When A RIP Is Not Just a RIP

Wide-format RIPs are continuing to grow and evolve into something more than just intermediaries between computer and wide-format printer. That makes your RIP an important potential differentiator between you and your competitors.

As Dean Derhak, product manager of FlexiPRINT, the RIP software SA International, remarked, “A business’s wide-format printer is only as good as the RIP that is driving it. This is especially true when it comes to specific print applications, where the RIP can make producing that application expensive or cost-effective, depending on its features and workflow.

“A business can know their RIP is not right for them if it doesn’t simplify their everyday work, regardless of the print application.”

Of similar philosophy is Sebastien Hanssens, vice president of marketing for Caldera, a company that partners with Mutoh and other companies. “A RIP today is a solution,” he said. “Today a RIP has various functions designed to address a wide range of needs throughout the production workflow. And at the same time it addresses other core business management needs as well, such as cost-management and cost-savings measures.”

In the pages ahead, we will examine why the right RIP is essential for any PSP’s business, and how PSPs can more fully leverage their RIP’s capabilities.


More than an Intermediary

RIPS are evolving into far more than their traditional function as an intermediary. “The way it needs to be viewed is as a really important part of the manufacturing value chain,” said Robert Nute, vice president Americas with ErgoSoft RIP Solutions.

“And as part of that value chain, there are some key components that can drive profit margins. Some of those are automation capabilities, the ability to drive down ink usage, having the tools to maintain consistent production so your products are always coming out the same, and finally advanced color controls that allow you to make better use of the variable droplet printhead technology.”

Today’s RIPs must take full advantage of what’s been a key factor in the proofing business: color precision and repeatability. So said Raimar Kuhnen-Burger, European regional marketing manager for EFI Fiery wide-format digital front ends.

“Fiery FX benefits from its roots in the proofing business, with a solid color-management feature set,” he said. “Precise reproduction of spot colors and the ability to estimate the spot color match before you even print can make an operator’s life so much easier. This speeds up the processes by avoiding trial and error and discussions with clients about different expectations.”

In addition, Kuhnen–Burger said, thanks to the fully modular set up, the operator can tailor the RIP to his or her specific workflow needs.

According to David Conrad, director of marketing North and Latin America for Mutoh America Inc., one clear reality has emerged in the printing landscape. “With the advances in color, dot placement, resolution, and print process from printer manufacturers, it has become increasingly important for the RIP to be able to take full advantage of the printers’ capabilities.”

The RIP, he noted, provides more than the simple ability to rasterize and send a file to the printer for output. It is also a valuable tool for the print shops to maximize efficiency, reduce waste, and save time. Good RIPs will offer the ability to nest and tile, ensuring the file is laid out to fully leverage as much of the media as possible. Job queues are also important to maintaining the most productive RIP and print workflow manageable. And the ability to create files and edit on one workstation while another processes and RIPs them keeps a print shop’s printing process running through the entire shift, Conrad said.

Larry Spevak, president of ColorBurst Systems, observed RIPs are also now monitoring printing processes and efficiencies. “Many of them are doing cost accounting, connecting to billing systems, and providing reports on ink usage and material usage,” he noted. “It’s really trying to provide meaningful information to the rest of the business.”

Moreover, RIPs have evolved into something quite different than the “one size fits all” software programs they once were. So said John Pannozzo, president of ColorByte Software. “Wide-format printers have evolved into being very industry specific devices,” he said.

“It used to be models were used in offset proofing, signage, display making, photographic services, and all of the above. Today, you have printers built for a specific task, so software will be built to those specific tasks.

Print manufacturers invest substantial amounts in research and development to introduce new machines that are faster, use new types of inks, and adapt to new applications, Hanssens observed. “Therefore, [they] need a RIP that will deliver what it takes to ensure the printer has a chance to shine and perform at its optimum.”


Getting the Right RIP

Why is getting the right RIP crucial? First, it’s because you want to be able to control many functions, including the color management, size of the image, number of items printed, layout, ink density , and options for special colors, among others, from one central place, Paul McGovern, marketing and promotions manager for Mimaki reported.

“It’s really for workflow management. A lot of RIPs today can control multiple machines on the production floor. You could have an HP, a Mimaki, a Mutoh, an Epson, a Roland or an EFI. A lot of the RIPs are so powerful they are capable of running multiple manufacturers’ platforms from the PSP’s desktop,” said McGovern.

“Having out-of-the-box color that is accurate and easy to control is critical to this install base, because of the skill level of the user. They are not color scientists. They are running print production houses. It’s very important that things be pre-tuned and easy to set up,” said Spevak

“There are all types of production work about nesting, tiling and contour cutting, and those are very important day to day. We do a lot of user support where we realize the skill is such that they know their work, but not the basics of building custom color profiles. At most production houses, that’s not their job. They want to do the production work, so we’ve taken the time to ensure that out-of-the-box RIPs are ready to go.”

