RIPs: The Meaning Behind the Puzzle of Digital Graphic Output
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RIPs: The Meaning Behind the Puzzle of Digital Graphic Output

Raster Image Processors are used by most large format graphic shops, but this article will help you to understand what they do and why you need this vital piece to complete your puzzle.

By Terry Lee

A Raster Image Processor is an important factor in Large Format Printing. Almost everyone has heard the term. Most know they need one, but fewer know why they need one or what functions it performs.

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  • Through a series of articles, we’ll attempt to familiarize you with various aspects of a Raster Image Processor, or what will now be referred to as a RIP. We’ll begin with some background information on a RIP, defining what it is and describing the purpose of a RIP in a Large Format Printing workflow.

    Future articles will provide a basic overview of products from some of the major RIP manufacturers. We will include RIPs from Onyx, Wasatch, Flexi, etc.

    To begin this process, however, let’s take a closer look at just what a RIP is and the functions it performs.

    What is a RIP?
    First of all, where do you find a RIP? A RIP can be located in a piece of software, logically referred to as a software RIP. There are a handful of manufacturers with recognized names that are the leaders in offering software options.

    A RIP can also be available as a hardware type. This hardware RIP can be a feature of an output device, such as a printer, or can be a dedicated device that acts as a stand-alone print server.

    The software RIP has become the most popular type in recent years due to the ease with which it can be updated and adapted to each particular printing situation.

    A RIP can best be described as the control center of the printing process. Most of the parameters or settings that are in place for any particular print job are controlled via the RIP. The printer responds to information that is organized and forwarded onto the printer, much like stimuli is forwarded from a human brain throughout a body to perform functions.

    Why do I need a RIP?
    Basic printer drivers have the capability to convert an image displayed on a monitor screen into output. With most desktop printers, this is all that is necessary. No one is concerned how accurate the colors are and most are printing onto basic bond paper. With large format printing, however, the variables are multiplied. More types of ink are available, and more importantly, more types of media are available. Taking the same file on the same printer will provide wildly different results based on the type of media used. A Raster Image Processor gives the operator the ability to introduce files into the process (output profiles) which, when properly created, will better control the amount of ink and color possibilities that can be utilized.

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    Features of a RIP
    A Raster Image Processor has a number of functions relating to large format printing. The ‘Raster’ in Raster Image Processor refers to an object that consists of pixels, so the RIP is responsible for ensuring that the data that is sent to the printer is pixel-based. Any object that consists of paths or lines, referred to as vector objects, must be converted into an array of pixels for output on a large format printer.

    The RIP is responsible for taking these pixels and converting them into droplets that a printer can produce. The drop color, drop size, and location are then assigned, based on the specifications of the printer settings, to create the finished output.

    Benefits of a RIP
    As mentioned above, the ability to customize a particular workflow, taking into consideration the software used, the printer used, the ink type, the resolution, and the media used, can be easily incorporated into a RIP. The result of this customization produces markedly better results on a consistent basis.

    In addition to this, the RIP allows certain basic functions that are not possible with a printer driver. In most cases, a printer driver allows the user to change the orientation of a print, to change the scale of a print and to print multiple copies of a print. In many cases, a preview of the print is not even available.

    Because media costs on a large format printer are greater than desktops, the need to utilize most of the area on a roll of media is paramount. RIPs give the user the ability to organize multiple prints on the media to achieve the best coverage. This process is known as nesting, and a RIP gives the user that capability.

    What happens when a print is larger than the available size of the media? With drivers, the printer prints what it can and ignores what can’t fit on the media, while RIPs allow the user to tile or panel the output, breaking down the image into a series of smaller sections that can then be assembled to create the entire image.

    Conclusion
    While this is a basic overview of RIPs and their role in large format printing, one thing is clear. In order to produce the best results with a large format printer and possessing a workflow that is user friendly with a lot of flexibility, a RIP is a necessary component in the large format-printing environment.

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