The "Man" Behind the Curtain

Although some self-proclaimed tech geeks in the digital print realm may consider RIPing a near-mystical experience, rasters are not to be confused with the Rasta (Rastafarian) religious movement in Jamaica. Dreadlocks and Bob Marley reggae aside, raster image processing (RIP) or rasterization is the “smoke-and-mirrors” computerized process of taking images described in a vector graphics format, such as PostScript, PDF, or XPS files, and converting them into bitmap dots for high-resolution output on a digital printer/printing press.

The difference is that raster images are composed of pixels, while vector graphic files store images via means of mathematically defined curves and lines. The printing and prepress industries know raster graphics as contones (from continuous tones), and refer to vector graphics as line art.

In Wide-Format Imaging’s annual look at the digital RIP market, we offer a sampling of software solutions from 10 different workflow vendors:


Caldera Graphics

At drupa 2012, the ninth version of Caldera’s RIP was shown. The release incorporates the Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE) 2.5, which provides productivity upgrades in font handling, memory management, repeatable content, and speedier movement of files with transparency through the RIP.

Earlier this year, the French software firm joined forces with Alwan Color Expertise to create InkPerformer, an ink-saving module for the latest edition of the Caldera RIP (v9). The option harnesses Alwan’s profiling technology within the context of the RIP engine to provide an average 20 percent reduction in ink consumption across all types of wide-format production. At a time when raw materials costs and ink prices are rising dramatically, this saving allows all types of wide-format digital print houses to decrease expenditures. Its drupa RIP demo featured Apple iPads running the wide-format workflow program.


ColorBurst Systems

At the Graphics of the Americas show three months ago, visitors to Miami saw demos and printed samples in the Image Pro International booth that altered their expectations about inkjet proofing. Complicated color-management workflows and tedious ICC profiling are no longer necessary to achieve high-end print quality and accurate color proofs, according to ColorBurst. Its Overdrive 2.0 is a 64-bit RIP server for Mac OS X 10.6 and later. Version 2 takes full advantage of the multicore processors in today’s machines, so processing is significantly faster. It works its magic on top of a printer’s driver and RGB paper profiles to make accurate color automatic. Overdrive has separate “Input ICC Profile” settings for RGB, CMYK, and grayscale images. On the output side, Custom RGB ICC profiles are much faster to make than CMYK profiles used by other RIPs, ColorBurst contends, and can be made using profiling software that typically comes with spectrophotometers. Adobe black point compensation built-in, and output matches Photoshop exactly.

The PostScript/PDF/EPS RIP uses advances in color management and printing technology to deliver high-end color, accurate proofing, and Pantone matching for any inkjet printer. A new visual interface previews the selected file, and the Job List now contains scalable thumbnails. Plus, support for any paper is immediately available due to the universal nature of Overdrive’s color management. Proofing accuracy and text quality also are improved with v2.


ColorByte Software

The Canadian firm’s ImagePrint Version 9 is chock-full of page layout, image adjustment, and output technology, making it much more than a RIP. V9 helps to eliminate over-inking. It also prints the targets and builds the profile, ensuring the correct profile before printing. A dashboard view gets to printing fast.

“The printer driver has been completely rewritten for ImagePrint 9,” says user and beta tester Mark Dubovoy. “I can see a subtle but definitely noticeable improvement in the quality of my prints using version 9 versus version 8. I have also found that ImagePrint 9 spools faster to the printer, so I am getting better prints faster.”

EFI (Electronics For Imaging)

With its Fiery RIP entrenched in the wide-format market, users find it painless to move across to EFI’s workflow control solution. More wide-format PSPs are considering MIS investments to streamline workflows and lower costs in the form of less consumables waste and more efficient productivity. This theme clearly was evident at drupa as well as at the annual EFI Connect user group meeting one month before the big show. A Las Vegas highlight in April was the Digital Workflow Experience—a live demonstration that showed an integrated workflow from submission to output. The demo followed a job from submission using EFI Digital StoreFront web-to-print solution, to both EFI Pace and EFI Monarch print MIS systems, to EFI PrintFlow, to a Fiery production RIP server, and then to the VUTEk GS3250LX and/or the new EFI R3225 printer, illustrating how a seamless workflow can save time, while reducing errors and waste.


ErgoSoft US

PosterPrint Version 14 is ErgoSoft’s PostScript RIP for production in large-format print and print-and-cut workflows. V14 combines its JobComposer layout interface with the automatable color management tools for spot color replacement, allowing for production with minimal waste. Optional features include contour cutting, variable data, and production features for job costing and estimation.

At drupa, ErgoSoft and Tucanna presented a complete and fully automated workflow solution, from job submission to preflight, color management, and through RIPing. The system is based on Tucanna’s tFlow and ErgoSoft RIP V14.1. tFlow is a client/server solution that runs on Mac OS X and Windows allowing for cross platform integration, and includes all tools for workflow optimization and automation.

