Tips to ensure color quality even when there's not much money to spare.
Global Graphics, which makes the Harlequin RIP for a variety of vendors, builds color-management tools into its RIPs. That means the RIP needs to be able to read data found in the wide array of files that will hit the RIP and may or may not have already had profiles and color transformations applied.
The Harlequin RIP uses ICC profiles and Harlequin HQ profiles (which contain extra color information unavailable in ICC profiles) to convert between color spaces as needed on the way to the intended output device. All of the color-management decisions are performed at the last stage of the workflow, that of converting the page files into a raster form, appropriate for the intended output device.
This is a reversal of the old-school approach, where print providers requested everything be converted to CMYK before they received the image files. Now, a designer who receives images from a digital camera in a RGB color space can place those images on a page layout, and all RGB images can be handled and optimized properly at the RIP. It does mean correct profiles must either be attached to the images or installed and made available in the RIP. CMYK image data and PDF/X files can be also color managed accurately at the RIP, again with either properly attached profiles or profiles that are in the RIP.
Integrating output profiles
The same logic is used by Colorbyte Software in the fine-art and photography marketplace, where color is critical but budgets are usually quite small. The company has a library of thousands of different profiles for a nearly endless variety of paper stocks. The profiles are bundled into the company's ImagePrint RIP, so the user needs only to select the paper to be used for output and the RIP adjusts the color to the paper. The expense of a spectrophotometer and the investment of time needed to profile each paper type is eliminated. Purists will argue that different batches of the same paper will vary in color characteristics, but it's also true that most paper manufacturers have reasonable quality-control methods to limit the batch-to-batch differences in their product lines.