By Melissa Donovan
RIPs. Raster image processors. Long have they been the backbone of a print shop. Today’s iterations are bulked up to process larger files at staggering speeds and in mass quantities.
Beyond enhanced processing speed, several RIP solutions providers recently introduced design-centric features that involve fonts, layout, and color. In addition, the newest iterations of these flagship offerings include tools that help simplify the user experience from business management to production processes. Print service providers (PSPs) are presented with quicker turnarounds. Utilizing existing RIPs with a simple upgrade path to the latest version provides a level of automation that helps run their business smoothly.
Enhanced processing speeds is one of the major features found in the newest versions of several RIPs. This is necessary based on PSPs looking to reduce time from file processing to preparation.
Modern computers use multi-core processors. “These cores act like additional processors when application software specifically addresses them. With the demands of large format graphics, RIP times are greatly reduced when the RIP engine supports multi-core processing. Generating an accurate preview from a large, complex PDF graphic file can be reduced from minutes to just seconds. And when combined with a proper print driver, the time it takes before the job begins to print can be a substantial savings in time allowing the productivity between the host computer and printer to be greatly increased,” explains John Pannozzo, president, Colorbyte Software. The company provides multi-processing as standard on its Imageprint R.E.D. and Imageprint Black products.
“RIP processing speeds are tied closely to computer processor speeds and as those processor speeds increase so have the file sizes, number of printers driven, as well as number of channels and colors per printhead, which all add up to larger amounts of data that need to be processed. You can look at it like a highway—the wider it is built it still seems like there are just as many if not more cars trying to go at a faster speed,” cites Marty Silveira, VP – sales, DigiFab Systems, Inc. DigiFab redeveloped the way to handle this challenge by allowing the queue in its Evolution RIP to handle these tasks independently, “thus keeping the lanes of traffic from interfering with one another should any issues occur.”
Bryan Manwaring, director of product marketing, Onyx Graphics, Inc., recognizes the increase in the number of print shops looking for tools that solve the problem of competition and tight deadlines. “Processing speed is one way to achieve this, but the challenge for RIP software providers is to enable processing speed increases outside of hardware changes, as hardware costs can be a significant to print shops. Speaking just about ONYX software, one way we focus on helping print shops differentiate themselves is to provide speed increases using the core code of our products.”
“In today’s print shops, time is money. When a print workflow can process larger jobs, faster, it means lower costs for the customer and higher profit for the shop,” says Sarit Tichon, SVP of WW sales, SA International (SAi). SAi recently launched Flexi 19, powered by a 64-bit RIP engine.
Increased processing power allows users to load full-scale files into their RIP and then use the tool inside the RIP for tiling or paneling. This avoids having to break up the file in the design process, points out Daniel Valade, manager of digital print, Roland DGA Corporation. VersaWorks 6 software—Roland’s latest and most powerful RIP to date—uses dual core 64-bit processing and a native PDF processing engine.
High-performance, industrial speed printing systems are continually introduced to the market. “They are capable of printing hundreds or thousands of square meters per hour. It is vital that the front end solution is capable of keeping up with these speed requirements, which includes PDF or raster formats, such as TIFF. Due to these requirements the processing architecture of all ColorGATE Version 10 products is optimized to substitute sequential processing steps with parallel task processing,” adds Thomas Kirschner, CEO/founder, ColorGATE.
According to Chris Schowalter, market segment management director, Fiery Wide Format, EFI, historically speaking, RIPs were fast enough to drive wide format equipment at full-rated speed, but not fast enough for superwide equipment—but he foresees this changing.
“Printers are getting faster and at the same time new RIP technology allows us to catch up and drive the printer at full-rated speed or even faster. Most superwide equipment uses an intermediate file format, which means you have to RIP the complete page first, before the printer starts printing. This all good as long as you plan your schedule in advance, but as soon as you have a rush job or some sort of re-print, the RIP becomes the bottleneck. That’s why RIP performance is key,” continues Schowalter. To address this, EFI offers its software acceleration technology—EFI Fiery Accelerate System Technology RIP.
Beyond processing a file quicker, other elements also effect speed. “Every shop is looking to reduce order processing times. RIP processing times are just one of the factors that contribute to throughput bottlenecks. Preparing jobs for print—especially those that require specific or unique positioning or enhancement—can often be the primary bottleneck in busy print shops,” admits Chris Des Biens, international sales manager, ErgoSoft.
