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Fast & Flexible RIPs

Large Format Printers Look for RIPs to Satisfy their Needs

By Melissa Tetreault

Large format operators require flexibility in their RIP. Shops hosting more than one printer need a RIP with the ability to handle it all. "A common problem in many shops is what we refer to as ‘RIP-O-Rama’ where each output device has a different RIP. Utilizing a single workflow solution for all devices assures data integrity and allows for more consistent output quality," explains Jim Thrush, president, Xitron. Today, purchasing separate RIPs, learning how they work, and training your staff is time consuming, costly, and thankfully—unnecessary.

A complete solution is necessary, especially in large format shops. Ben Wolf, large format creative segment manager, Hewlett-Packard (HP), suggests, "In these color-critical environments, users need enhanced compatibility and confidence in the complete solution. Large format operations should look for software products that provide high levels of functionality and interoperability to users with their advanced workflow solutions for increased control."

When looking for a RIP solution there are a number of characteristics to consider. Color, speed, and features that satisfy the user are top priority.

Converting Color
"Since wide format means more potential for waste due to the printed media’s size, a good RIP is one that has meticulous color management," shares Avedik Izmirlian, president, DigiFab Systems, Inc. "Time is money, and the better the RIP, the less wasted time and materials when output is right the first time around. Users should be able to match output colors easily and be able to print without delay," he continues.

DigiFab Systems, Inc. offers two RIP solutions for the large format industry. Both are available as base models or in a plus option which includes extra color features such as spot color matching, custom color libraries, palettes and pages, and interactive color matching. DigiFab Evolution Graphics RIP is targeted toward in-house/plant printing shops, print for pay, graphic artists, screen printers, photography, fine art, and corporate users.

DigiFab Evolution Textile RIP is popular among apparel and textile designers. "A pure textile RIP," according to Izmirlian, the product grew, "out of years of experience in the textile industry." Key characteristics include quick image manipulations, color profiles, the ability to print sample yardage, unlimited step and repeat, and a function that checks the colorways of separated images. Both RIPs are available through dealers and the manufacturer.

EFI Inc.’s, Fiery XF includes Clean Color technology, which addresses customers’ specific color needs for vivid color and clean appearance. This technology is designed to ensure colors are depicted accurately in demanding situations such as skin tones, grays, and spot colors.

"Color functionality is important," says Alexander Kattner, product marketing manager, EFI, "Nice, good looking, consistent output with reliable color reproduction is essential." Fiery XF offers a full gamut profile, exploiting the full gamut of a printing system and enabling all colors to be produced accurately.

Shops with multiple devices—aqueous, solvent, and UV, for example—can benefit from Fiery XF. Fiery XF is available in three configurations—essential, advanced, and premium. The essential configuration is a base configuration that includes a production option and supports one XXL printer. The Advanced configuration supports two XXL printers, and in addition to the production, offers a spot color option. The premium configuration offers a color manager option and supports three XXL printers plus a VUTEk printer output option.

"Operators should look for stout software tools to eliminate color management minutiae," says Jon Reese, marketing director, ONYX Graphics, Inc. "ONYX software allows print operators to generate their own color profiles, recalibrate media without having to rebuild International Color Consortium (ICC) color profiles, and match spot colors with an integrated Pantone library."

ONYX Graphics offers four software solutions to meet a variety of print production needs. ONYX ProductionHouse is for medium to high volume production environments. Included are drivers for all large format aqueous, solvent, and UV flatbed printers with the option of a grand format driver. This RIP is suited for businesses that use a combination of inks and a variety of output devices.

ONYX PosterShop includes drivers for all large format aqueous and mid-range solvent printers. It includes Preflight, Pantone spot color matching, custom tiling, and automated calibration for changing print conditions.

ONYX RIPCenter is an entry-level large format aqueous and solvent printer RIP solution that goes beyond the alternative Windows or Mac print drivers.

Finally, ONYX GamaPrint SE is a base product from ONYX. It hosts a basic interface and a toolset that includes color management, image layout, and edit and print functions. Drivers support entry-level, large format, aqueous, and solvent printers.

Speed it Up
"It is important for operators to be able to produce prints quickly without a steep learning curve. Ease of use is a critical factor. A printer that is easy to use can lead to fewer operator errors, better image quality, and faster production. The faster a shop produces the graphics, the more profitable the business becomes," explains Hiroshi Ono, product manager, color software, Roland DGA Corporation.

