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Reporting on RIPs- Raster Image Processors...What They Are and How They’re Doing

Every sign shop that depends on excellence from its printer is probably using a RIP. If you ever wanted to know the rap on RIPs, but were afraid to ask, read on to learn from the experience of your peers in the industry.

By Johnny Duncan

If you are printing in any capacity in your sign shop you may or may not know that RIPs provide a valuable function and assist in producing quality output from your printer, thus enhancing the final product you provide your customers.

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  • Every sign shop that depends on excellence from its printer is probably using a RIP. If you ever wanted to know the rap on RIPs, but were afraid to ask, read on to learn from the experience of your peers in the industry.

    Let it RIP
    First the basics: RIPs are used to squeeze the quality out of the printer that you purchased. Basically, a RIP or Raster Image Processor translates the data from your image file into language your printer will understand. Or, another way: a RIP tells your printer how to lay down the dots of each ink to reproduce your saved graphic image to the printed substrate.

    A RIP is a component used in a printing system which produces a bitmap that is sent to a printing device for output. The input may be PostScript, Portable Document Format, XPS, or another bitmap of higher (or lower) resolution than the output device.

    You may not have a RIP, instead relying on the printer driver to communicate between your application and your desktop printer. Most large-format printer manufacturers provide some sort of printer driver or rudimentary onboard RIP to make this conversion. In some cases, this works fine, but the RIP offers additional features and functions not found in your standard printer driver.

    The RIP offers the process and the means of turning vector digital information such as a PostScript file into a high-resolution raster image. That is, the RIP takes the digital information about fonts and graphics that describes the appearance of your file and translates it into an image composed of individual dots that the imaging device, such as your desktop printer or an imagesetter, can output.

    Think of the RIP as a translator between you and your printer. You give it instructions in the language of your desktop publishing application and the RIP translates your instructions into the language of the printer. If your language is too complicated for the translator, or it misunderstands your instructions, the file doesn't rip.

    Two primary types of RIPs are available: hardware and software. A hardware RIP is a dedicated piece of computer equipment with an application specific chip-set designed to optimize the processing of graphic files. Such RIPs are usually bundled with specific output devices, most typically an imagesetter.

    The more modern approach is the software RIP. Here the imaging software is loaded onto a dedicated server or workstation. Often the machines will have multiple processors to divide and expedite the billions of calculations necessary to rasterize an image.

    Industry snapshot sent a reporter to the streets to randomly survey sign shops in the US. Now that you are an expert on what RIPs are, let’s see what industry users have to say them.

    We asked some general questions regarding RIPs to 60 various sign shops to try to get a feel of the level of satisfaction of those using different manufacturer’s RIPs. We categorized the sign shops based on responses as Outdoor Signage, Indoor Signage, Vehicle Wraps, and Multiple Services (those using a RIP for different types of signage).

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    The responses, as shown in Figure 1.1, give a small snapshot into the satisfaction of both RIPs that are purchased separately, and those that come with a printer or sign software program.

    Reveiw of users on their RIPs

    For ease of use, most of the sign shops surveyed reported that the program was easy to learn and use. Several noted that although it was easy to set up, the multiple features can be confusing. “As with most software, there are always more bells and whistles than any one person could use,” stated Corey Leonard, of Big Signs, Muskegon, MI. “Having used the product since its inception and having taught several operators, I feel that the basics can be covered rather quickly in a day or two, while more advanced features may take a few weeks to master.”

    For many, their RIP was quite easy to use. The majority surveyed had similar comments like this one from Amiji Huzeifa, of AA Royal Signs, Irving, TX, “The RIP was very easy to learn and it took me less then 30 minutes to make my first print and within a day I was totally comfortable.”

    The reason for the high ratings in the “ease of use” category is because most of the RIPs purchased used plug-and-play ICC profiles. As noted in Figure 1.1, the users of any advanced features like color options and spot color replacements were used by those in the Outdoor Signage and Vehicle Wraps categories.

