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Contemporary RIP Solutions

Creating Automated and Efficient Digital Print Workflow

By Gretchen A. Peck

If you were asked to explain what a RIP does, what would you say? Perhaps you’d start by explaining the acronym—Raster Image Processor. You might also mention PostScript, and how RIPs interpret the language and drive output devices, such as imagesetters, platesetters, proofing systems, and digital print engines.  And you’d be right in your definition. Today’s RIP does these things—better, faster, and cheaper than ever before. But they’re also increasingly responsible for automating a lot of the once labor-intensive workflow tasks.

Best-of-Breed Solutions
Some say that choosing a RIP is just as critical as making an educated choice of digital print solution. In most cases, print suppliers are no longer restricted to proprietary RIPs—whatever the print engine manufacturer has chosen to drive its equipment.

Today, there may be a half-dozen RIPs to choose from for any given digital printer —open-platform software or hardware/ software combinations.

Each digital print engine manufacturer has its own strategy when it comes to choosing the RIPs they’d like their customers to adopt. Some open up their codes to all developers, encouraging them to create custom compatible solutions.

Others prefer to enter into exclusive arrangements with a select few developers, and in partnership, develop RIPs collectively.

And, a few digital printer manufacturers have developed their own RIP technologies, as well.

While there are several leading RIP developers that supply for Mimaki USA’s digital printers, the company also develops its own RIPs, including the Raster Link Pro (RL) and RL Pro II, which is built on a core engine from Wasatch Computer Technology.

MacDermid ColorSpan is another digital printer manufacturer that also considers RIP development to be a core competency. ColorSpan has its own RIP solutions, the ColorMark Pro 3G Print Server and the Color-Mark Professional Software RIP.

The company also gives customers the option to use RIPs from others as well, such as ONYX Graphics, Scanvec Amiable, and Wasatch.

Roland DGA Corporation is another manufacturer that has developed its own RIP and workflow solution exclusively for its eco-solvent line.

"For [the] SOLJET and VersaCAMM eco-solvent inkjet printers and integrated printers/cutters, Roland does not work exclusively with third-party RIP manufacturers. Instead, [we] bundle these products with VersaWorks, a full-featured software RIP that was developed by Roland engineers specifically to optimize Roland inkjet technology," explains Ken VanHorn, senior product manager, color products, Roland DGA.

For its aqueous print family, Roland offers bundles that include either a ErgoSoft USA or Wasatch RIP.

"In addition, Roland offers third-party RIP manufacturers a software development kit to promote industry-wide support of Roland inkjet technology," he adds. "In supporting third-party RIP developers with our software development kit, we ensure that our customers have as many RIP choices as possible."

As VanHorn demonstrates, printer manufacturers like MacDermid ColorSpan, Mimaki, and Roland DGA see RIP development as a necessary and sound investment, but they’re also savvy enough to understand that it’s not a proprietary world out there. Customers want to be able to mix and match best-of-breed technologies, to create a customized workflow that suits their unique requirements.

In response, developers like ColorBurst Systems, ErgoSoft USA, ONYX Graphics, and Scanvec Amiable have ensured that their RIP solutions are compatible with an array of digital print engines, rather than tying the knot with a single manufacturer.

"ONYX has the largest portfolio of OEM partnerships in the industry," reports Walter Noot, president and CEO, ONYX Graphics. "Companies such as Agfa, Gerber [Scientific], HP, Ilford [Imaging], Mutoh, and Océ bundle OEM versions of ONYX products with their print solutions."

"We also partner with most printer and media manufacturers to provide comprehensive print drivers for our products," Noot continues. "Our products can drive more than 300 printer models, and have more than 12,000 media profiles available. Large print franchises, such as Fastsigns, AlphaGraphics, Signs by Tomorrow, SignsNow, PIP Printing, and Sir Speedy have standardized their print production with ONYX products."

"Gandinnovations offers a choice of any three RIPs with the purchase of a JETi printer—from ONYX [Graphics], Caldera, or Wasatch," explains Kurt Hixson, director of marketing, Gandinnovations.

