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A Rainbow of RIPs                                                          RIP Solutions Chart (Click to view)

Choosing the Right Software for Your Wide Format Print Business

By Gretchen A. Peck

"To differentiate your business from your competitors’, you need to focus on more than just buying the latest printer," suggests Jan Schoovaerts, marketing director, PerfectProof USA, Inc. "Printers are getting cheaper; performance is always getting better. So, it’s getting more difficult when your competitor next door has the same printer as you."

For the digital print supplier, the choice of software RIP is "extremely critical," according to Joshua Lubbers, worldwide director of sales, ColorBurst Systems. "From multi-platform compatibility to color management, a RIP is a critical aspect of every single print made."

Michael Chramtchenko, director of marketing for CADlink Technology Corporation, says that a RIP should manage three essential processes—file management, color management, and production management.

"Production management is particularly important," Chramtchenko suggests. "How well does the print queue handle volume production requirements? Does it support multiple printers simultaneously, nesting of jobs, tiling, and such? The requirements vary from shop to shop, but the assumption that the production will grow should always be a factor in the buying decision when considering RIP software. The right RIP solution will allow you to maximize production and profit; the wrong solution will hinder your opportunity for success."

"Apart from organizing the workflow itself, the RIP is the most critical part of the process," concurs Michael Keukert, product and marketing manager, SCP America, LLC. "It must produce the right color on the first try, and it must be easy to operate. The goal is to streamline the whole process without leaving any room for costly error."

In the Driver’s Seat
One of the challenges printers face, according to Keukert, is having to integrate disparate technologies. This includes "Macs, PCs, the odd Linux workstation, printers from different manufacturers, including color laser printers, dye and pigment inkjets, and solvent printers," Keukert explains.

"This is combined with the challenge of having multiple file formats coming in via email, FTP, or CDs and DVDs. And, of course, at least half of the jobs are time-critical. To decide on which output device to produce each job often turns out to be a question of making a profit or taking a loss. My advice is to consolidate the infrastructure. Implement a sales-driven workflow that combines all output devices at the touch of a button," Keukert suggests.

Software RIPs should be flexible, capable of driving a wide range of printers—simultaneously. Cibercat’s CiberPrint comes with a vast library of ICC profiles and supports printers from Epson, HP, Mimaki, Roland, and others. According to Michael Vives, VP, Cibercat, the solution’s job queue enables at-a-glance management of the multiple output engines the system is capable of driving. A server version of CiberPrint is well suited to high-volume, high-performance printer operations, and is equipped with an invaluable cost calculator.

ErgoSoft USA describes its PosterPrint v12 RIP as "an industrial-level solution for large format graphics," complete with more than 200 printer drivers and an integrated PostScript Interpreter. Version 12 offers new enhancements, including a centering tool, global color replacement, and variable levels of access.

For digital textile printing, ErgoSoft offers TexPrint v12, featuring the new ColorGPS tool and enhanced spot-color controls. For high-end, color-critical jobs such as photographic-quality images or fine art reproductions, ErgoSoft’s StudioPrint v12 bridges the workflow gap between Adobe Photoshop and the inkjet printer. This solution also comes equipped with drivers for approximately 200 output engines.

SA International developed five versions of its popular PhotoPRINT solution, based on a genuine Adobe RIP engine. The core technology boasts a task-based GUI that’s been designed to reduce the learning curve and promote a more efficient workflow. The PhotoPRINT family comes equipped with hundreds of free device drivers and profiles.

Xitron’s Raster Blaster supports more than 150 output devices, including imagesetters, platesetters, and digital printers. The solution accepts screened, one-bit TIFFs from virtually any source, and converts them into the necessary output format.

Xitron also offers Navigator GPS for small- to mid-sized print businesses. Compatible with more than 150 output devices, the Navigator RIP is powered by a Harlequin PostScript 3 interpreter, and may be complemented with a slew of options, including in-RIP trappng, CIP3 generation, and an imposition tool.

Manipulating the Images
"Look for a RIP that can truly handle the types of jobs a wide format shop prints," ColorBurst Systems’ Joshua Lubbers advises. "Many RIPs can proof. Many RIPs can lay out, tile, and nest files, but very few RIPs can do both. Another critical aspect—especially for wide format printing—is the ability to scale, rotate, tile, and repeat files prior to going through the RIPping process. RIPping takes time, and if these functions cannot be performed instantly, productivity will suffer."

