Does a "True Adobe" RIP Matter?
A topic of continuing debate
A couple of weeks ago, The Big Picture's editor-in-chief visited DuPont for a look at their CromaPro inkjet proofing system. Developed to help graphic designers generate color-accurate proofs on workgroup inkjet printers, CromaPro combines DuPont's sophisticated color-management tools with an Adobe PostScript 3 RIP.
In a note to me afterwards, she mentioned that her hosts had brought up the value of using a RIP from Adobe rather than one from another vendor. For designers that rely on one or more of Adobe's front-end products (InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat, etc.), having an Adobe product on the back end reduces the chances of things going wrong. Or so it was claimed.
I started to wonder why that should be the case. As far as I knew, PostScript and PDF, while developed by Adobe, were fully documented. If the language is fully defined, why would Adobe have an advantage in writing an interpreter? Could it be that Adobe was using the tactic Microsoft has so often been accused of: Having their applications write code that only their RIP could fully understand? Or was it more like the instructions in the plastic airplane models I made as a kid that advise, "For best results, use only Revell brand glue"--a ruse I saw through even at age 10?
So I decided to ask around. I spoke to Ken Hogrefe and Mark Rauscher, technical marketing managers at DuPont; Torey Bruno, product manager for Adobe's print workflow products; Adrian Ford, CTO of Global Graphics, makers of the Jaws and Harlequin RIPs and supplier of the technology that's going to enable PDF export from QuarkXPress; and John Parsons, director of marketing communications for CGS, maker of the O.R.I.S. PDF and PostScript file editor.
All agreed that whatever advantage Adobe might have wasn't based on any sneaky tricks. As Bruno put it, there's no "secret sauce," and Ford concurred, saying that "they do a very good job of making the specifications available to other people." But, Bruno continued, while there's really no magic in generating a PostScript file, "it is a bit of an art," and that's where he sees Adobe as having an advantage. After 20 years of working on both the PostScript- or PDF-generating end and the RIP end of the workflow, Adobe has a suite of core software libraries that are used and reused across all their product lines. An Adobe RIP is built from core components that have been tested and retested over the years--and then their OEMs and licensees have to submit any product incorporating an Adobe RIP back to Adobe for further testing and certification.
This makes a big difference to Hogrefe and Rauscher, because it means they don't have to do as much developing and testing themselves. "Anything I can do to take headaches out of the way--that I don't have to back-figure--allows us to focus on the solution," said Hogrefe. "It's hard to argue with the effort Adobe makes," concurred Rauscher.
By contrast. Parsons asserted that "it's more of a marketing argument than a technical one." No workflow is perfect, he said--even an all-Adobe one. For instance, Adobe fans like to argue that having the same RIP in your proofer as in your platesetter makes for a more reliable proof; but, Parsons argued, you're talking about two different imaging technologies anyway, so the value of a consistent RIP is mostly theoretical.
Global's Ford went so far as to suggest that a non-Adobe RIP could even be an improvement. "As a clone, we have to be lot better," he said. He cites the 600 pages of documented Harlequin extensions to PostScript that enable products based on his company's RIPs to do things beyond PostScript's capabilities.
There's no way I can answer this question in my allotted 500 words, or even the 750 words this particular column has ballooned to. The only real answers can come from the kind of testing Adobe and other RIP makers--and their licensees and OEMs--do and from the real-world experience of their customers.
But I finally realized that Adobe has an advantage just in the way the question gets framed. It's like the conversation a friend and I were having about Raisin Bran the other day. She had a box of Kellogg's, and I had some brand I'd never heard of before that I'd picked up at Target. We were discussing whether mine was as good as hers, but even if it was--even if it was better, in fact--we'd still be asking if Archer Farms was as good as Kellogg's--not whether Kellogg's was as good as Archer Farms.