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At the Heart of a RIP

Raster Image Processors Feature Sophistication

By Kim Crowley

Large, multi-layered design files often drive projects like billboards, vehicle graphics, signs, and building wraps. Raster image processing (RIP) software transforms data from unwieldy incoming graphics files to a bitmap image that is clean and ready to print.

RIPs interpret print files and specifications. They speed processing, eliminate errors, and produce exceptional, repeatable quality. Some solutions are scalable, allowing print service providers (PSPs) to add more features or abilities as business grows. Many are marketed as major color management tools and others focus on efficient image processing.

Several of the end users featured here discuss their RIP preferences. Depending on a PSP's service offerings, color or speed may be a deciding factor when choosing the best fit.

RIP Features
Today’s RIPs further address the need for efficiency by managing a variety of jobs simultaneously. “Print quality and time to market are key factors and excellent differentiators over the competition,” says Roland Campa, product manager, graphic arts solutions, EFI.

In this rapidly changing market, users must offer versatility to customers. Printers, as well as vinyl cutters, and even CNC routers require RIPs.

“These days customers request cut vinyl for company cars, engraved into name plaques, and carved into wood for a deluxe sign in an entrance door. The ideas are endless, but end users benefit with only one software package,” agrees Gudrun Bonte, product manager, SA International, Inc. (SAi).

“PSPs look to support a variety of different production workflows,” adds Michael Chramtchenko, director of marketing, CADlink Technology Corporation. More often than not a shop will employ more than one brand of printer.

To help users better manage workflow, production, and bottom line vendors must provide tools that enhance output—colors that please clients, efficiency to optimize square foot per hour, and tools to better organize their business,” says SŽbastien Hanssens, VP, marketing, Caldera Graphics.

Users look for RIP qualities such as advanced trapping, hybrid screening options, virtual proofing for clients, and Web-to-print capabilities.

John Pannozzo, president, ColorByte Software, says customers want solutions that allow them to use less supporting applications and plug-ins. “If the RIP can do this it saves time in post-production.” It also lessens confusion, which in the long run allows a sign shop to channel their energy into creating innovative, new products.

“PSPs look for ways to cut production costs, work smarter, and control output,” notes Dean Derhak, director of product management, ONYX Graphics, Inc.

Enhanced Color
The most important feature—color or speed—is determined by a shop’s need. Hiroshi Ono, senior product manager, Roland DGA Corporation, agrees. “Most RIPs on the market offer similar production features, so PSPs looking for RIPs find products that include spot color matching, job estimation, and easy integration with existing workflows.”

Spectrum Graphics SGx2, of Phoenix, AZ, produces everything from fine art to vehicle wraps, banners, and point of purchase. Their customers see a difference in the condition of their work, as color and quality are at the core of the business.

The company owns a complete open system for managing color, from file submission to production. Their ONYX RIP is essential to color success.

“A system of processes and analytics is in place to achieve the desired result. That’s what separates us from our competitors. We have a lot of passion for color, so when deciding on a RIP, we wanted something that would support that and push the envelope. Not just a product that met our current needs, but one that provided room to grow. As needs change, you need to be able to adapt, and that’s what we feel our ONYX RIP does for us,” says Jared Yoder, owner, SGx2.

Color changes based on atmospheric alterations and environment, this occurs in any geographical location. “A lot of money can be spent to control temperature and humidity. Fluctuations of even one degree can greatly affect your press,” notes Yoder.

“ONYX customers notice the superior color from our proprietary color engine because it is designed specifically for the ink and media technologies used in digital wide format inkjet printing,” states Derhak. Customers also receive an automated out-of-the box Pantone Color Matching System, which reduces production time by eliminating manually matching spot colors.

Besides ONYX, other major RIP vendors tout color as a differentiating factor. The newest Caldera RIP integrates i1Prism, the X-Rite color management engine, which contains a new ICC profile generator that enhances color separation and matching in the Caldera print workflow.

“With Caldera, users benefit from state-of-the-art algorithms to match colors not reachable with previous profilers. Smoother and larger color gamut provide extended matching,” states Hanssens.

The difference in color quality between ColorBurst Systems’ RIPs and others on the market is “very significant,” states Larry Spevak, president, ColorBurst.

ColorBurst RIPs are easy to use, feature an extensive library of media profiles, share a RIP server, are Pantone-licensed for accurate Pantone matching, and provide excellent color management due to ColorBurst ink management technologies. ColorBurst SpectralVision Pro is included with all X•Proof and Pro products for building custom ICC printer profiles.

DigiFab Systems, Inc.’s Evolution RIP features full-color management support including input, output, as well as proofing profiles, advanced linearization, ink limiting, and optional grayscale tables. “All of which allow Evolution to provide high-quality color output customized to each customer’s needs,” says Steven Greaves, VP, DigiFab Systems.

“Fiery XF is part of EFI’s color supply chain solution, managing color from the creative process all the way to final print production,” says Campa. It provides superior color on any output device due to XF linearization, profiling, and optimization technology.

In addition, EFI Fiery XF is bundled with color management tools such as intelligent clean colors and full gamut mode, to address the specific color needs of large and superwide format production markets.

Color calibration and accuracy are easily achieved through Fusion System International’s ColorRay RIPs. The RIP includes a utility for determining optimal ink density for any type of media. It supports advanced anti-aliasing and outputs one- or eight-bit TIFF files.

“This enables gray balance to be attained quickly so any ICC profile can be imported to generate optimal color reproduction,” says Logan Herbert, director, business development, Fusion.

SAi’s color profiler is a wizard found in its RIPs that guides users through creating a custom profile. The Flexi product family allows files to be edited directly from the RIP queue. The user opens the file in their design program and corrects it. Once saved, the file appears in the print queue with every setting configured and ready to be sent to the printer.