"We feel that by offering three RIPs to our customers, we give them total control over their production," Hixson adds. "With the three RIPs we offer, our customers can achieve profiling and coloring options they need to complete their workflow—instead of forcing our customers to use a RIP they might not be familiar with, or simply don’t want to use."

Leggett & Platt Digital Technologies (L&P) takes a similar approach to selecting its RIP partners.

"We do not have any exclusive deals with RIP companies," explains Richard Codos, executive director, North American Development, L&P. "Rather, we support several RIPs, including those from Onyx and 3M. We work with RIP companies that we perceive as supplying the best possible product for our customers. The RIP [developer] has to be willing to work with us to support our proprietary printing algorithms and resolutions."

New Roles
"It used to be that RIP software just focused on printing," suggests ONYX Graphics’ Noot. "But in the last few years, RIP technology has incorporated other workflow capabilities, including contour cutting, color proofing, media and ink tracking, and job tracking. Our latest evolution in RIP technology now takes these workflows and makes them easier to use through automation and workflow integration."

"We have also designed new technologies that meet the growing market demand for variable data and flatbed printing, which are emerging business opportunities within the industry," Noot confides.

Increasingly during the past decade, customers began demanding RIP technologies that enabled them to drive multiple digital print engines, according to Cory Brock, director of public relations, Gandinnovations.

Digital print suppliers are also looking for RIP solutions that are affordable, easy to use, and accessible to the market, notes Steve Urmano, marketing manager, Mimaki USA. He says that customers are no longer looking to RIPs as PostScript-only solutions. Rather, the contemporary RIP must be able to provide job ganging, tiling, step-and-repeats, color management, and overall workflow control. "[These] are the critical enablers for the sign graphics, textile and apparel, and industrial imaging industries."

Color management has become an important role for the RIP in the digital print workflow. "They have developed to the point where they can handle white, varnish, and spot colors in a more seamless manner," reports L&P’s Codos. "Customers are demanding color profiles over a wide range of media and print resolutions. New tools for linearizing and developing ICC profiles have made these profiles easier to obtain. These profiles have aided our customers in developing high production workflows through the digital printer."

"Consumers have an ever-increasing demand for higher quality color and want to achieve that better color with less time and effort," Noot agrees. "That’s why a major initiative of our latest version focused on redesigning our color management tools around those goals. We simplified color management dramatically, and incorporated ICC Profile Generation into our ProductionHouse product—specifically designed for the solvent and UV inkjet market."

Despite all the new bells and whistles of RIPs today, they’re actually becoming easier to use, suggests Hiroshi Ono, software product manager, Roland DGA.

"RIPs have evolved to become more intuitive," Ono explains. "In the past, a RIP was a significant investment in money and time. A person took on the task of living with that product. The ability to get the full functionality of their RIP meant that they had to know where that option was, and in many cases, they had to go through many complex screens to get the correct output."

"Today’s RIP manufacturers—and our VersaWorks is a perfect example of this—have placed the most common features within a single mouse click," Ono adds. "You don’t have to be a UNIX expert to use the software anymore. [Customers] don’t want to spend weeks learning how to use the RIP. They want to set up and print all in the same afternoon."

Wasatch Computer Technology also boasts easy-to-use solutions. According to the company, "new users will be up and running in minutes," and in addition, "advanced users will love the full control that SoftRIP gives them over their color and production."

Affordable Results
"Consumers are demanding more features for a lower cost," suggests Joshua Lubbers, national sales manager, ColorBurst Systems. "As the market matures, RIP prices are actually coming down, because they are reaching a wider audience. Formerly, a RIP was used just to process PostScript, but now, in addition to processing PostScript, RIPs are tools for achieving a better workflow, better color, quality control, Pantone color matching, and for networking out to multi-platform, multi-user environments."

"The role of RIP software has changed dramatically in recent years—from being just a printer driver to being a workflow tool essential to the entire production process," adds Noot. "Today, consumers understand that their choice of RIP software has a huge impact on not just how their printers will perform, but also how efficiently their production will operate."

Choosing a RIP solution may be as critical a decision as what digital print engine to choose. And, when it comes to the range of technologies available, digital print providers can expect to get more for their dollars than ever before.

May2006, DigitalOutput

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