ColorBurst Systems developed three RIP technologies for the large format market, capable of driving workflow for printers 24 to 110 inches wide. The ColorBurst Pro, PrePress, and ProLab solutions range in price from $1,500 to $7,000, depending on the version, number of licenses, and output format. They all feature a PostScript Language 3 compatible RIP based on the Global Graphics Jaws RIP.

ColorBurst’s solutions enable the print supplier to RIP, color correct, and print on the fly. Jobs may be printed directly from popular creative applications—QuarkXPress, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Photoshop, for example—and optimized for output and reproduction quality at the RIP.

According to Lubbers, "There are probably three things that we are best known for—pre-RIP nesting for instantaneous tiling, scaling, rotating, and repeating; Pantone matching [because] we have one of the few Pantone-licensed RIPs; and overall color quality," he concludes.

ColorByte Software developed the ImagePrint RIP for use with digital printers and proofing systems from Epson, Fujifilm, HP, IRIS, and Roland. ImagePrint supports three layout modes—Standard, which places each image on the page in its original size and orientation; Best Fit, which shuffles the image orientation to maximize the print area; and Proof Sheet, which arranges images in perfect rows and columns for proofing and color adjudication.

With the Print-Through-Application option, ImagePrint users can send jobs to the printer directly from creative applications. The Tile-Across-Page feature prompts the output device to print a single image across several pages—a critical capability for print suppliers that specialize in tradeshow displays and signage.

Often, developers will design their software to be modular, enabling the printer to customize the suite depending on the tools that best apply to the business model.

ColorGATE has developed three variations of its ColorGATE PRODUCTIONSERVER 4—Raster, Select, and Pro. ColorGATE attests that its solution is ideal for production of large format applications such as banners, posters, billboards, and vehicle graphics.

PosterJet offers nine versions of its popular RIP software, ranging in price from $549 for an entry-level tool to a little more than $5,000 for the developer’s most robust product, which can support two servers and up to ten clients.

PosterJet boasts an ergonomically-designed interface that puts most of the software’s functions within mouse-click reach. The WYSIWYG preview enables operators to view jobs before committing to print. The nesting feature automatically lays out multiple jobs on the same piece of media, while the tiling feature enables printers to produce oversized graphics by automatically dividing images among separate pieces of media.

Standard Fare
Increasingly, standards are becoming as important to the wide format print world as they have been for the commercial and publication communities. And RIP developers have been watching the standards and are making them a critical part of their technologies.

Express RIP v7 from Compose System USA offers support for more than 200 output devices. The solution is compliant with Adobe PostScript Language 3 and the JDF 1.2 specification. Users can create ICC profiles or choose from a library of profiles Compose System created for specific output intentions and devices.

DigiFab Systems, Inc. created three iterations of the Windows-based Evolution RIP—Evolution Graphics RIP, Evolution RIP for Textiles & Graphics, and the Evolution RIP Plus for Textiles & Graphics. All three solutions share some commonalities such as the ability to print remotely using the Evolution RIP Layout and Spooler feature; valuable image-manipulation tools; printer pooling; and ICC profile compatibility for four-, six-, and eight-color printing on solutions from Encad, Epson, HP, Mimaki, and Roland DGA.

DuPont Color Communication developed DuPont Cromanet CS Software Suite to drive its Cromaprint wide format digital printers and Cromalin digital proofing systems. The solution features Cromanet Workflow Manager; Cromanet Color Manager; Cromanet proprietary spectral-based profiling—plus support for ICC input and output profiles; and an online spectrophotometer interface and tools to industry standard instruments for profiling and calibration.

DuPont Cromanet is an Adobe PostScript 3 RIP with full support for a wide range of file formats, including PostScript, PDF, TIFF, DCS, and more.

EFI, Inc. recently unveiled the latest Colorproof XF—version 3.1. EFI describes the software tool as versatile, and well-suited to digital contone and halftone proofing, as well as large format print production. The solution comprises color management features based on ICC profiles, plus some new capabilities debuting in the latest version—cross-platform compatibility; an enhanced Dot Creator Option for screening contone data; and a Fiery option for integrating Fiery-driven devices into the Colorproof XF workflow.

For its VUTEk grand format printers, EFI also offers Fiery XF, enabling high-speed processing, color management, and integration with EFI Print MIS and Web-to-print solutions.

Based on Global Graphics’ Harlequin RIP, the Fusion RIP from Fusion Systems International is compatible with both PostScript Language Level 3 and the JDF 1.2 specification.

