By Cassandra Balentine
RIPs are the heart of most print service providers’ (PSPs’) workflow and every business manager wrestles with the cost to benefit of keeping their software current. Some choose to subscribe to a maintenance program with ongoing updates as they occur, while others prefer the a la carte approach and update based on new hardware or efficiencies in the latest software products.
Most RIP vendors continue to enhance features and provide new product capabilities with their ongoing updates.
PSPs should stay up to date on their RIP software for a number of reasons, compatibility being a primary concern. Vendors often add productivity features and performance enhancements through releases—both major and minor. Additionally, upgrades often come with maintenance and support benefits.
When RIPs and other production software isn’t current, PSPs are at risk of not working with the latest drivers or being out of synch with the most recent PDF versions and other industry standards.
Current and Compatible
PSPs need to deliver products to customers on time and efficiently as possible to remain profitable and safeguard customer satisfaction.
“There are too many variables a PSP needs to manage to ensure production always runs smoothly. Managing all the changes in design tools affect production, updating operating systems on production workstations, and dealing with the ever-increasing complexity of files coming from customers is challenging,” admits Bryan Manwaring, director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics, Inc. “Our job as RIP providers is to understand and manage all of these potential pitfalls. Keeping their RIP up to date means they can rely on production for predictable results.”
Compatibility challenges often occur when RIPs are not current. “For example, an out-of-date PostScript interpreter can result in incorrect output that doesn’t match the designed file, forcing re-work and re-runs. In addition, out-of-date spot color libraries won’t have the very latest colors available, giving file errors or inaccurate output due to color definitions being substituted—bad news for corporate and brand color reproduction,” says Kerry Moloney, field and channel marketing manager, Fiery wide format, EFI.
In addition to working with the latest industry standards, RIP vendors include fixes and productivity improvements in both small updates and larger version upgrades. Dean Derhak, product director, SA International (SAi), points out that when PSPs don’t update, they put themselves at a competitive disadvantage compared to the print business down the street that stays current.
Support and maintenance incentives are also an attractive reason. Ashley Wanlass, senior marketing specialist, Wasatch Computer Technology, LLC, suggests that many PSPs regularly update their software to consistently have access to technical support.
Proper maintenance is part of any investment, whether hardware or software. Manwaring recommends that customers plan for regular maintenance on their production equipment. “Print providers would not dream of completely neglecting maintenance on a printer, and the same should hold true for other production equipment, including RIP software,” he adds.
“By scheduling regular updates to RIP software and production workstations, taking advantage of the latest color and tooling improvements, and ensuring that production is running efficiently, PSPs can have confidence in their workflow process when crunch time comes,” continues Manwaring.
Derhak says in his experience, more profitable and competitive print providers do a good job with keeping their RIP software up to date. “The habit of keeping their software current is part of their overall business strategy of running at peak performance.”
Sebastien Hanssens, VP, marketing and communications, Caldera, agrees, noting that high-end PSPs are typically always using the latest software versions. “Others follow in due time when they find that they need the new features and improvements,” he observes.
Wanlass also sees a trend of those with more equipment and producing higher volumes prioritizing RIP updates, but admits there are many PSPs that do not upgrade. “These shops tend to be running older equipment that still work for them so they don’t see the benefit in upgrading their software.”
Derhak points out that many of SAi’s technical support calls are from PSPs that haven’t installed the latest update. “They mistakenly avoid updating their software when fixes are already available because they think it saves them time. But to be honest, the reverse is usually the case,” he explains.
“Whether through bad experiences or simple caution, making changes in production can feel like a risk, so inevitably most PSPs are hesitant to change anything. Unfortunately, this often means problems—including shutting down production—may come at unexpected times,” cautions Manwaring.
The availability and ease of use associated with RIP software updates has improved with the advent of the Internet and cloud adoption. A process that used to entail shipped CDs and on-site visits is replaced with email links and notifications embedded within the software.
