By Cassandra Balentine
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.
When it comes to RIPs, economies of scale are present. “Since the digital large format market is maturing, margins get smaller and companies need to be more efficient to be profitable,” points out Fret, noting that this is leading the trend for RIP scalability and flexibility. “The industry is evolving, and if you want to be competitive, you need to be highly efficient,” he adds.
Within the RIP
Wide format RIPs offer the required flexibility and scalability described above, providing several modules focused on job layout, ink monitoring, workflow, analytics, and color management. Below, we highlight key elements of RIPs offered by a few providers on the market.
Caldera provides a comprehensive workflow solution that runs on Mac or Linux for large format print and print-to-cut production. For use with multiple devices, its integrated features include advanced tiling and nesting to help users make the most of their media as well as a sophisticated step-and-repeat feature that RIPs an image once for multiple print jobs. Hotfolders and drag-and-drop functionality simplify workflow while a super spooler manages multiple printers simultaneously, allowing users to switch jobs between queues. Additionally, an ICC color calibration engine and spot color matching are incorporated. The solution is fully scalable so users can add features such as advanced cost management, preflighting, ink optimization tools, and print standard verification at any time.
ColorGATE’s Productionserver 8 runs on the new Adobe Print Engine 3.1. Each RIP comes with Media Device Synchronization and Color Replacement functionality. The solution can be enhanced by nearly 30 modules. Through Output Management Sets, the end user can add more or less printers depending on the current or future needs of the shop. Additionally, Productionserver 8 Ink Saver Module reduces ink by up to 30 percent without a visible loss of quality, according to Kirschner.
DigiFab’s Evolution RIP is designed to handle a range of printing products with exceptional color management capabilities. According to Silveira, Evolution allows the user to set up easy-to-use configuration tools, which contain all the printer’s options as well as linearization, ICC profiles, and variable dot clipping—accessible with one mouse click to provide simple, repeatable output. It allows for unlimited client access through its layout/placement program.
Among EFI’s wide format RIP solutions is the Fiery XF Version 5. According to the company, it offers a flexible and scalable high-speed RIP and color management workflow for wide to superwide format production and streamlines print production with customizable automated workflows from job creation to printing and verification. It is designed to offer accurate color management by measurements, with advanced spot and process color optimization. Automated workflows eliminate touch points and remove the need for manual job submission to help reduce error rates. A fully customizable interface allows users to tailor the application to each operator’s tasks and skill set.
GMG’s Fret describes its ProductionSuite as much more than a RIP. “Typically, many wide format print shops invest in a wide format RIP—if it wasn’t already bundled with the printer—or they add separate pieces of software, like prepress tools, color management, or layout software,” he explains. “ProductionSuite is available with just about any workflow piece that a printer would want, such as a preflight system, tools to conduct last minute editing to a file, and job preparation features.” The suite is completely modular and companies can add more machines, people, or functionalities to the system. It supports over 1,000 printers and cutters. “There is no limit to the number of people or devices on the same system,” he adds.
Mimaki provides a proprietary RIP, RasterLink. It is developed to specifically support the Mimaki brand of digital printing and cutting devices used in the sign and graphics marketplace. The company bundles the RIP with all of its printers and cutters by dealers sold in North America.
ONYX offers a variety of RIP products to meet the full spectrum of wide format users. According to Thompson, all of the RIP products have one thing in common, ONYX Color, the company’s own color management engine. “ONYX Color provides the tools needed to build color profiles for all ink and media types, control ink costs, and maintain consistent output from print to print and device to device.”
Additionally, ONYX Thrive workflow software offers a flexible and scalable print production solution based on Adobe PDF Print Engine. It is designed for PSPs looking to invest in workflow software to manage their print production rather than purchase separate RIP products. Each solution can be customized to meet current and growing production requirements unique to a shop. “For example, a PSP can add different ONYX Thrive modules—RIPs, printer drivers, or job editors—independently of each other, when needed,” he adds.
Developed by Roland exclusively for Roland devices, VersaWorks is a true Adobe PostScript 3 RIP, which ensures exceptional production output with unmatched ease of use. For scalability, VersaWorks supports up to four Roland devices. The solution is also flexible in that it is specifically designed and integrated to support the entire range of Roland printer and printer/cutters.
SAi Flexi RIP products come with standard industry features, such as free-form job nesting and color management. One of the company’s most popular and unique features is the subscription-based RIP software offering. For $49.95 a month, PSPs use a fully scaled production RIP to drive up to five printers, with free upgrades and phone support. “For PSPs handling a higher volume of jobs, our RIP software offers them a true client-server solution. Many of our larger customers have multiple, design-only Flexi stations where they do job preparation and then send jobs to the RIP servers for automated production,” notes Derhak.
Valloy Incorporation’s TOPAZ RIP does not limit the drivers or options for different versions. It is only limited by width and number of active printers. It features a color management wizard, the ability to create hotfolders with a single click, and a unique nesting tool that provides maximum flexibility without data load. According to Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy, the TOPAZ RIP is applicable to a range of outputs including signage, screen, prepress, garment, and textile applications. It features a screen separation option, fully exchangeable ink orders and colors, layer printing option, black enhancement option, and color replacement option.
Wasatch Computer Technology, LLC’s SoftRIP features a simple setup, intuitive workflow, and powerful print controls designed to save users time and money while producing excellent quality color. No matter how large or complex a production environment, SoftRIP has the tools needed for complete control.
As the wide format market matures, a streamlined, efficient, and competent workflow is imperative to profitability. RIP providers strive to offer both flexibility and scalability in order to help clients easily expand business by both supporting multiple devices and providing modules to accommodate added service offerings.
Depending on a shop’s specific need, RIP modules are available to aid—but not overwhelm—the production process. A bundled RIP with a printer investment may be more than enough to accommodate near- and long-term goals, while the need for an integrated workflow and RIP may be apparent further into the future.
May2014, Digital Output