Commentary & Analysis
Navigating the RIP Tide: Print Workflow Software Comes in All Shapes, Sizes, and Capabilities
Richard provides some features and issues to keep a special eye out for when looking at RIP's for wide-format printing.
By Richard Romano
Published: August 7, 2012
At this point in the history and evolution of modern graphic communications, we are all familiar with the RIP—the raster image processor. It would be the rare prepress department today that lacked a RIP of some kind, unless they were still doing prepress photographically (which is not out of the realm of possibility). As a result, we know what purpose RIPs serve in the production workflow: they take an output file (PDF, InDesign, Quark, PostScript, etc.) and convert all the text and graphics into the dots that will then be generated by the actual printing device. That “printing” device can be an imagesetter (a few of which may still be kicking around), platesetter, digital press, or wide-format printer. We often take RIPs for granted—all RIPs are created equal, non?—but they are a vital component of a production workflow. This is true in conventional printing, and it’s especially true in wide-format printing.
There are a wide variety of RIP makers whose wares offer various degrees of features and functionality, and it is likely that your wide-format manufacturer bundles or recommends compatible RIP hardware and/or software. (The vast majority of RIPs on the market today are sold as software RIPs that can run on a variety of platforms, be they Windows, Mac, Linux, or even Apple iOS devices like iPads.) However, more often than not, what they provide comprises little more than very basic functionality that will let you print, but not give you as many features or as much control over the output as you may require. There are exceptions, of course; Roland DGA’s VersaWorks, for example, offers a comprehensive software RIP for the company’s wide-format printers and cutters.
What follows is a list of some features and issues to keep a special eye out for. Some of these will be expanded upon in future features.
If you attended our special Webinar last month, “Opportunities in Wide-Format Printing,” you know that one of the crucial elements of a successful wide-format shop is color consistency, particularly when wide-format is only one part of a larger campaign that involves multiple print and non-print elements. Making sure logos, corporate colors, and even memory colors are consistent across all these elements is vital. For example, if you are printing a point-of-sale (POS) display for a client, it is imperative that colors closely match the packaging of the item the display is meant to push—whether you are printing both of those components or not. Hence, many experts believe that color management is job one for any RIP. Does a given RIP support international color standards? Does it support color profiles? How effectively does it support spot color definition, a vital issue in signage and packaging? What about white ink?
How configurable is the color profiling utility? Are there pre-made profiles (created by media manufacturers, for example) and/or does the RIP support spectrophotometric input to let users create their own profiles?
As you’ll see below, waste management is also an increasingly important component of today’s RIPs, but effective color management goes a very long way toward reducing waste by helping ensure that output is not rejected by the client due to poor color reproduction, matching, or consistency.
Even after all these years, color management can be a bit of a gray area (as it were), and the very topic does cause many people’s eyes to glaze over. But it remains important nonetheless. Ergo, we will be focusing on color management in an upcoming feature.
Whether a shop is striving to eliminate waste as part of their environmental sustainability initiatives (and, if so, kudos!) or to reduce costs—they are by no means mutually exclusive—optimizing the use of consumables (aka ink and media) is becoming an important RIP feature. Some RIP vendors specifically tout the consumables and waste management features of their systems.
Cost Estimation and Tracking
Once strictly the purview of the company’s dedicated MIS, the ability to calculate the cost of job on-the-fly is becoming an integral feature of RIPs. Plugging in the substrate, ink, finishing, and other inputs, the software can estimate the costs for accurate pricing, as well as let you track the costs as the job is running, providing additional “real live” data points for future estimating, as well as identifying significant cost centers.
There is an interesting variation—or perhaps supplement—to cost estimating software, and that is “carbon estimation.” Caldera Graphics has built in a so-called “eco-print calculator” into the latest version (3.0) of CostView, the company’s cost visualization software. Designed for wide-format printers, CostView lets users monitor all the costs associated with a particular print job, as well as calculate the CO2 generated by each component in that job—ink, media, electricity, and other inputs.
As the old cliché goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and ergo a print run is only as fast as the slowest part of the process. Today’s wide-format printing hardware is faster than ever, but is the RIP also as fast as it could be? Print providers are increasingly looking to the RIP to maximize processing and output speeds—a straightforward way to boost productivity.
Multiple Device Management
Speaking of improved productivity, if a shop has more than one output device, does it need a dedicated RIP for each of them? Not necessarily. RIP software can increasingly support more than one device from one central location.
Can your RIP grow as your business grows? As you add devices, or upgrade existing ones, can the RIP adapt to those changes? If you add capabilities, either printing or finishing, can the RIP be updated to reflect these new developments? Ergo, scalability is also an important element of a good RIP especially if you plan to grow your business—which should be the goal of any business.
Preflighting and Correction
As another cliché goes, “everyone talk about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.” Likewise, everyone preflights their files (or they should)—an easy enough process thanks to applications like Enfocus’ PitStop or Markzware’s Flightcheck—but can errors be easily corrected? Can the RIP allow you to edit PDFs? Some RIPs allows more advanced correction, editing, and even image manipulation and special effects.
Supports New Features
Most of the foregoing issues are hardly unique to wide-format, and indeed many have been traditional bugaboos in the printing industry since time immemorial. As a result, most RIPs—even the ones that come standard with your hardware—can address some of these issues. But does it support new printer features like white ink? What about variable-data printing? Some RIPs support variable wide-format output. And what about finishing equipment? Some RIPs can control not just the printing but also postpress operations such as cutting.
Supports of New Print Products
Likewise, how well does the RIP adapt to new print products you may want to add, such as, say, vehicle graphics, signage, or tiled images? In many cases, you may be acquiring new hardware to print these new materials. Can your preexisting RIP handle the new hardware and the new applications? What about finishing? As mentioned earlier, some RIPs can also control selected finishing equipment such as cutters and even support contour cutting.
“Create once, use many”—it’s not just the mantra of the graphic arts industry writer, but has been the catchphrase of the graphic communication industry now for almost 20 years, as the number of print and non-print media has proliferated. As a result, a shop may be taking on many different aspects of the same campaign—comprising multiple small-format and wide-format jobs. Can your RIP help coordinate all these pieces, and keep all the graphic and text elements consistent?
Training and Support
Finally, how bloody complicated is it to get a RIP to work and work optimally? How much—if any—dedicated training is required and available? If you are taking on new employees, how easy is it for them to get up to speed? And what kind of tech support is available in the case of problems? Can you reach anyone 24/7, or do you find yourself trapped in labyrinthine phone systems or sending unanswered e-mails? As you know from your hardware acquisitions, it’s always hard to determine these things head of time, but seeking out manufacturers’ reputations can go a long way toward determining if a RIP is right for you.
For More Information
Here are some—but by no means all—RIP vendors with products tailored for wide-format printing.
EFI—EFI’s Fiery line is synonymous with RIPs at this point, but the company has a whole host of integrated workflow solutions for wide-format printing, including the Digital StoreFront Web-to-print solution, Pace and Monarch MIS systems, and many others.
ErgoSoft—PosterPrint 14; TexPrint 14. Enhanced cutting and contouring features including multipath cutting, barcode-based job selection, paneling features and other cut job management tools; TexPrint is designed for textile printing.
Onyx Graphics—ProductionHouse, PosterShop. Award-winning color engine; manual spot color replacement and spot color replacement with Pantone, RAL, and HKS spot color matching; supports white ink applications.
Roland DGA—VersaWorks. Customized for company’s own line of wide-format printers and cutters; supports up to four devices; supports contour cutting; features Roland Color System for spot color matching.