Print service providers (PSPs) are often necessary to quickly offer new applications with existing equipment. A scalable and flexible RIP steps in to provide the efficiency and consistency required of a digital wide format print operation.
“A printer or cutter is only as good as the software that drives it,” cautions Dean Derhak, product director, SA International (SAi).
Sebastien Hanssens, VP communication and marketing, Caldera, explains that in the software component of print production, the RIP must constantly evolve to help improve PSP productivity. This is done by adding new options tailored to industry changes, including new print standards, ink types, and JDF capabilities. In addition, RIPs help streamline software-specific advancements such as improved nesting algorithms, new enterprise resource planning bridge implementations, and advanced cost management features.
With a variety of options, it is important to choose a RIP most suitable for today and tomorrow.
Flexibility and Scalability
Wide format print providers look for flexibility and scalability. Flexibility refers to the ability to handle different jobs, from fabric banners to vinyl wall graphics. Scalability refers to a solution’s ability to grow with a shop by controlling numerous devices.
“Your RIP has to be flexible to use and support many protocols in relation to both machine and workflow design, together as a system,” adds Paul McGovern, marketing and promotions manager, Mimaki USA, Inc.
“Wide format applications are constantly changing and evolving to fit consumer demands as new displays are needed or new media hits the market,” comments Mike Barry, associate marketing manager, color solutions and wide format workflow, Graphic Systems Division, Fujifilm North America Corporation.
RIPs support rapidly changing environments by offering options. These considerations include the number of controllable printers supported as well as the ability to add modules to a current configuration to improve functionality.
Efficient and consistent production elude a shop if one, single system is not driving all machines. “Many companies will run separate islands—one RIP for up to four printers—but, you need a central system that drives all devices to allow for flexibility,” says Bart Fret, director of sales, large format, GMG.
Rather than purchase separate RIP products, some PSPs opt to invest in integrated workflow software that not only works with their shop today, but comes with the ability to scale their software as business grows, suggests Ed Thompson, product manager, ONYX Graphics, Inc.
Thompson says that this is increasingly important to PSPs that are expanding product offerings into new markets. “They require the scalability to meet their growing workload and the flexibility to broaden their product offerings.” He explains that as shops grow and add new printing technology, they can become dependent on individual operators to be the printer/RIP expert. “With employee turnover and the need to maximize overall production efficiency, most PSPs now see the financial benefits of a streamlined production workflow.”
It is also important to not get carried away by options. “Some products offer more scalability than most PSPs need. They end up paying more for workflow interfaces and upgrades they end up not using,” says SAi’s Derhak. As an example, he notes that unless a PSP has a clear plan to implement JDF through their workflow, it is a waste to purchase that capability just in the RIP.
Need For Evolution
Wide format technology evolves to help PSPs keep pace with application demands. Flexibility and scalability are primary needs for today’s print providers. A changing economy, mixed with the versatility of today’s printing technology, often leads to PSPs needing to accommodate new products and services to serve customer demand as well as grow their business.
It is increasingly important that RIPs support various operating systems, such as Apple, Linux, and Windows, along with compatibility and driver support needed for different software packages and devices used in the graphics print industry, suggests Mimaki’s McGovern.
He adds that scalability has improved with the addition of producing bar codes, variable data, special fonts, and increased workflow management capabilities, naming a few advanced features.
Additionally, client server architecture and multi-task jobs can be consolidated into one RIP platform. “Drag and drop file movement features are common tools used for ease and speed of graphic image placement,” adds McGovern.
Caldera’s Hanssens notes that the importance of RIP scalability and flexibility has grown as the industry continues to launch new technologies, giving print providers the opportunity to improve productivity, margins, and quality. “The industry seemed to have a production mindset and now PSPs are more productivity conscious,” he says. “Therefore print providers are looking for new tools to improve that objective.”
Marty Silveira, VP – sales, DigiFab Systems, Inc., notes that as more applications arise, a more flexible RIP is needed. For instance, a PSP that mainly prints vinyl signage may now have requests for fabric signage or flags. “It could need to add another piece of equipment, which a scalable RIP will handle.”
Additionally, PSPs may want to streamline the way they administer existing workflows by remotely monitoring, managing, and checking job or printer status. “A RIP with these features easily accessible simplifies this task,” he notes.
The need for scalability is directly affected by shops becoming more diversified. “One RIP solution can no longer solve all of a shop’s problems as it did in the past. PSPs are also beginning to be niche-driven based on analog business conversions, hardware purchases, and the applications they choose to offer,” says Jeff DiToro, senior global software product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.
Catherine Kirschner, team manger, marcom, ColorGATE Digital Output Solutions GmbH, notes that in today’s changing market, developments such as Web to print (W2P) are important, as well as the customer’s need for highly individualized print products. “A PSP has to decide, in what way do I address these needs and challenges? Do I have to broaden my business? Can my current RIP software handle these new challenges?” she suggests.
Most PSPs have to consider their current scale and determine if there is an opportunity and/or need to grow business by adding new features like W2P. “The RIP software in use needs to cope with these changes,” she adds.
The size of the industry also has an impact. “Scalability and flexibility have become more important as PSPs are getting bigger,” says Fret. He explains that the industry is consolidating through many acquisitions and PSPs and wide format organizations are purchasing digital wide format customers and adding devices. A RIP or workflow system that can easily take on the challenges multiple printers and people present is essential.
On the same token, ONYX’s Thompson notes that a previously sluggish economy had slowed growth of the print industry, forcing many smaller shops to close, causing consolidation. “Often the approach was taking costs out of the business and investing in technology versus human labor. But now, the industry is improving. We have seen growth of traditional shops as well as new shops entering the market,” he adds.