“The combination of high quality color management and preflighting tools, as well as the ‘ease of use’ strategy of Tucanna, allowed our users to build a scalable and fully configurable workflow to meet their growing needs,” said Hans Peter Tobler CEO of ErgoSoft.


GMG Americas

At the FESPA Digital show in Barcelona in February, GMG launched into the wide-format market with a solution that offers flexibility and the application of precise color management to a variety of output devices. Its ProductionSuite is a flexible model, allowing an upgrade path for single-user, single-printer environments all the way through to much larger operations. It comprises an editing suite, a RIP, a profiler, and PrintStation. The firm’s heritage in color management packages means that spot colors, whites, and silvers are incorporated neatly within the workflow; it also carries over features from its established solutions in the production print space, such as integrated preflighting, last minute PDF corrections and workflow optimization.


ONYX Graphics

ProductionHouse X10.2 is the firm’s premiere RIP software that creates custom color media profiles and uses a combination of inks and output devices such as grand-format, large-format, and flatbed printers, as well as cutters. ONYX is the only HP RIP partner to achieve HP Professional Pantone Emulation certification.

ONYX PosterShop X10.2 offers support for production printers allowing a singular and uniform approach to controlling color printing. It includes two wide-format (up to 60 inches) print drivers out of the box, with the option to add extra printer licenses.


SA International

In February, SA International (SAi) introduced PixelBlaster print-to-finish software, an end-to-end system that covers pre-flight to production. Modular and scalable, the PDF-based program is a single solution delivering a customer-selected suite of workflow applications that can drive an operation’s entire large-format print hardware line up. PixelBlaster has been designed to reduce bottlenecks, streamline workflows, and increase profitability. A template-based Variable Data Printing option personalizes text, graphics, and images.

Using a modular approach, PixelBlaster can be tailored and scaled to fit users’ needs in mixed Macintosh or Windows environments. A key feature is its ability to standardize colors based on industry accepted profiles, including GRACoL, ISO, Euroscale, and FOGRA. The advanced color engine allows easy integration of proofing into the production process. To ensure color predictability when not using the CMYK process, PixelBlaster includes an N-Color support feature that enables production of custom ink sets to ensure full spot color profiling within the gamut provided by the selected inks. By accurately predicting the final output, it offers a cost-effective way of eliminating errors and significantly reducing media and ink waste.

PixelBlaster is already being tested by several sign and graphics businesses, including Signs by Tomorrow. “PixelBlaster basically allows us to RIP and print jobs from PDFs faster and at a higher quality, as well as cut them more accurately, than any other software I’ve used in the past,” said Ryan Warner, press operator and design manager at the York, PA SBT franchise. “Not only that, PixelBlaster allows us to print the same file from the same computer on either or both printers, all while operating within the same color space. We can print one portion of a job on our solvent printer and the other on our UV printer, and the colors are identical.”


Shiraz Software

In late 2011, Shiraz Software released version 8 of its RIP Server, Signature, and Focus solutions. Fronted by a sleek, accessible dashboard, the full-scale rebuild of underlying architecture sees the entire Shiraz range updated with faster and smarter RIP functionality, as well as an enhanced customer service module with sophisticated remote access and extended support for machines from several manufacturers. The powerful new RIP Buffering and Hyper RIP features deliver multi-threading in the print queue, allowing multiple jobs to RIP and print while others RIP ahead ready for immediate print. With native support for the latest Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion operating systems, Shiraz v8 includes a Live Update facility that checks automatically for software upgrades, new media profiles, and performance-enhancing tweaks, installing them with minimal interferences to the software’s operation. Shiraz Server V8, Shiraz’s complete solution for RIP workflow management for environments with multiple users and devices, now includes a HPGL/2 engine to support rendering and printing of vector and raster files. The new engine allows for large-format printing without the need for costly specialist solutions for individual applications. Included in v8 release are the latest printer drivers for all the leading manufacturers, such as the HP Latex L26500 and L28500, Epson R3000, Seiko H2 series, Mutoh ValueJet 1324/1624, and Mimaki UJF3042.


Wasatch Computer Technology

Late last year, Wasatch released SoftRIP Version 6.9, offering speed improvements for users who keep multiple entries in their RIP and print queues, the firm said. A new output column in the queue tracs how many copies of a job have been printed. Also, the barcode-driven, print-and-cut workflow has been enhanced, and an option for users to mirror and rotate their images directly in the print setup screen has been added as well as the ability to add center register marks useful in the production of inkjet separations.

In Q1 2012, Wasatch announced that its SoftRIP is fully certified for the HP Designjet L26500 and L28500 inkjet printers under the HP RIP Certification Program. Testing included printing performance, calibration using embedded spectrophotometer, media flexibility, printer management, job management, and dual-sided printing support. Wasatch Computer Technology has produced a number of imaging configurations for the HP Designjet L26500 and offers imaging configurations produced by HP for the HP Designjet L26500 and L28500.

Also an Epson partner, support for the HP Designjet L26500 is available free of charge with Wasatch SoftRIP and the SoftRIP HP Exclusive Edition. The Designjet L28500 driver is a $500 add on.