    “We use pre-made profiles from the manufacturer as well as creating our own profiles,” says Damon Henrichs of ABI Digital Solutions. “No RIP or profile is perfect, so we often will replace spot colors to match a clients color expectations.”

    When asked about color quality with their RIPs, across the board, those surveyed rated the color quality as high. From New Life Graphic Designs in Glen Burnie, Maryland, “We are able to get right on the money with matching colors for some of the car body shops we do work for.”

    Some stated that they were amazed at color quality, while others, like Tom Fulp of Add Color Graphics, Inc, Kernersville, NC, “Our RIP provides good color quality within limitations of four-color reproduction.”

    As for the various brands of RIP products that are used, the majority of our respondents stated that the RIPs they were using came with the sign programs they purchased. For example, Shawn Graham of 247 Graphx Studios, Inc., Del City, Oklahoma, states that, “I really did not know much about RIPs when purchasing our Mimaki. We were looking at Onix Postershop, but the cost was more than I was willing to spend since this was a new business. We are currently using Rasterlink which came with the machine.” And from Teri at Sign-A-Rama, Kissimmee, FL, “It was included with our sign program, Flexi Sign Pro. We are happy with its ease of use and accuracy of color output.”

    Customer service
    Finally, the support from vendors after purchase varied among our four categories. As with any business tool that is purchased, you want to know that you can count on the supplier to help you out when the going gets tough. When you are stuck in mud with a customer deadline looming you want to know that you can call support to get you out of a jam.

    As shown in Figure 1.1, the lowest rating for vendor support was in both the Outdoor and Indoor Signage categories. In the Vehicle Wraps and Multiple Service categories, the responses were high for vendor support. After reviewing the comments for the ratings given, it became evident that the lower ratings for vendor support were for those actually calling for help. The higher ratings were for those who never needed the support. We received comments such as: “It seems like the only time we are calling support these days is after a major upgrade. Usually, it is a simple operator oversight, and sometimes it's a bug and Onyx is quick to send out a fix,” or “We have contacted the vendor in the first week and received a fast response, but never needed them since.”

    The respondents who did not have to use vendor support speaks well of the product since no support was needed. However, those who gave low ratings for customer support speaks volumes for the lack of good customer service for those needing it. “My rating would be a two on the scale. I had to learn to solve the problem on my own,” was one response. Another was, “We never get to talk to a human for at least the first 30 minutes and then the person helping us doesn’t seem to know what they are doing.”

    RIP providers or those whose products come equipped with RIPs acknowledged by our survey respondents include Wasatch, Flexi Sign Pro, 3M Graphic Maker Software, Raster Link Pro 2, and Onyx. All are good products and offer more than just quality print jobs.

    Our survey respondents revealed that their purchasing decisions were based on RIPs that offer useful options such as time-reporting capabilities that log how long it took to RIP and image each job. This is especially useful in determining job estimates and for charging additional fees for difficult jobs.

    Other purchase determining features included management productivity logs to keep track of overall job performance and quantity over the day. These are useful in production planning and job costing to help in profit analysis. They are also useful in determining traffic trends and can be helpful in identifying processing patterns throughout the course of the day.

    When deciding on the purchase of a RIP, keep these category responses in mind and be sure to talk to a company representative who is willing to walk you through the ins and outs of a RIP. Be sure to look at your future productivity to determine the RIP you will need. For example, Damon Henrichs had concerns with the challenge of backlit prints on his flatbed Vutek printer and others were worried about having accurate RIP software to handle multiple substrates. Brainstorm your own challenges before making a RIP purchase and provide those concerns to your vendor representative.

    Shops quoted in this piece:
    Sign-A-Rama,, 407-933-0101
    Add Color Graphics, Inc,, 336-992-9880
    247 Graphx Studios, Inc.,, 405-677-7775
    ABI Digitial Solutions,, 936-523-1000
    New Life Graphic Designs,, 410-768-8277
    AA Royal Signs, 972-871-7786
    Abigarrados,, 956-727-3186

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