Getting the color right on a job is crucial for any wide-format output provider. The emergence of RIPs and color management systems has allowed for great strides in this area. Color management, RIP software, and hardware let print providers manage their color printing by creating profiles specific to their particular printers, inks, and printed media, as well as any post-processing work that might have an impact on the color. Users can then select a profile that will ensure the colors in the digitally printed output match those in the original design. Choosing the right RIP can be the most critical part of putting together an effective workflow solution. Most wide-format printer manufacturers provide some sort of printer driver or rudimentary onboard RIP to make this conversion. Most users need more than this in order to achieve anything like optimal results from their printer.
To help with RIP questions, WFI polled a number of RIP software suppliers and asked them about software trends and advice on selecting a RIP.
WFI has also compiled a RIP resource chart to help you with your purchasing decisions, outlining all of the available RIPs on the market, following this feature.
What are the big trends in this marketplace?
Sebastien Hanssens, vice president of marketing, Caldera Graphics:
Shops need to have modular and productive software. Printers have greatly improved their color output, so print suppliers are less overwhelmed by color management. In these times of crisis people are looking to improve productivity, reduce waste, and improve margins; the key objective is profitability. This means concentrating better organization and processes, which can be achieved with software that focuses on media and ink optimization, all while increasing job production speed (not just the printing, but the whole workflow).
Andrew Oransky, director of Product Management at Roland DGA Corp.:
RIP vendors are trying to differentiate themselves by offering features that go beyond the basics of color correction and layout options. Spot color matching systems, variable data, and the ability to manage multiple devices from a single workstation are becoming more common. I am also starting to see more tools that will help users to run their businesses more effectively. These include preflight tools that automate file preparation, as well as specific capabilities that address the needs of a particular market. There are RIPs that are particularly well suited to proofing, a different set of RIPs optimized for dye sublimation, and RIPs that are designed for photo or fine art applications. While most of these packages can be pressed into service in almost any industry, we find suppliers increasingly aligning themselves with a particular application or group of users.
Alexander Kattner, product manager, EFI:
A big trend in the industry is definitely for flexible and modular solutions which provide accurate and consistent color output and which are based on standards. Users want to secure their work and are looking for solutions which are easy to integrate into existing environments, especially via JDF. The market is moving more and more in the direction of standardization, both on the input and output side. Many customers who have been happy with “just color” are now facing different requests—inkjet produced prints and products need to be consistent with print products manufactured using different technology.
Dean Derhak, product director, ONYX Graphics, Inc.:
Overall, demand for print jobs has slowed with the economic downturn, forcing print providers to find new ways to maintain their business level or cut their costs. Shops are also exploring new print opportunities such as vehicle wraps and textile-based products such as soft signage, because demand for them appears to remain high.
Along with adding new print applications, companies have turned to outsourcing more print jobs. This enables the print provider to expand its product offering quickly without having to immediately purchase new hardware.
Despite the economic downturn, we see UV printing technology growing as well. This is attributed to the flexibility of print applications, improved ink technology and to some degree, more environmentally friendly inks.
Also due to the economic downturn there is a consolidation trend in businesses and companies. For example, we see multi-site companies closing some shops and redirecting work, as well as smaller companies being purchased by larger companies, while others are simply cutting back on their work force.
As result, we see many print shops now focusing on efficiency and productivity, particularly with production managers trying to get the most out of the resources they have. So they are focusing on reducing the bottlenecks in their workflow that waste time and/or cause production errors.
Ashley Schaumburg, Marketing Coordinator, Wasatch Computer Technology:
RIP software companies are trying to do more by adding different features in their software, including job cost estimation and file editing. Still the most important feature that you need from your RIP is the ability to achieve the desired color while simplifying your workflow.
Randy Rickert, VP/GM of Mutoh America, Inc.:
The new focus is on efficiency and productivity given economic downturn. Reducing waste and production bottlenecks is key to ensure shops are efficient and productive. New printing opportunities such as vehicle wraps and textile-related print jobs seem to still have high demand.
Deborah Hutcheson, senior marketing manager, Commercial/Wide Format, Agfa Graphics, North America:
In the past 12 months, we have observed lots of improvements and refinement in print head technology, finishing hardware, and inks. First, print head technology improvements is exciting because of increased speed capability and immediate boosts to productivity. These improvements will make a major impact on turnaround times and sales.
Also we’re seeing advancements in finishing functionality within UV systems such as a spot varnish and white printing functionality.
Also, improvements with regards to latex inks are very interesting because their inherent flexibility allows printers to produce output on a wider variety of substrates; this will be a great help for printers looking to differentiate their product offerings and services.
What should shops be looking for when purchasing a RIP?
Kattner: They need to look for a scalable and flexible solution which is easy to use and extendable, ensuring that the investment grows with their business needs. Shops should be looking for products which are based on industry standards (e.g. Adobe CPSI and/or APPE), to ensure maximum compatibility with other systems.
Rickert: Shops should be looking for a RIP that provides consistent color across all print devices and offers scalability. The reliability of the RIP provider is also an important factor to consider when making your decision.
Derhak: Companies should be looking for RIP products that increase production efficiency and give them consistent color across all of their print devices. So the features to look for first are automation in the workflow, printer and cutter support, and integrated color management.
Scalability is also critical because RIPs are a significant investment for print shops. They need to look for a RIP platform that will grow with their business. This means RIP software that isn’t limited to a one or a few printer manufacturer’s devices, as well as flexibility to support different print applications such as flatbed, print-and-cut, textile, and white ink. Shops don’t start out using all of these print applications but as they grow, they can avoid having to switch RIPs by investing early in a RIP platform that can easily add new print applications.
