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.”
He noted that some RIPs don’t come with an automatic Pantone spot-color matching capability, so shops waste time and consumables trying to manually match critical spot colors. Shops can see tremendous productivity and color output improvement with the small investment in better RIP software—even with its existing printing hardware.
Derhak warned, though, that it’s also important that shops keep their RIP software updated, so they keep up with the latest file formats and software improvements that can reduce their productions costs and improve print quality—even on older printer equipment. “That small investment in software maintenance pays for itself in productivity gains over time,” he said.
There has been a strong demand in the past 12 to 18 months for RIP software improvements that will help shops reduce their costs and help them stay competitive in the marketplace.
“For many, the status quo just isn’t working anymore,” said Derhak. Manufacturers have heard their pleas and have responded.
Onyx has focused all of its RIP software improvements on providing more automation, color consistency, and business information to the customer, which directly addresses their bottom-line challenges.
“In our new RIP software (Onyx ProductionHouse, Onyx PosterShop, and Onyx RIPCenter) version, X10, we added automated print-and-cut workflows and automated color profiling, which dramatically reduce production lead times,” said Derhak. “We also added an innovative Smart 16-bit processing technology that maximizes job-processing speed while enhancing image quality.”
Onyx also introduced a very useful production-tracking tool to its RIP software called Onyx PrintMetryx. “We built this because we observed many print shops that did not have an easy way to view their job costs and production trends for all of the printers in their workflow.”
Many RIP developers have started to include features that are more operational-based than they are production-based, according to Eversole, and a few others have taken a decidedly different track by making RIPs that are easier to use.
“They are less of a science project than RIPs of the past,” he said. “At the end of the day, simple solutions work and great prints sell.”
ColorBurst has introduced Overdrive, the company’s next generation of RIPs.
“Overdrive takes sophisticated color management technology often found in brute-force RIPs and combines it with the finesse of an RGB workflow,” explained Eversole. “This new methodology makes color configuration easier than ever.”
Eversole claimed that in the case of today’s extended six (CMYKOG) and seven (CMYKRGB) color gamut devices, taking advantage of an RGB workflow allows Overdrive to deliver better color transforms, wider color gamut, and overall higher quality images and graphics than traditional CMYK RIPs.
As well as extended color gamuts delivered by extra inks, more and more printers have white-ink capabilities. “These need dedicated drivers with solid color management,” said Chris Schowalter, director of technology and service at GMG. “We recently announced a partnership with Roland to provide device-link color management technology to provide accurate color, including the white ink.”
EFI Fiery XF, EFI’s professional production inkjet RIP solution, improved the company’s patent-pending EFI Dynamic Wedge technology, which extracts, verifies, and optimizes job-specific colors and leads to perfectly reliable print results. EFI Fiery XF also introduced a new RGB workflow for Epson and Canon devices that leads to fast RIPing times and brilliant saturated colors, smooth gradations and lots of details.
“With EFI Print & Cut and the EFI Cut Server, two new product options have been introduced that handle the path from the print to the final print product, including automated cut path extraction and control of the cutting device and routing tables,” said Campa. Additionally, EFI Fiery XF provides flexible handling of white and gloss layers for printers supporting these additional inks, leading to eye-catching print products with 3D-like effects.
With EFI Web Control Center, EFI introduced a Web-based solution for job distribution and control between remote sites using EFI XF solutions. “It provides centralized monitoring of EFI XF solutions, printers, output and measuring results and is a link between any geographically remote sites participating in the global supply chain,” said Campa.
ColorGATE recently upgraded its RIP software Version 6 and provided a significant increase in productivity for printing services and color management.
“The Parallel Process Manager is without a doubt one of the most exciting innovations in the Productionserver 6 architecture,” said Catherine Kirschner, manager marketing communication, ColorGATE Digital Output Solutions GmbH, Hannover, Germany. “Intelligent resource management provides for a significant increase in productivity.”
An equally important technical innovation in Version 6 is the Ink Saver option. Sophisticated algorithms for the calculation of the color separation guarantee a substantial reduction in the amount of ink used, particularly for vividly colored production processes without any loss in quality, even under the most intense scrutiny. “CCM, the Cost Calculation Module, which is already available for Version 5 and later, makes it possible to precisely determine how high the savings will be before you print—right down to the last picoliter,” said Kirschner.
Wasatch SoftRIP has introduced the Wasatch Tracer. “This powerful new tool has become the new premier solution for print-and-cut needs,” said Schaumburg. “Users can now prepare cut paths directly in SoftRIP quickly and easily for both vector and raster graphics.”
Nelson has been impressed with the introduction of load balancing, which he said is important when one is driving multiple presses with one solution. “In addition, ink optimization has been introduced as a means for large-format devices to save 15 percent, even 20 percent of their ink consumption,” he said. “There is also an increased desire to monitor color quality, and correct and verify the color quality.”
Print shops are placing a great deal of importance on color management because their print buyers have increasing color quality demands, while shops are introducing new printing devices. This makes color consistency across devices, and from day-to-day, mission critical for today’s print shops.
Color management is so much more than a library of pre-configured color “set-ups” found in most RIPs today, according to Eversole. “Color management is the top line focus at ColorBurst,” he said. “Every RIP platform we develop starts and ends with color management.”