RIPs are also essential in helping become more efficient, says Nute of ErgoSoft RIP Solutions. As production has grown more complex, and profit margins have been squeezed, controlling cost is increasingly critical.

“Low-cost production outside the US competes with US goods and drives down domestic producers’ profit,” Nute said. “That makes it more difficult and requires the domestic producer to find efficiencies in order to compete on the world market. That‘s why the RIP manufacturers are building in the tools that allow producers to improve their profit margins through production efficiencies.”

RIPs can also be key in specific sectors of wide-format printing, such as fine art and photography, the areas in which ColorByte Software specializes.

Pannozzo said the company centers its efforts on building a color engine around the printer that can maximize the amount of color the ink set can deliver. “We are specific with how that works on all the photographic and fine art papers,” he said. “Interfaces are a dime a dozen. What true RIP vendors are doing is actually advancing technology in their own specific marketplace.

“The big difference between a commodity interface item and a true RIP is technology that advances the industry. Our product can deliver more color on the device than the standard driver that comes with the printer. In our market, that’s how we advance the technology.”

That makes the RIP chosen the potential difference maker between you and your competition, Pannozzo reported. You can gain an advantage through the technology acquired. “If you are serving the fine arts marketplace, you need a RIP that will support all the fine art media to the highest level capable, without having to figure it out on your own,” he said.

The right RIP can offer quality enhancement and time and cost savings. The savings comes from replacing five other software programs with one RIP that will provide specific technology for every paper upon which you print.


Using RIPs to the Fullest

Many PSPs never attempt to derive the maximum value from their RIPs, because they only need capabilities that apply to their production requirements.

“They use it to get their day’s work done, and they understand that piece of the RIP that allows them to do that,” Spevak said. “One company may delve into one aspect of the RIP, another company a different aspect. No one is utilizing a RIP to its fullest, because they don’t have to.”

Similarly, Pannozzo noted RIPs are used differently by different PSPs. Getting the most from the workflow function of a RIP will take time, because users have to learn the features.

“They’re learning what features pertain to their needs, and how to use them,” he said. “Is it a long process? No. But it is a longer process than just getting a beautiful printout.”

The tendency of PSPs to want to use only what is needed is one reason the interface of Fiery XF is fully customizable, according to Kuhnen-Burger. “You can limit the feature set and permission for different users and experience levels,” he reported. “For example, if you don’t want a junior operator to mess with the color management, you can simply hide the color management tab. Plus, many processes can be fully automated once they are initially set up.”

Just because PSPs aren’t getting all they can from their RIPs doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to gain more value than they are now getting, Nute said.

He urges production managers to look for and evaluate deficiencies in production, and communicate those shortcomings to RIP manufacturers. The functionality needed to solve those deficiencies may already be in the software they own. “If they’re seeing poor color, and can communicate that, we can communicate to them some of the higher-level, advanced features that exist in the software,” he reported.

Remember, too, the old adage, “garbage in, garbage out,” McGovern reminded. If you have a bad JPEG, the RIP will not make it look any better, and in fact—because it’s designed to work with better images—may make it worse. “If you have a quality file going in, you’ll have a quality image going out,” he added.

“You have to make sure the pre-imaging from the Adobe or the Corel Draw is up to high standards, so you are getting the quality output image you would expect. This is a translator that takes the raw image and translates it so the machine can understand it. And it does it in both raster and vector formats,” said McGovern.


Education a Key

According to Conrad, education is the most important ingredient in making sure printer operators know all the ins and outs of the RIPs they use. “With the continual advancements in printer technology and RIP versions, it is key to the productivity and profitability of any print shop to maintain their operator’s education on the RIP and hardware solutions they are running,” he said.

“Learning centers like those offered by Mutoh throughout the country are available for dealers, customers, PSP end users, and OEM partners to ensure education is being delivered to those who need it. Being able to utilize the RIP to its fullest potential will ensure the print shop is making the most of and getting everything they can from their equipment.”

Hanssens also stresses the educational component, remarking that PSPs should make sure they are using a RIP that ensures the printer is used to its full potential. To derive the full potential from the RIP, the PSP must understand how to access the various functions and also grasp why. “It is a mistake to underestimate the importance of education on the RIP software,” he said. “It is for this reason that Caldera invests in providing an online video library of reviews and tutorials.

“[This is] a thorough reference guide, along with the many specialized how-to guides accessible inside the software and on online resources for software users and owners. Using a RIP to its fullest potential can be the difference between making money and losing money.”

Because education is so important, Caldera is investing in a new training facility in North America to help its entire network of partners, resellers and customers, Hanssens reported.

Derhak believes shops are using their RIP software to the fullest when they are running the latest version and the RIP is not costing the shop money by forcing it to re-do jobs. And like others, he believes training is indispensable.

“Getting training on your RIP software is also key to getting the most out of it,” he said. “RIP software has many more capabilities than the average print provider uses, quite often because they are not aware of them.”