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Recognizing Today's RIP

Micro and Macro Forces

By Melissa Donovan

RIPs offer more than color management and processing speed. They are integral to the entire workflow of a print shop. Today’s solutions encompass both RIP and workflow characteristics—from job tickets to the automated document factory. As the graphic arts grows—adding segments and introducing new applications—the one-solution-fits-all approach is disappearing. More vendors recognize the need for application-specific RIPs.

 

This does not mean a RIP for every application is necessary, which would result in high costs and great confusion in the workroom, but instead many solutions now offer add-ons and customizable features that allow a print provider to use a RIP truly made for their personal business model.

 

RIP functionality continues to evolve as market leaders in the space address the needs of the print service provider (PSP). The cloud and mobile options are such factors, as is the idea of an all encompassing workflow solution.

 

A Piece of the Pie

To understand the direction the RIP market is moving in, it is first essential to study the players. Joseph Mergui, CEO, Caldera, argues that market leaders dedicated to wide format printing are Caldera, EFI, and ONYX Graphics, Inc. Caldera positions itself on top for grand format printing—over 95 inches in width—and third in wide format.

 

SA International, Inc. (SAi) hopes to achieve over a 30 percent increase for 2012. Dean Derhak, product director, SAi, states that in 2011 the company sold over 13,000 RIP units in printers leaving China for international export in the West. It handles most international large-volume printer/RIP bundles, especially for devices shipped from Asia.

 

With printer manufacturers offering devices bundled with their own RIPs, their share is also of interest. Mimaki USA, Inc.’s RasterLink Pro5 SG and Roland DGA Corporation’s VersaWorks are two examples. According to Roland, VersaWorks is one of the most widely recognized RIPs in the industry. This stems from the fact that the company has a large install base of wide format printers and the majority of its digital printing customers use the program.

 

Based on analyst firm InfoTrends, Inc.’s 2012 Quarterly Wide Format Tracking Shipping Project report, Roland possesses the greatest market share in the durable graphics industry when counting solvent and non-solvent printing technologies combined. “The report attributes our success to the extensive support services we provide, product reliability, and in-depth understanding of customers and their business requirements,” explains Steven Tu, color workflow specialist, Roland.

 

Role Changing

RIPs change for a number of reasons. Cost plays a large role, ultimately affecting the usage of these tools. Many manufacturers now offer application-specific RIPs, focusing on certain attributes that are strongly required based on the segment.

 

Derhak believes that the recent commoditization of RIP software, which leads to increased price pressure on vendors, has driven some to focus on small niche markets. “Most RIP software today is viewed as adequate and print providers don’t see a lot of innovation that matters or differentiation other than price,” he shares.

 

“RIPs started primarily as color management tools, but continue to add features to help users automate print production. New features allow companies from a variety of market segments, and with varying needs, to customize their workflow,” explains Ryan Lee, channel manager, Wasatch Computer Technology, LLC.

 

Marty Silveira, VP, sales, DigiFab Systems, Inc., agrees that the benefits of industry-specific RIPs have risen and RIP providers have made the move to provide industry-specific functions. With that purpose in mind, DigiFab develops different versions of its RIP, one focused on graphics and photographic and another focused on home fashion, apparel, textile, and fine art.

 

“We have a noticed a shift toward customers requesting more color functions such as our color catalog module, which allows a high degree of color acuity by creating color targets and mechanically matching back to these targets providing continual repeatability,” he adds.

 

“RIP software today is much more robust, reflecting significant improvements to the color engine. RIPs embrace ICC v4, offering more precise colors and better support for specialty inks and spot color matching. They have also become more user friendly and offer substantial color management capabilities,” says Tu.

 

Interestingly, as vendors recognize the need for industry-specific RIPs, instead of creating products from the ground up, they adapt legacy models. “All vendors are trying to find niche markets, while consolidating existing ones. It has mainly been a matter of adapting to the new market realities. Developments have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary,” explains Ramin Shahbazi, director, Shiraz Software.

 

Bryan Manwaring, director of product marketing, ONYX, does point out one concern. While RIP manufacturers continue to build more functionality into their products to cater to multiple segments, they are missing the need to address overall print workflow. “Print providers are looking for solutions, which offer an enterprise-wide approach that can streamline operations and reduce cost,” he cautions.

 

The idea of a complete, fully functioning solution is still an anomaly. Bart Fret, director of sales, large format, GMG, agrees that PSPs need a product that covers prepress, RIP, job processing, finishing, and color management needs. He says GMG’s solution provides just that.

 

“There are requirements to provide a broader workflow beyond just the RIP; tools that address prepress, make ready, workflow automation, and job management,” shares John Henze, VP, marketing, Fiery, EFI. He cites another study from InfoTrends, Digital Front-Ends: Understanding Customer Requirements and Market Dynamics, released in January 2012, which relayed how most print businesses want to consolidate more of these functions in the digital front end (DFE) versus using standalone, non-integrated applications.

 

While the software evolves, RIPs are still primarily purchased as bundled with printers. “The market is mostly dominated by free bundled RIPs. These were limited in features, but now come loaded with enough that many print providers continue using them without upgrading to a commercial RIP. Other than no cost, the other strength these bundled RIPs have is tighter integration with printer capabilities,” explains Derhak.

 

Communication in the Cloud

Cloud and mobile usage was adapted rather quickly at the macro level of our society. However, the idea of using this online repository, connected by smartphones or tablets, is relatively new in print production. Various parts of the entire workflow are candidates for cloud and mobile usage, simplifying and creating an user-friendly approach to the RIP process.

 

“Such benefits include central location, allowing necessary access; easy to control software updates; the ability for any computer with a Web browser to become a usable workstation if needed; no more dongle management; online support; and the ability for manuals and support tutorials to remain current,” outlines Jason Kammes, software business development manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation.