“Achieving the correct color is what makes a difference. Color tools help users go further. Features such as spot color mapping, rendering intents, and preserve pure hue maximize printer capabilities and provide the color results customers require,” says Bonte.

“Color quality is basically managed by ICC color mapping,” notes Juan Kim, CEO, VALLOY Incorporation. “But TOPAZ RIP helps customers adjust colors in an intuitive and interactive way to get exactly what they expect. Also, TOPAZ RIP’s 16-bit color rendering and powerful control of variable dots and light colors enable very smooth gradation for individual and mixed colors.”

“Wasatch Computer Technology’s 16-bit rendering SoftRIP improves image quality while maintaining the color data to produce output that is faithful to the original source image. With SoftRIP’s 16-bit color pipeline, color accuracy is improved and banding issues became a thing of the past,” says Ashley Schaumburg, marketing coordinator, Wasatch.

Speed Highlights
Skinzwraps, of Miami, FL; New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; and Italy, is a global specialist in vehicle wrap designs and installation. The company runs its Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 printer using a ColorBurst RIP and a Mimaki USA, Inc. printer using a Wasatch RIP.

“Speed is key to getting the most out of your printer. You don’t want it to have to wait for the RIP,” says Kelly Coats, director of print operations, Skinzwraps. “With ColorBurst’s RIP-while-printing ability, the printhead is moving within seconds of hitting the button. When nesting multiple files, it renders the nested job into one file, saving lots of time,” he adds.

Coats says the ColorBurst RIP also works well for printed and plotted graphics, which is a time and labor consuming process. “Anytime I save by quickly RIPping the file and saving the cut path helps out a lot,” he states.

The company printed graphics for a fleet of vans for client Insignia with their Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 using the ColorBurst RIP.

According to Coats, Skinzwraps relied heavily on this solution to get the large fleet done on a tight deadline.

Ocala Auto Graphics, of Ocala, FL, originally opened as a vinyl striping and graphics company in 1986, but has since embraced digital print technology, adding a Roland VersaCAMM SP-300V printer/cutter. “I have been producing digital prints for four years. The new opportunities available with the addition of a digital printer are amazing,” says Brett Wood, owner, Ocala Auto Graphics.

The company uses Roland’s VersaWorks Version 3.2.1 to produce graphics for scooter wraps, golf carts, cameras, and more. Wood is pleased with the RIP. “I like the fact that I can store previously printed files for future use. The print quality and speed is also outstanding,” he states.

Pacific Service Center (PSC) of Portland, OR also utilizes Roland VersaWorks. The company, which creates signage for major corporations such as Coca Cola to small, family-owned businesses, is accustom to dealing with high-quality files as large are three to ten gigabytes.

“No matter what you do with a file that big, it’s going to take awhile. However, VersaWorks is fast. Files that would take hours to RIP now only take a fraction of the time,” shares Sean Hemak, art director, PSC. The shops complements its Roland VersaWorks with a Roland VersaCAMM VP-540

Many RIPs include technology that aids in faster processing. Caldera’s processor and memory are optimally used for applications and not consumed by the system, Hanssens shares. “With more resources allocated to them, the RIPing and printing of files are logically faster,” he says.

Some manufacturers say there is a significant speed difference with their RIP. “The ColorBurst X•Proof and Pro products RIP and print on the fly. Most others RIP to a print file prior to sending data to the printer. In these cases, the timing difference is very significant,” says Spevak.

Agfa Graphics’ JetiSoft RIP supports all :Jeti printers, recently acquired from Gandinnovations. “JetiSoft’s visual WYSIWYG job layout interface, complete color and dithering control, reliable support, and continuous product development provides the end user with the highest level of speed and color accuracy,” states Shamez Asaria, senior global trade show and applications manager, Jeti products, Agfa.

Comparing various RIPs’ speeds, ColorByte’s Pannozzo says, “Since we don’t process PostScript it’s really not a fair comparison. We start printing as soon as the print button is pressed.”

EFI Fiery XF Version 4.1 features an innovative half-toning acceleration for EFI VUTEk printers. NVIDIA graphic boards—GTX series recommended—are supported by Fiery XF Version 4.1 to boost speed for these printers.

“This leads to performances that increase the time to market for print-for-pay and sign and display customers,” says Campa.

Wasatch SoftRIP’s Precision Stochastic Screens half-tone method (PSS) is designed not only to improve image quality, but enhance speed.

“Using PSS versus other RIP halftone methods increases RIP speed by 30 percent for variable-dot printers and more than 100 percent for fixed-dot printers,” says Schaumburg.

The Heart of the RIP
Without a robust RIP, a large format PSP would be unfit to operate. Some RIPs are designed for specific printers, others work well with a variety of hardware devices. Some are scalable; others are color and proofing specialists; and even more offer features that enhance speed and workflow.

Today’s software vendors recognize the need for a multi-featured solution. Companies like Caldera and ONYX now offer products targeted toward helping PSPs manage their entire workflow. Flow+ and PrintMetryx, respectively, complement existing RIP products from both vendors to offer an end-to-end solution. These advancements illustrate RIP vendors willingness to work closely with customers and cater to their demands.

Turn the page to view our annual comprehensive RIP Target Chart, outlining various products from vendors interviewed in this article and additional companies as well. Pricing and contact information is also included. Visit
www.DOdirect.net to instantly access more detailed specifications directly from these vendors.

For a more detailed roundup of the newest RIP enhancements, visit www.digitaloutput.net and search keyword "RIPs."

Click here to view the RIP Solutions Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!

Want more information on the companies in this article? Click here to visit our Buyers' Guide.

May2010, Digital Output

 
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