"Key advantages for the end user are file-processing speed, automation, preflighting, easy-to-use ICC-based color management for any type of substrate, and reliability," suggests Richard Robinson, operations manager, Fusion Systems International.

Polkadots Software is the developer of Rasterize-it, based on Global Graphics’ Harlequin RIP. Now available in version 7.2, this solution is compatible with both PostScript Language Level 3 and the PDF 1.6 specification. It can be JDF-enabled or complemented with simple Imposition v2.0, an optional in-RIP imposition tool.

PerfectProof USA, Inc. lauds its ProofMaster v3 as an integrated solution capable of driving printers and proofing systems for a range of applications.

"The whole structure of ProofMaster has changed dramatically from version two—it’s all modular," explains PerfectProof’s Jan Schoovaerts. "You have a standard RIP, and then there’s a whole host of options aimed at particular applications."

ProofMaster’s proofing technology enables simulation of wide format output on smaller format inkjet printers, saving the production printer for doing duty as a proofing device. ProofMaster’s internal PDF engine sets it apart from its competitors, Schoovaerts suggests. "That’s the direction the market is moving in. Just a few weeks ago, the Ghent Workgroup announced new PDF standards for wide format and signage."

Welcome the Natives
Digital print suppliers are faced with daily dilemmas about file formats—what to accept and how to deal with the file that they receive. They have to be flexible in their approach, and their RIP software should be flexible, too—allowing the import of a wide range of file formats, including those prepared in native applications.

ONYX Graphics created ProductionHouse 7.0. The solution comprises a host of print-management tools, including job preflight, printer queue, ink-usage tracker, and cost estimation. For optimal color reproduction, ProductionHouse also boasts calibration and profile tools, and Pantone Color Matching. It’s capable of simultaneously RIPping multiple files—PostScript, PDF, or raster files—and enables users to print directly from Mac- or PC-based creative applications. And for added productivity, ProductionHouse’s Variable Data feature enables batch printing of jobs that require unique elements, such as text, logos, or barcodes.

Replete with drivers for a spectrum of small, medium, and large format printers, ONYX PosterShop enables print suppliers to create and edit density calibration tables, and control ink restrictions. The solution also features tools for applying custom tiling to oversized printers, and scaling, cropping, and rotating images.

ONYX RIPCenter is applicable not only for large format print—photography, fine art, CAD/GIS, etc.—but also for commercial print applications. It features image interpolation for enlargements; automatic nesting, scaling, and tiling; and direct printing from creative and CAD/GIS applications.

Announced at the 2007 ISA Expo in April, is the ONYX GamaPrint software RIP, specifically designed to make large format printing easy, while maximizing printer performance. GamaPrint is built upon the award-winning ONYX color technology and robust production-level RIP engine. In addition to PDF and PostScript, GamaPrint supports TIFF, JPEG, and JPEG 2000 files and is reliable with PostScript and PDF language.

Serendipity Software suggests that its Serendipity Megarip solution is ideal for big-print output like exhibition graphics, posters, and more. Through a client, jobs may be uploaded and printed from any Windows-, Mac OS-, or Unix-based application. Users can create ICC profiles using the software’s MonitorCalibrator and a compatible spectrophotometer, and the nesting feature promises to minimize paper waste. Operators can also assign priorities to specific output devices and schedule jobs accordingly; or printers may be pooled and automatically load-balanced. The software also offers an at-a-glance view of all jobs in process, courtesy of a queue manager.

Print-and-Cut Workflow
CADlink Technology Corporation offers two software solutions for the wide format market—SignLab 7.1 and Digital Factory, which is scheduled for its 2.0 release this summer.

"SignLab is a signmaking software package that integrates design, print, and cut engines to provide signmakers with a complete solution, whether they’re printing signs, cutting vinyl, or printing and cutting signs," explains Chramtchenko. CADlink’s Digital Factory, he explains, is a software RIP that precisely addresses the requirements of the wide format print business. Both solutions support a wide variety of file formats; feature more than 4,000 color profiles; and come with a calibration wizard for user-friendly color-profile creation.

"With the release of version 2.0, Digital Factory will include a Visual Print Manager (VPM), a production queue that address production issues faced by high-volume shops. It also includes features that most small-volume shops will find to be of instant value, as well, such as tiling and nesting," Chramtchenko concludes.