For example, digital textile and yardage runs are a challenge to setup efficiently. ErgoSoft offers the Print Without Gap tool that allows the computer to only RIP a small part of the print data, and then that piece is sent in seamless repetition. “For example, let’s say we’ve created a textile pattern and want to print 1,000 yards. Our ripped job would be the full width of the media, but only .5 yards long in the JobComposer window. Then, the RIP sends the print data to the printer with a ‘repeat’ tag, which tells the printer to process that same chunk of ripped data until the yardage length has been met,” explains Des Biens.
Faster processing is also achieved by updating features that address time-heavy processes such as texture building. Mimaki USA, Inc.’s latest version of RasterLink6 PLUS significantly speeds up the process by automating layering with new 2.5D print features. “With two simple selections, the PSP selects the layering thickness—up to .5 millimeters—and the edge treatment of the texture buildup all from one file. Previously, the PSP would have to create two to five individual files, apply the print methods to each, and manually arrange the layering to achieve similar results. Now the process takes a fraction of the time to setup by significantly reducing the steps required and PSP input,” says Hugo Gonzalez, senior applications specialist, Mimaki.
Design in Time
Several other updates involve design-centric features involving fonts, layout, and color management. Recent trends in wide format printing driving the need for these additions or updates include efficiency—naturally offering a solution with multiple features provides the print provider with an ease of use that combats the rising complexity of both customer needs and their own business infrastructure.
Tichon points out that a good design sets a PSP apart from the competition. That said, they need to be at the forefront when it comes to design tools. While standalone design solutions are available, RIPs increasingly provide design-centric features.
“Higher production and efficient workflow being the highest priorities, which leads brands to provide design applications as part of RIP software. This creates a one-stop location for smaller shop needs,” admits Gonzalez.
Schowalter agrees and cites a new breed of entry-level customers moving into the wide format market that are prime candidates for this type of solution. “These kinds of new environments don’t have the skill set, nor tools for a dedicated prepress environment and appreciate the advanced design functionality that EFI Fiery Job Editor—part of EFI Fiery Command WorkStation—for example can deliver.”
Fonts are always a challenge. SAi now includes Find My Font with every Flexi subscription. “This identifies fonts used in an image and searches your computer for the closest matched font. A task that could normally take hours is reduced to a few minutes,” shares Tichon.
Layout, briefly touched on in the speed portion of this article, is also a design feature worth addressing. “These days there’s more demand in bigger volume printing in variable data or repeated patterns, so pattern generation and variable data generation modules need to be intelligently designed to minimize computing load. Furthermore, the RIP needs to support web to print environments with auto-imposition features, which usually have more sophisticated rules and functions than simple nesting,” explains Juan Kim, CEO, Valloy Inc.
DigiFab’s Evolution RIP is always being improved upon when it comes to layout features. For example, it now has the ability to automatically smart nest images like an apparel piece. This allows the user to input parameters based on direction, space allowance, and best use of material.
Valade believes color management continues to be a hot topic. “There is so much involved when it comes to color management that a user could spend a year learning the ‘ins and outs’ and still feel like a beginner. Improvements to make processes easier are well received with our user base.”
Roland added a new input profile called True Rich Color to VersaWorks that expands the color gamut, allows for incredible image quality, and increases the printer’s capabilities when it comes to matching corporate and brand logo colors.
“Both larger PSPs and smaller shops frequently run many types of printers, often with different RIPs, and taking all types of design files for order processing. This created a greater demand for more consistency and repeatability through color management,” shares Des Biens. ErgoSoft offers robust tools for spot color workflow, color matching, profiling, and printer emulation.
In the last few years, Mimaki’s RasterLink6 PLUS has expanded is color management capabilities with the addition of Pantone libraries and Mimaki’s Artista UV Texture Library. “This has enhanced the designer’s workflow by allowing RasterLink6 PLUS to automatically apply special features and colors with a simple use of swatches in Adobe Illustrator. Now, the designer can select a swatch number from a pre-printed swatch sheet and RasterLink6 PLUS automatically makes the necessary substitution,” explains Gonzalez.
As Sebastien Hanssens, VP marketing, operations, and IT, Caldera, says, “a RIP should focus on being the best at color management and printing.” Caldera V12.1 offers advanced spot color management, with each spot channel colorized according to information provided by Adobe Textile Designer. Adobe Textile Designer is a set of tools for fashion and décor artists to streamline the design process and optimize for print. Integration with Caldera V12.1 ensures accurate pattern repeatability and correct and consistent color management through the design to production lifecycle.