Roland VersaWorks RIP software comes bundled with Roland inkjet printers and printer/cutters. Developed for shops of all sizes and skill levels, VersaWorks boasts an efficient user interface with a variety of benefits. Features include auto/manual layout and edit and print functions such as nesting and tiling. Color-wise, the RIP includes the Max Impact color management preset, which designed to produce blues and reds for outdoor graphics, and the Roland Color Matching System for spot color matching. Roland Color includes over 1,000 spot colors with a guarantee of 100 percent color accuracy.

Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing and communication, Caldera Graphics, discusses the necessity of time management in the print industry. "Large format operators need to find a RIP that will help them print fast with high quality colors and no downtime. In the print business time is profit. You sell a job per square meter no matter if it takes you ten minutes or 50 minutes to print," he says.

Multitasking describes Caldera Graphics’ RIP systems well. Explains Hanssens, "You can print and RIP while preparing, laying out, nesting, cutting, and color matching other jobs to be sent to printers." Caldera manufactures CopyRIP for large format printers, more specifically aqueous printers, making it a "green button" solution, says Hanssens.

VisualRIP+ is a software solution for large format print and print-to-cut workflow. GrandRip+ is dedicated to wide and extra wide format print and print-to-cut applications. A unique feature available on all three of Caldera’s RIPs is FLIPMAX, an integrated lenticular printing module. It creates 2D flips by interlacing images directly from within the RIP interface.

Another issue to consider is how hard the interpret and ICC engines are working. "If the RIP is relying too much on these engines, you will see some restrictions in speed, color correction, and layout modification," says Juan Kim, CEO, VALLOY Incorporation.

VALLOY’s TOPAZ RIPs are designed to create less pressure on both the interpret and ICC engines, allowing a job to operate quickly with maximum flexibility. Created for the practical signage and graphics markets, VALLOY manufactures three different versions of the TOPAZ RIP. TOPAZ RIP Business edition comes with four active printers from a full driver list, the ability to RIP two projects at once, and a server module capable of controlling four printers simultaneously. The TOPAZ RIP Business Lite edition is compatible with one active printer and comes with a full printer driver list. Lastly, the TOPAZ RIP Design edition works with one active printer and a list of print drivers up to 44 inches in width. It can be purchased online or through distributors worldwide.

Tempting Features
Variety is the key ingredient to successful RIP implementation. Manufacturers we spoke with outlined a wide breadth of features available from their RIPs. However, that isn’t to say companies should purchase a solution that offers more then they need.

"The large format printing industry is becoming more diverse. Buyers need to look for the RIP that best suits their specific needs. If you are producing photographic or giclée output you want to find a RIP with 16-bit color rendering for premium output. For UV flatbed printing, you want to have white ink support and template placement capabilities. More traditional signage shops want easy spot color matching and a simple workflow," explains Jay Griffen, executive VP, Wasatch Computer Tech-nology, LLC.

Wasatch SoftRIP is known for its ease of use. Says Griffen, "SoftRIP makes it easy for novice users to complete their work in the RIP quickly, while still maintaining deeper level advanced tools for printing and color experts." The flagship product can drive up to four printers simultaneously. Key tools include spot color replacement, database support, color-matching atlases, layout before RIP workflow, Smart Nesting with auto-rotation, and network based print management. Wasatch also offers exclusive editions of SoftRIP that bundle the RIP solution with specific large format print drivers. And, targeting niche markets, Wasatch offers SoftRIP SP for separations printing and SoftRIP TX for textile printers.

"Tiling, nesting, cropping, scaling, auto-fit, smooth vignette output quality," says Peter Skarpetis, CEO, Serendipity Software Pty, are the main features all large format printers should be looking for. Serendipity Software’s Megarip is used primarily in the large format poster and banner market and includes a new dynamic touch screen console with accurate soft-proofing. The RIP’s built in Paper Profile technology allows the user to optimize the way the ink reacts with different media coatings. Also included are image once/render many to multiple printers and re-purposing features. The RIP can be purchased through Mid-States Graphics in Chicago, IL and SmartSuff Graphics Distribution in St. Louis, MO.

Michael Chramtchenko, director of marketing, CADlink Technology Corporation, suggests asking the following questions prior to purchasing a RIP. He says, "When evaluating RIP software, an operator should consider existing requirements as well as potential re-quirements as they relate to output options. Questions that need addressing may include, is nesting supported in order to save on media costs? Am I able to easily tile large graphics that exceed the dimensions of the media? How well does the RIP support job management and scheduling within its queue system?"