Caldera Graphics developed two software solutions for wide and grand format applications—VisualRip and GrandRip+. VisualRip is best suited to large format print or print-to-cut workflows. The solution provides support for a wide range of output devices from Canon, Epson, HP, Xerox, and others, and features hot-folder-prompted automation, step-and-repeat, and automatic nesting.

For really big print, GrandRip+ allows for tiling, as well as the ability to merge, nest, stitch, rotate, and combine different file formats.

Gerber Scientific Products’ OMEGA Graphics Design & Production Software comprises tools for layout, design, conversion, and output—all designed specifically for the sign industry. It was created by the developer to integrate well with workflows that require vinyl cutting, printing, and routing.

Gerber’s ImageRIP also facilitates cut-to-print applications. It features color management and preflighting tools, as well as ICC profile support. The solution drives Gerber print engines and cutting systems, as well as some third-party devices.

Print companies that choose Wasatch Computer Technology’s SoftRIP may complement the software RIP with a contour cutting and/or a variable data option. SoftRIP features Precision Stochastic Screens Halftone Method, which the developer says will ensure excellent color reproduction and smooth gradients. It also promises flexibility, in terms of the size and makeup of the print operation. It’s well-suited for print businesses that may have one or two inkjet printers, as well as for plants with higher volumes and multiple output engines.

Revving the Engines
RIP speed is an important factor when choosing the best software solution for your operation. Consider the developer’s RIP speed specs, but also consider time-saving features, like a ROOM workflow—RIP once, output many.

Microspot Ltd.’s X-RIP is a professional-level, Mac OS-based printer driver that supports a range of large format printers up to 60 inches wide. The solution features Pixel Expansion technology, which Microspot says lowers the RAM requirement and dramatically speeds up job processing.

SCP America, LLC categories its DaylightRIP as a "highly versatile product" for large format print applications. The developer suggests its solution is unique because the RIPping process has been moved from the foreground—the main application—to the background—a subsystem. As a result, the software runs super fast, improving operator time by as much as 70 percent, according to SCP.

The DaylightRIP offers support for popular four-, six-, seven-, and eight-color printers. It enables unattended batch printing and automatic nesting, as well. In addition to several image-enhancement functions, the solution also features tools for automated cost tracking, color adjustment, and calibration.

Remote Controls
Beyond the tools and capabilities of the software, consider how you want your staff to interact with it. Perhaps remote-control features will add another level of flexibility to your workflow.

The Shiraz RIP v6 from Applied Image Technology, LTD comes in three distinct versions—Shiraz Server Plus, Shiraz Server, and a Lite version. The software RIP is cross-platform compatible; RIPs PostScript, PDF, EPS, TIFF, and JPEG files on the fly; and enables remote printer status checks and controls.

RIPit Imaging Systems, a subsidiary of Xante, created OpenRIP Symphony to allow users to print directly from networked Mac and Windows workstations, or remotely via the Internet. The solution also features a monitor preview, in-RIP trapping, KOOLKolor Proofing, KoolToning Halftone Simulator, and press calibration wizards.

A Crucial Decision
The choice of RIP technology shouldn’t be an after thought. In fact, many agree that it’s just as important as what digital print engine you choose. As digital inkjet solutions become more popular, it becomes increasingly difficult for print businesses to distinguish themselves from their competition. Building your shop’s workflow on a solid RIP technology can help you stand out in the crowd.

Editor's Note:
Another RIP vendor of note is RTI-RIPS, a business of Sarasota, Florida-based RTI Global, Inc. The company offers a number of RIP options for over 200 imagesetters, Heidelberg DIs, platesetters, and inkjet equipment.

Offerings include Global Graphics’ Harlequin RIP, TrapPro in-RIP Trapping, FirstPROOF Professional, and Simple Imposition, as well as several full kit options that include pre-configured hardware, software, licensing, and 90 days of free technical support. Annual support contracts are also available.

In the large format space, RTI offers inkjet Postscript Level 3 RIP software and proofing in one. Harlequin RIP-Kits are available for a number of Encad, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard large format inkjet printers, starting at under $1,000. The RIPs offer support for direct RIPping and separating of color PDF files along with the ability to recombine pre-separated jobs. The digital proofing RIP kits are also capable of producing film separations.

RTI offers a unique Try Before You Buy feature which gives a 30-day demo of the fully functioning RTI Harlequin RIP v.7.2 Kit. For more information on RTI-RIPS, visit RTI-RIPS.COM or phone 800-816-5755.

May2007, Digital Output

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