Another theme many upgrades center on are tools to simplify and improve the user experience, from business management to production processes that handle and leverage data. While this is more workflow-centric, many RIPs adapt to become more of a RIP/workflow all-in-one solutions.
“PSPs are now looking for tools around the RIP that will help them be better organized and improve their productivity. This includes tools for production management, cost control, and media optimization,” recommends Hanssens.
Successful business management tools help PSPs manage their bottom line. “Print shops look for data that provides information on exactly what is happening across the entire print production environment without the need to rely on manual input or estimation. In our experience, print shops have struggled to really know the actual data on what a print job really costs. Many make estimations on ink and media waste that directly affect the bottom line. With margins under strain, accessing real data can influence profitability,” suggests Manwaring.
To address this concern, Onyx released ONYX Hub as a business intelligence tool for wide format that provides the kind of rich data to answer questions such as “How much ink and media waste do I really have?” or “How profitable am I?”
RIPs help with efficiency in many ways, one of which is how order data is translated into production work and how that production work is tracked through the shop floor. “Ecommerce is a huge driver, in that orders are now coming in from many different directions in many different forms, and new business is now more easily accessible,” explains Des Biens. In its newest version, ErgoSoft 16, the software developer adds a variety of tools for tracking and reporting job costs.
“PSPs get busy, so implementing workflow systems helps keep the shop organized and running smoothly,” says Tichon. SAi offers a free add-on tool called QuickQuote for Flexi subscribers that allows PSPs to generate custom, professional price quotes for customers on their computer or phone.
Pannozzo says the ability to accurately cost a job and predict the steps it will take to complete it may be the difference between being profitable or not. Tools built into the RIP that aid in this can be a big time saver.
The Upgrade Path
RIPs are updated as a patch or major overhauls. PSPs should always been on the lookout to upgrade their current RIP to the newest version for a number of reasons even if there is a hesitation to try something new. “When everything is running perfect there is a tendency to not want to change anything including upgrading the one piece of software that manages the entire print process, the RIP,” admits Pannozzo.
“Generally, a new version is going to deliver additional value. Major updates typically have big improvements, and can stand to really make a positive impact,” explains Des Biens. Coming near the end of 2019, ErgoSoft 16 includes a variety of enhancements and improvements, with a focus on the user experience and color tools.
When you miss certain upgrades it can react like a chain of dominos. “It’s only a matter of time before something fails. When that failure happens it will set off a chain of incompatibilities as the user may be forced to upgrade a piece of hardware in the system. Panic will set in as it always happens at the worst possible time,” warns Pannozzo.
Technology is continually changing to meet tight turnaround times at lower prices, shares Manwaring, and when software solutions aren’t up to date, print shops run the risk of falling behind. “This may impact the ability to remain competitive in an already competitive market. PSPs may wish to look at solutions that provide an easy, cost-effective way to always enjoy the latest version to safeguard against becoming antiquated, be it through a software maintenance package or other means,” he continues. Onyx released ONYX 19 this past Spring, making that four major releases in just five years.
To avoid a complete outage scenario and remain up to date in regards to software, Pannozzo suggests being on a periodic upgrade schedule. “One of the most important aspects of a software upgrade is the things you can’t see like support for newer hardware and operating system versions,” he cautions.
“PSPs should always upgrade to benefit from all the new features, technologies, and drivers for their printers. A new version is always an improvement from the previous, but also must be released because PC operating systems are also updated. As a software supplier you need to adapt to those versions for your customers,” suggests Hanssens.
Many RIP solutions offer instant upgrades for subscribers, thanks to the nature of cloud-based subscription models. At SAi for example, the company provides free technical support and current Flexi subscribers enjoy instant access to the latest tools, ensuring they are always up to date.
EFI’s RIP customers use either its Software Maintenance & Support Agreement or Enhanced Service Program. “In both cases, the ongoing cost is minimal, with all upgrades and updates covered at no additional charge. So, financially speaking, there is no reason not to upgrade. The benefits are clear—more performance, more functionality, and less bugs,” shares Schowalter.
More than Processing Power
Today’s RIPs are more than processing titans, they also offer design and data management—whether built in to the solution or connected to a third-party solution. Major updates to flagship offerings from several RIP vendors occurred in the past 12 months. PSPs should be aware of these changes and implement them to ensure their software and hardware are running the most efficient way possible.
Sep2019, Digital Output