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Weighing in on the RIP

Six RIP companies address trends in workflow, scalability, the Cloud, integration with other tools, and much more.

Big Picture

When it comes to RIPs and workflow, you have many, many choices. And while it’s certainly helpful in considering any shop tool or supply to drill down into its specs and specific features, it’s also critical to look at how that tool’s use might be changing.

We asked several RIP companies – Caldera, GMG, Onyx, SAi, Wasatch, and Xitron – to address a variety of RIP and workflow trends we’ve spotted across the marketplace. Here’s what they had to say. (And if you're looking for detailed specs on third-party RIP solutions for your shop, check out our RIP charts in our digital edition, featuring data on more than 50 RIP and workflow solutions.)


Q: These days, there’s RIP software and then there’s workflow software – how do the two differ? Or do they?

Xitron: They do. The easiest way to think about this is that a RIP is going to interpret PostScript or PDF and rasterize the data for output. A workflow, on the other hand, may do several different things to the file – either before or after the rasterization process. For example, a workflow may contain modules for preflighting, ink re-mapping, imposition, proofing, or output distribution in a semi- or fully-automated way, carrying the job through the prepress department.

Onyx: RIP software is ideal for smaller print service providers new to the printing industry, because it offers the basic tools needed to prepare images for production printing and finishing. As a print shop grows, however, it will begin to encounter challenges that a single-station RIP solution simply cannot address – such as having consistent, predictable output across all of its devices. Workflow software builds upon the strengths of RIP software by adding the ability to scale production as a business grows and providing tools for improving the overall production process. Additionally, workflow software provides greater predictability through a consistent solution across all of a shop’s print and finishing equipment.
SAi: The biggest difference between the two is scalability. True RIP workflow solutions are like “print factories” that spread the production steps across multiple computers, with central color management and job routing to many printers and cutters. RIP software does everything from job preparation, color management, print, and cutting on a single computer system. Small to medium print providers with fewer than three printers and cutters find this to be the most efficient and cost-effective.

Caldera: RIP software is only one defined stage in the print production workflow. Because the RIP software is directly connected to the production devices, it becomes the key point of the workflow – the only one able to submit jobs to devices and to provide feedback to the workflow.

GMG: In a workflow system, everything – preflighting, prepress tasks, RIPing processes, devices, and workstations – is connected within the system. In a RIP-centered system, though, you have to buy separate software pieces for all these different stages of a job and connect the pieces yourself. A RIP-centered system of working will also not allow you to submit jobs from different workstations, so you have to be on the RIP that actually drives the printer when you want to print. While some RIPs do have a wide variety of prepress tasks built within the system, it’s not a workflow.

Wasatch: RIP and workflow software usually go hand-and-hand. Utilizing a RIP software's settings and controls means efficient printing and an increase in productivity. Good workflow software removes unnecessary steps and makes the printing process more functional. While a RIP is necessary to achieve a desired and consistent color for every print, an intuitive workflow makes it easy – even in the most complex production environment.


Q: What are some of the biggest trends in RIPs that print providers need to be aware of?

SAi: The biggest trend we see is an increasing demand by print providers for subscription-based RIP software. Many print providers now recognize the business benefits of not paying the high cost of version upgrades. With subscription RIP software, a print provider gets a full-featured application that’s always up to date, all for a small monthly operating expense.

Onyx: Making production simpler and easier. As RIPs have matured, a large number of tools and features have been added over the years, making them more capable – but also more complicated. Simplification through better production tools and automation of everyday tasks will make printing more predictable.

GMG: There are two separate trends. One is toward remote job submission and tracking, which also includes more integration of Web-to-print systems; this will require tools like JDF integration. The other trend is ensuring job quality – one of the primary requirements here is offering consistent color management and G7 or other certification.

Xitron: We just touched on it – workflow integration. The productivity enhancements are important for all the obvious reasons. However, you don’t want to overlook core RIP stability when evaluating the total package. RIP developers are constantly looking to improve the accuracy of interpretation as authoring applications like Adobe InDesign add functionality.

Caldera: The main trends in RIPs today are around automation, interoperability, consistency, and mobility.

Q: How has the Cloud and/or online allowed RIPs/workflow to expand? And how is this making life and business easier/better for print providers?

GMG: A lot of this depends upon how you define the “Cloud.” Does this mean operating an application that is resident in the Cloud, or does that mean working remotely? Sending a 10-GB data stream from a cloud-based RIP to a print device is not really an option at this moment, but people can certainly access job databases from remote locations (we consider this to be on-line based). The Cloud also allows people to keep ahead of production while not in the office. They can monitor job status, get feedback, and submit jobs remotely – although nobody is likely to submit a print job from an iPad. The other challenge of a Cloud system is that it has to be very well protected. Brand owners might not like that their next campaign’s files and photos are in the print provider’s Cloud software, out of their control.

Onyx: Cloud technology is an exciting innovation for wide-format printing. At its core, the Cloud is about connecting people and machines together – it’s allowing print shops to manage production and their business in different ways.

Xitron: If we’re talking about Cloud-based RIPs, this would be represented by a very small percentage of the production base that’s currently in use. However, if we’re talking about online job submission with integration into a workflow, that’s a different story. Properly designed and configured, an online job-submission/proofing application is a natural extension of a prepress workflow. It can certainly make it easier to do business with a particular print provider. The real question is: Can the provider justify the cost of implementation?


