieve colors that are managed using powerful half-toning methods.
Most printer manufacturers do not provide RGB printer drivers for their large-format printers, so RIP software is also needed to provide dedicated drivers.
“Some devices print with white, gloss, and even metallic inks that require highly flexible routing of job layers—functionality that goes way beyond the capabilities of a RGB printer driver,” said Roland Campa, product manager, graphic arts solutions, EFI. “A RIP application, such as EFI Fiery XF, provides many additional advantages over an RGB printer driver.”
According to Campa, these advantages include: controlling ink limits in order to get challenging media under control, freely setting up and optimizing color management, automatically finding and simulating named spot colors, and defining and/or routing custom spot colors.
“Raster Image Processing of a file is key to its output quality,” affirmed Joseph Mergui, Caldera. “The color, smoothness, transparencies, text sharpness, spot color matching...all depends on the RIP first. Also, as a RIP can also be in charge of tasks such as cutting (contour cutting and XY cutting), tiling, nesting, mark positioning for welding, sewing...you can imagine how the choice of a RIP can impact on production.”
Because RIP software ultimately determines the output quality and production steps in a print shop, Dean Derhak, product director, Onyx Graphics, believes they have a tremendous impact on a shop’s bottom line. “It’s critical that print shops choose the right RIP for their print devices and applications,” he claimed. “One of the biggest mistakes print shops make is just using the bundled RIPs that come with a new printer, because they often lack the tools and color management capabilities needed to optimize print production time and costs.”