This focus has lead to the inclusion of an ICC-compliant printer profiler as a standard feature to its RIPs. Because of this, at any given time a user can quickly re-profile their system bringing back to its known color state or add new media to their line without sacrificing color accuracy.
“How color profiles are actually used is every bit as important as having them and can be the tipping point in taking real advantage of a color management system,” said Eversole. “ColorBurst RIPs’ CMS properly renders print jobs with mixed-color spaces, Pantone and custom spot colors, as well as live transparencies and blends.”
In order to address the importance of color management, ErgoSoft has developed the ColorGPS profiler, which in integrated into the RIP and creates a color profiles that conform to the ICC-standards. Color GPS is user-friendly and can support up to eight colors profiles. ErgoSoft has also developed tools in the RIP to check the color accuracy of your output. “This is very instrumental for users that depend on Named Colors and Swatchbooks,” said Eduardo Vargas, sales/support, ErgoSoft US LLC, Nashua, NH. “This can show you what is within the color gamut of your printer and what is not, so that you can make your color corrections appropriately to match color.”
EFI Fiery XF features Dynamic Wedge. “This is a technology for verification and optimization of key colors within individual jobs that ensures customers get the most from their prints, whether they are in a proofing or production environment,” said Campa, who added that both Adobe PostScript 3 Engine (CPSI) and Adobe PDF Print Engine 2.0 (native PDF rendering) are supported.
Onyx has developed an integrated 32-bit color management engine specifically optimized to address the challenges of wide-format printing, especially on new printing technologies, like UV and latex inkjet. “Shops benefit more from integrated color management, because it gives them that color consistency they need,” said Derhak. “Traditionally, it’s been very challenging for shops to achieve this color consistency for their existing and new devices, primarily because the learning curve has been steep. That’s why in the new version of Onyx ProductionHouse X10 software, we redesigned media profiling around simplicity and control.”
Caldera has addressed the strategic topic of color management by implementing the latest XRite iPrism profiling engine at the heart of its EasyMedia CMS. “The X-Rite iPrism engine enables printers to reach larger color gamuts,” said Sebastien Hanssens, vice president marketing and communication, Caldera.
Fujifilm distributes a number of RIP solutions, but they have found ColorGATE ProductionServer to be an excellent solution for their customers’ needs. ColorGATE drives over 300 different output devices including Fujifilm’s complete line-up of wide-format digital presses.
“With this product, printers are able to use one RIP and one color management system across all devices in their shop,” explained Nelson. “The ability for ColorGATE to monitor the quality and consistency of the color and verify that the press is printing to the customer’s parameters is critical to producing quality work.”
This feature allows the operator to measure against an industry standard like GRACoL or even the previously printed job and verify that the color is within acceptable tolerances. If it is outside of specification, ColorGATE can make adjustments to the profile in order to bring the color back into spec.
Integration of the overall print shop workflow is becoming more important, not just to reduce costs, but also to reduce lead times. RIP software is at the heart of workflow integration, which is why Onyx has increased the automation and connectivity of its RIP products.
“We have also recently introduced products complimentary to the RIP that provide business analytics and wide-format prepress job preparation tools,” said Derhak. “These work together with the RIP to streamline production workflow and help shops understand their businesses.”
Schaumburg believes most RIP software help the overall workflow in a shop by preparing and managing print jobs. Wasatch SoftRIP manages any print environment, from one large-format printer to a complex production plant with multiple printers.
“Our Master Queues Manager, Tiling, Variable Data Option, and Archive Tool saves time and helps the workflow really flow,” said Schaumburg.
In addition, Wasatch SoftRIP’s Hot Folders and ImageNet allow shops to use Wasatch from any computer sharing a network.
“Jobs can be resized, cropped, RIPed, and printed from any computer, even a Mac,” she said.
Caldera has an MIS called Flow+, which retrieves all the RIP information, according to Hanssens. “It retrieves the job ticket, ink used, media used, time needed to print...thus the user doesn’t have to re-enter the date in an MIS,” he said.
“Knowing that wide-format printing is about projects and not only jobs based on recipes, we have implemented hundreds of customers expertise years in a software solution made of a RIP and a MIS,” said Mergui. “The next stage will be add-on features such as Web-to-print and to open it to others using the JDF standard and complement it with external technology modules when facing needs that are not really within our expertise.”
ColorGATE has JDF capabilities that allow it to accept metadata about the job, according to Nelson. In addition, ColorGATE can capture the job-cost information such as ink and media consumption that can be used with an MIS system to track the overall cost of the job.
While Schowalter admits that JDF implementation is still not where it should be, and a full implementation in the workflow is often not possible, he said GMG has addressed this issue. “Our hotfolder functionality supports advanced filter technology, like naming conventions or ICC profiles,” he said.
Software RIP’s such as EFI Fiery XF provide a huge potential to automate workflows and provide connectivity to MIS, Web-to-print, and other applications, such as the EFI Web Control Center, which digitally distributes and controls print jobs at any location in the world, including verification and communication of results.
“With print for pay and sign and display being part of the global color supply chain, a software RIP is a must have,” Campa said.