Q: Print shops are looking for reliability/predictability, speed, and profitability. How are today’s RIPs and workflow solutions helping shops to achieve these goals?

Xitron: In all the ways you would expect, and they’re all intertwined. First, reliability is increased through workflow steps like automated preflight checking and correction. Second, by standardizing the process, the outcome becomes more predictable – which translates into fewer errors. Third, less operator intervention results in faster throughput of jobs. And finally, when you combine these attributes you reduce your cost and improve your profitability.

SAi: Today’s RIP software has standardized on native PDF RIP engines, which increases speed and virtually eliminates the PDF transparency issues that plague older versions of RIP software. This alone justifies a print provider investing in the latest version of RIP software. Traditionally, RIP vendors have only focused on workflow productivity to help increase print provider profitably. But today’s Cloud-enabled RIP software plays a key role in actually bringing new customers to print providers over the Internet. From Web-to-print, job approval, and outsourcing, a RIP with Cloud capabilities enables a host of new business benefits.

Wasatch: Having a RIP is the perfect solution for printing reliably and achieving color consistency. Having the right controls saves time and money.

GMG: Of course, almost all RIPs have adopted the Adobe Print Engine to ensure that a PDF file is being reproduced reliably. However, this still does not guarantee that any file will be processed as viewed in the design application. We don’t really know how a PDF will be printed until the job is RIPed – and then it’s already too late if an error is spotted. With a complete workflow, however, there are some checks and balances. With preflighting, you know what’s going to print incorrectly, up front. And without unified color management, you cannot be assured that you can print a file consistently over time and multiple devices.

Onyx: Recent innovations in color management and workflow are allowing print shops to reduce material waste and increase operator productivity. RIPs that provide full color-managed previews are giving print operators the ability to print images right the first time.


Q: Are RIPs “playing better” with up-front business and management tools and solutions these days?

Caldera: Definitely. By having the capability to provide the information from the devices to the MIS, accounting tools, or other management software, the print shop is now able to monitor the real cost of every order and the status of its production workflow.

GMG: Yes. There’s a tendency for real workflow systems to work with MIS and Web-to-print systems, communicating either with XML data or true JDF. Some RIPs offer connectivity as well, but since they don’t work in a centralized way, this is difficult to use since you’ll need a different entry point for the XML/JDF, depending on which printer you want to address. And the exact goal of XML/JDF is full automation.

SAi: RIP workflow software can work better with front-end business and management tools when those tools have incorporated JDF communication standards. In many cases, print providers only need to upgrade their front-end software in order to take advantage of JDF-connectivity capabilities their RIP software already has. Web-to-print workflows have drastically improved between the front-end business tools and RIP software.

Xitron: RIPs and workflows are playing better upstream and downstream. However, full integration and communication is expensive – it’s simply not affordable for every shop. Serious ROI groundwork is necessary to establish the overall value of that level of integration.


And, similarly, are RIPs “playing better” with finishing tools and solutions?

Onyx: There are a few different ways that RIPs are integrating better with finishing solutions. As finishing solutions get smarter, additional control from RIPs can make the finishing workflow more efficient. We’re seeing a greater ability to communicate about media and print setup information throughout the entire workflow, allowing for automation in critical settings such as knife options and media usage for finishing. And there have also been improvements in approaches to nesting – allowing operators to gang jobs together that need finishing, which saves valuable production time.

SAi: Most RIP vendors have recently added features that make cutting and finishing faster and easier. These include barcodes for more automated contour cutting, weld marks for vinyl welding, and nesting marks for automatic sheet cutters. But print providers can lose out on some of these profit-generating features if they’re not running the latest version of software.

GMG: RIPs are increasingly connecting to finishing, such as cutting. However, a lot of print service providers still create the cutting files in their prepress applications because of the fact that different RIPs process cutting guides in a different way.

Wasatch: A RIP is much more than getting the right color – there are tools that make it possible to do more than just print. This can include screen printing, contour cutting, variable-data printing, label printing, or dye sublimation. Having the right tools gives the user endless possibilities.

Caldera: Finishing is the current bottleneck of a print production workflow. It’s very rare to see a finishing device able to provide any information to an external software application. Cutting machines, however, are definitely an exception.

Q: Finally, anything else to add about the future of RIPs and workflow? Where are we headed in this marketplace?

Onyx: One thing is clear – print service providers need tools that make them more profitable. In the coming years, you will see workflow solutions, including RIP software, become increasingly more critical to meeting customer demands and producing the high quality output customers need.

SAi: The RIP marketplace is headed for lower prices, as printer manufacturers bundle more powerful solutions with their printers. Cost-savvy print providers will be able to take advantage of this trend and get full-featured products by moving to subscription software. Here at SAi, we’re heavily investing in mobile and tablet technologies that work with RIP and workflow software, primarily to bring new business to print providers. As we combine our Cloud-enabled platform with mobile-app capabilities, print providers will be able to capture print business in new ways. RIP and workflow software is moving beyond production productivity.

GMG: RIPS will be converted into a process. More and more, you will see integrated workflow systems with automation.

Xitron: In many ways, the answer to that will be driven by the output devices developed and the applications for which they’ll be used. For example, as high-speed inkjet begins to encroach on commercial and digital applications, RIPs and workflows will evolve to meet the special requirements of these new environments just as they did during the transition from film to CtP years ago.
 

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