Because RIP software is such an important investment for print shops, shops should look at the reliability of the RIP and the reliability of the RIP provider. Shops should expect good training and support from their RIP provider. Some questions shops should ask their dealer include:
- What training do I get with the RIP purchase?
- Does the RIP company offer web access that provides me with 24x7 access to knowledge that is regularly updated and the ability to log issues or questions?
- Does the RIP company have a call center, and how easy is it to get quality support from a technician?
Schaumburg: Ease-of-use and excellent quality color. Ease-of-use brings a lot of savings to go along with it. New employees will be able to produce prints without any extensive training time. This time savings results in increased efficiency and increased production.
Hutcheson: This is very important; shops should look for the following when purchasing a RIP: Ease of use, Color fidelity, Color profiles are critical and support from the manufacturer is also great option.
Oransky: The biggest danger for shops is overbuying, particularly for the first time purchaser of large-format equipment. Users need to take a hard look at their real needs and scale their purchases accordingly in all areas of their business.
In the case of hardware, tradeoffs generally have to be made between current needs and future growth opportunities. A machine that is too small won’t grow and will likely have to be replaced.
The good news is that most RIP vendors offer an upgrade path that makes it cost effective to start with a basic package and add capabilities as they are needed without fundamentally altering a workflow that has become comfortable to the user.
How are suppliers tailoring their products to fit these new trends in the marketplace?
Hutcheson: In response to demand, suppliers have introduced solutions that produce increased quality at fast speeds, thereby allowing shop owners to maintain peak production and all at competitive pricing. This includes Agfa’s high speed engines like the :Anapurna M2 and :Anapurna Mw (white functionality) and the :Anapurna M4f which is a great entry model.
Hanssens: As a RIP manufacturer we look to make the software evolve towards better serving the print provider. We need to keep up with the industry innovations and develop features in symbiosis to these new technologies (such as Latex, N-Color, embedded spectrophotometer).
Kattner: We are offering different base configurations which can be adjusted by adding product and output options. This is controlled by the licensing system to ensure that the customer doesn’t have to reinstall and reconfigure the product just because an option has been added.
Oransky: Specialization has become key, either with tailored packages or add-ons. Vendors aiming at the sign industry have made sure to address the need for precise spot color matching, large multi-panel layouts, and integrated workflows for printing and cutting. Roland Color is a good example of just such a feature. Roland VersaWorks also allows users of Roland cutters and printers to print and cut across two devices without reprocessing the file in a separate program.
Proofing RIP vendors will generally omit these kinds of features, but will include more tools for replicating the dot patterns and color space of a particular press. A RIP designed for dye sublimation will often have features specific to the textile industry, like step and repeat.
Derhak: ONYX Graphics recognizes that print shops still need improvements in their production workflow, especially around job preparation bottlenecks. So we recently introduced a new product, ONYX PrepEdge Pro software, to help shops reduce their lead times and production errors. It includes prep tools for all wide-format job preparation types as well as a full PDF editor.
Also, some RIP vendors are introducing job costing enhancement to their RIPs to help shops track print costs. We’ve had this feature for several years and see shops using it more this year in economic hard times. Shops now want to track all of their production costs and the RIP is the ideal place to do it because it has a view into everything happening in production.
For example, we will introduce some enhancements to our production analysis tool later this year that track production time, finishing and other production cost trends.
Rickert: We are focused on enabling new print applications such as vehicle wraps; educating users on how to utilize RIP software to complete these printing tasks is key. Mutoh is an open source platform that gives user’s more choices to optimize their workflow and productivity, all the major RIP companies support Mutoh products.
This allows the end user to add Mutoh printers to their existing workflows, or choose a RIP that best fits their own needs.
How have these technological changes helped improve productivity and profitability for output providers?
Hanssens: The modular Caldera core structure is both simple highly scalable, meaning we have been able to fine tune the RIP to improve the print processes with better colors, increased speed and more complete features for the users. For the end user it also means reducing processing time, human time in heavy manipulations, as well as reactivity/traceability in improving Job tracking/reprint-ability.
Oransky: Particularly in the sign industry, the latest RIPs have added features that allow users to manipulate one file for a variety of applications, rather than having to redesign it in their image editing software every time something needs to be changed. By allowing color management, scaling, tiling, and variable data capabilities in the RIP, the same file can be easily repurposed for everything from banners to t-shirts without wasting time reopening it for editing in another program. Every step in a production process should be optimized to cut down on waste of both time and materials. With the right feature set, RIPs can actually help on both fronts.
Rickert: Automation features in RIP software have allowed shops to make cutbacks and still manage workload due to the reduced number of manual steps they must take to complete a job.
Derhak: The job preparation and PDF editing technologies we have introduced into our product line have dramatically reduced the time it takes to prepare wide-format jobs. For example, NC Pestill in Toronto cut days off of its lead time after it incorporated ONYX PrepEdge Pro software into its workflow. Other shops that have had cuts in production staff have been able to keep up with the workload because they used the automation features of our RIP software to reduce manual steps.
Kattner: Customer profitability gets increased by a reduced number of reprints, for example by eliminating time and material consuming trial and error prints just to fulfill the customer’s expectations in terms of color. Industry standards ensure data exchange intra- and extra-company, standardizing on Adobe PDF combined with the correct technology in the RIP product to reduce the number of misprints because of badly rendered data. JDF makes the connectivity and reporting to other systems easier and more automated.
Schaumburg: Saving time and money should be two of the biggest goals for print service providers in today’s economy.
Hutcheson: Technological advancements are helping output providers cut out time consuming steps and processes (such as mounting and in some cases certain types of finishing) as these advancements support printing directly onto a substrate. These advancements have lead to increased productivity, reduced labor and material costs.