CADlink’s Digital Factory is an all-inclusive RIP software that addresses an infinite number of wide format printing environments. CADlink offers three specialty modules specifically for Digital Factory. The contour cutting module provides a simple print and cut interface. It supports both hybrid print and cut machines as well as a "print on one device, cut on another" workflow. Over 150 cutter drivers are included. The specialty spot color module works with inkjet or thermal devices that support spot colors and varnishes. The color-matching module includes a built in ICC generator for creating custom ICC profiles. Also included is the Pantone color match libraries for automated PMS colors. Additionally, the visual production manager, managed by a single screen, represents all images processed and allows for either a fully automatic or manual operation. Digital Factory is available from dealers or bundled as private label OEM software with certain printers.

An Array of RIPs
The above are just a handful of RIPs used in the large format space. Countless others are also interoperable, flexible, and provide an array of features.

ColorByte Software’s Image Print Version 7 is one of the only RIPs specifically written to serve the needs of photographers and fine art printmaking. "ImagePrint Version 7 is a quality-driven product with exceptional workflow. Our users and potential users are looking for a turnkey software RIP solution that can produce the highest level of quality without the need to purchase other products in order to make it work," says John Pannozzo, president, ColorByte. The RIP supports all types of popular papers, both for color and B&W, with its 16 bit compatible engine.

Compose ColorExpress offers sophisticated tools for the end user, says Alvaro Rodriquez, sales and marketing, Compose System USA. These include plotter and press calibration, RGB and CMYK images, final output and emulation devices, and advanced overprint, black generation, color hue, and rendering intent controls. Targeted toward those looking for high quality color-accurate proofing, high speed color output, and an interest in printing posters, it is perfect for large format printers. The tiling feature allows jobs with large dimensions to be easily handled by slicing them into smaller parts. Overlaps are shown when printed and the user has control over printing individual tiles. It is mainly sold through color expert channels. Customers may choose to use Global Graphics’ Harlequin RIP and add only the color management software and device driver from Compose ColorExpress.

ErgoSoft USA offers a wide variety of RIPs for the graphic arts and textile industries. PosterPrint is ideal for graphics and large format display printing and cutting. TexPrint, used for digital textile printing, is the flagship product. Developed solely for digital textile applications it helps to create apparel, upholstery, home décor, and soft signage for commercial graphics. StudioPrint is used for digital fine art, art décor, and photography. ApparelPrint is ErgoSoft’s newest inkjet RIP for digital apparel decoration and is compatible with most direct-to-print and dye sublimation transfer printers. ErgoSoft’s RIPs can be purchased through a dealer by phone or Web.

Gerber Scientific Inc. partners with ONYX to provide the Gerber Solara ion and Solara UV2 with RIPs for a full production environment. The Gerber editions of the ONYX product line vary slightly. ProductionHouse, Gerber Edition, includes all of the original features in addition to a layout tool for a more "graphical method of setting up and outputting jobs; this is especially designed for flatbed inkjet printers," explains Dana Goodale, director of software solutions, Gerber Scientific Products. PosterShop Gerber Edition, is similar to the stand-alone ONYX product, plus it includes Gerber drivers. Lastly, Gerber and ONYX teamed up to offer a RIP exclusively designed for Gerber printers. ImageRIP Plus is a value priced, entry-level RIP that combines ONYX RIP queue with Preflight and other ONYX enhancements.

SAi’s flagship product, FlexiSIGN-PRO, offers a total solution for the sign making business. The software package offers a full set of design, cutting, RIPing, and printing tools for maximum productivity. Thanks to an exclusive license, FlexiSIGN-PRO 8 is one of the only solutions offing a seamlessly integrated Adobe PostScript RIP Engine.

Xitron’s strength is the ability of its RIP, Navigator GPS, to drive such a diverse range of devices, 250 at press time. These include desktop inkjet and laser printers, film and platesetters, direct image and on demand presses, and VLF devices. This diversity allows the user to create a solution that fits their budget and expands as their business grows. Navigator GPS is based on Harlequin core technology by Global Graphics and is targeted toward commercial printers. It is available through Xitron’s worldwide network of graphic arts dealers and distributors.

RIPing Into the Future
With the wide variety of large format printers a sign shop may own, a RIP’s interoperability is essential. As large format shops expand into other areas of printing, flexible RIPs serve as key components, combining current workflow with new devices.

"Your RIP needs to be modular so you can add options to it as your print shop grows with more machines, new technologies, and more operators," says Hanssens of Caldera Graphics. Purchasing a RIP that fits your current and future needs is the most important consideration a large format print shop owner can make. The right tool not only helps to grow a business, but grows with it.

May2008, Digital Output

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