As Internet speeds increase and more production stations are connected, the process of upgrading software can become more automatic, says Manwaring.
Moloney adds that super-fast download and network speeds mean even the largest online databases are now possible, and are more convenient than waiting for a DVD to arrive or a technician to visit. “Users now prefer to see what’s new in their update via their software, rather than printed or PDF release notes.”
Derhak says RIP upgrades used to be difficult because they required users to replace their old hardware dongle or upgrade to a new one. “Now, users automatically receive an updated cloud-based software license and can simply download their software,” he offers.
Ideally, RIP updates are meant to be seamless and easy to execute. However, every so often major updates require considerations beyond a click and download.
Print providers should consider reevaluating RIP software anytime they decide to make a new investment. “How many printers are they going to run from one RIP? How many images are they going to be RIPping and printing at once?” asks Wanlass. She advises PSPs make sure to have a computer that can keep up with their production.
“Smart PSPs upgrade their RIP software when they purchase new equipment, whether that is a new printer or a new PC running their RIP,” says Derhak. “RIP upgrades cost a fraction of hardware purchases, yet they can give a tremendous performance boost to the new equipment.”
In some cases, the improvements within a software update may take advantage of newer hardware.
“For example, with ONYX 12, we upgraded the entire platform to 64-bit, which delivers speeds twice as fast as previous versions. This update requires 64-bit hardware to run, but this has been commonplace for at least five years. For most customers, the equipment they already have will run great,” advises Manwaring.
Derhak says for modern RIP software, 64-bit PC hardware and the latest operating system will give PSPs the biggest bang for their buck.
“But our latest version software also works well on older 32-bit hardware so PSPs don’t have to upgrade their PC hardware to get performance improvements from their RIP upgrade,” he adds.
Moloney says operating system support is a consideration, and suggests users read the pre-installation information or visit the software vendor’s website for the latest information on system requirements and recommendations before proceeding with an update or upgrade if in doubt.
End User Perspective
PSPs should consider their RIPs as an important aspect of their business. Once the right RIP is in place, staying current with updates helps ensure the shop is running at its optimum capacity.
In business since 1973, Bannerville USA, Inc. provides light pole banners and services throughout the Midwest. The 17-employee shop operates two warehouse locations in Burr Ridge, IL, making up approximately 12,000 square feet.
The shop ran screenprinters until 2004 when it purchased its first digital printer. Today, it operates eight printers. In addition, the PSP relies on its RIP from Onyx, which it transitioned to in August 2015.
“For 11 years prior we were running a different RIP software on our printers. At the time, each of our seven printers had its own workstation, which caused a lot of repetitive steps for our production team,” explains Tom Sitkowski, VP of business development, Bannerville USA.
With ONYX Thrive, Sitkowski says the shop runs its fleet of printers from one main computer rather than separate workstations. “All files pass through our production manager to each printer, eliminating multiple hands touching each file,” he explains.
Sitkowski says Bannerville USA upgrades its RIP software whenever new versions are available. “It is best to stay up to date with the newest technology,” he recommends.
While the importance of software and RIP updates is definitely important, it is not always realistic for PSPs to keep up with each update or upgrade. Depending on the operation and allocation of resources, software updates weigh in at a different priority level for each shop.
Dan Johansen, GM, Instant Sign Center, runs a successful sign shop with two locations out of MA—Haverhill and Norwood—with a combined square footage of 30,000. Established in 1961, the company provides printed and fabricated products from sign and retail to event graphics.
The PSP runs an EFI Fiery RIP alongside its EFI VUTEk QS2 Pro UV hybrid printer. While the shop doesn’t update its RIP with every release, it did recently make one significant upgrade during the year they’ve had the product.
Johansen explains the shop can’t update with each release due to a lack of strong internal IT resources.
While investing in the latest equipment is an obvious priority, software should not be dismissed. PSPs should re-evaluate their production tools often and remain current on the latest versions to ensure consistency and compatibility.
Mar2016, Digital Output