 

According to Bill Owens, director marketing, Xitron, the biggest benefit is the desire to provide electronic proofs to customers. At drupa 2012, the company previewed a mobile proofing application that allows its Navigator solution—based on the Harlequin RIP—to email a client a proof, which when viewed on a mobile device is approved or rejected.

 

Job management and status updates are other viable options. “This is an area of interest for many levels of personnel using digital equipment running RIPs so they can maintain better overall production control, from job entry through costing, processing, completion, and billing,” explains Silveira.

 

For example, in conjunction with Roland VersaWorks, Roland offers OnSupport, a remote management system, to notify a smartphone or computer of a printer’s status, such as when ink is low or when a job is completed. Caldera is moving towards mobility with its products. In 2013 the company plans to launch items utilizing cloud properties. EFI’s PrintMe Mobile solution provides mobile printing from any device to any printer regardless of the RIP brand/printer combination in question.

 

“We see the cloud and mobile platforms as a completely new technological frontier for software that can drive new business to print providers, reduce costs, and strengthen customer relationships,” says Derhak.

 

SAi is investing heavily in cloud and mobile. The newest upgrade to its RIP software includes a cloud window that connects users to a national print provider network. Within the network, PSPs receive consumer business from the Internet, increase their profits from outsourcing, and share content proofs with buyers. SAi mobile and tablet applications provide users with business information on the go.

 

The cloud presents security concerns. Manwaring points out that many print providers still want to control print production inside their own walls, which makes many hesitant to migrate over to the cloud. In response to this wariness, but yet understanding of the benefits, ONYX developed Thrive Production Manager. The browser-based interface enables users to submit, control, and monitor production from wherever they are in the shop. This eliminates the need of moving between independent workstations to manage production.

 

While the focus on the cloud is great, other concerns involving RIPs must not go by the wayside. Tu believes the cloud in conjunction with mobile technology is a valuable communication tool, but does not see mobile devices as being able to RIP data in the foreseeable future.

 

“Cloud and mobile usage sound nice, and may be able to help with collaborative workflows where customers can review artwork, but companies first have to standardize on color and the entire prepress portion, where they often still lose the most time,” adds Fret.

 

Change to Improve

RIPs evolve in response to new trends—mobility, the cloud, and rapid appearance of niche markets. However, change also occurs based on the drive to continue improving software and the valued service that comes with it.

 

EFI continues to focus on the areas of digital print that are growing—color production, workflow automation, personalization, sign and display, labels and packaging, mobile printing, and ceramic tiles. Its Fiery DFEs drive the company’s multiple print engines and those from various partners, which are used in all of the above areas of print.

 

Fujifilm positions itself as a solution provider, taking a consultant-type approach with customers. Trained staff study a print provider’s current core solutions and then strategize and standardize elements such as integration, ease of use, color management, and productivity.

 

In response to the need for an all-inclusive solution, GMG—a newer player to the market, offers the GMG ProductionSuite. It is a complete workflow with a RIP component, including tasks such as preflighting, editing, color management, integrated cutting, and driving the complete production process—whether one print machine or many.

 

ONYX’s Thrive grows with a PSP and features an Adobe Systems Incorporated workflow for accurate, predictable, high-quality printing. In addition, the company’s SmartApps portfolio enables easy creation of print-ready jobs before they enter production.

 

Roland continues to offer substantial color management capabilities in its VersaWorks platform. Adding white, metallic, clear, and light black inks to many of its wide format printers and printer/cutters, the company adapted its RIP to support these new color channels. In addition, VersaWorks 4.8 features a Pantone library, which converts colors within a file into a CMYK value. A spot color replacement feature allows users to replace any spot color with a color from within the Roland Color System—a proprietary spot color matching solution.

 

Shiraz looks at the front and back end of a solution to change the way it works. Specific and more simplistic front end applications for smart devices, according to Shahbazi, allow users to send jobs to cloud-based servers.

 

Valloy Incorporation believes going back to the basics—color—will fuel the industry. “We know professional people are thirsty for more flexible and advanced color-related features, mostly in ink limit, linearization, n-color separation, and profiling,” explains Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy. In response, the company looks to differentiate itself with essential features for textiles, as well photography and fine art.

 

Wasatch’s SoftRIP XML-based interface makes it possible for system integrators and other sophisticated users to control the RIP via HTML and JavaScript, running entirely in a Web browser, or via customized network software or XML hot folders.

 

Building Blocks

The changes seen over the last five years continue to morph and evolve. Adding onto the ideas of application-driven solutions, color-focused features, and a complete workflow/RIP program is the possibility of continued consolidation.

 

“We see the price of RIP software continuing to fall until it is free. This free, high-end RIP software will be bundled with every printer or with other critical business services instead of stand alone. Consolidation in the printer market will ultimately reduce the number of RIP software providers,” foresees Derhak.

 

Vendors constantly manufacture relevant products to avoid this. Of note is the idea of a unified solution. “The industry will see a shift from pure RIPs to complete workflows. PSPs are now looking much more into complete solutions that address their needs. This is necessary if they want to stay competitive,” explains Fret.

 

Owens agrees, citing “the multiple RIP operations found in shops today will be replaced or augmented by a central workflow that will prepare the files for output to any of the devices found in the shop.”

 

Relevancy harks to practicality. Kim stresses the importance of interpreting the true function of a RIP. “We should not forget the RIP provides tools for users to handle colors more intuitively and accurately.”

 

To build upon the successes of past solutions, vendors must first master a RIP’s primary function—color management—to truly offer users a worthwhile product. Once this is completed, it then opens up the possibilities of a multi-functioning program.

 

Mar2013, Digital Output

 

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