Raster Image Processors: RIPs 101
What is a RIP, and what can it do for your workflow and output quality? Sophisticated raster image processors maximize print control.
Inkjet printing revolutionized the way photographers produce exhibition prints, proof books, albums, cards, portfolios, promo pieces, competition prints and many other projects. A RIP, or raster image processor, is usually software-based and converts digital data into a format that a printer or other device can understand. Printer drivers are a type of RIP, but the term RIP is generally used to describe software applications designed to enhance the printing process in various ways.
Photographers want to make quality prints efficiently and consistently, and a RIP helps do that. If you are perfectly happy with your current workflow and the quality of your prints, it may not be worth the investment to purchase a RIP. If not, you may be surprised at how much a RIP can do for you, especially if you use a wide variety of papers or other media.
Many RIPs provide tools for a better workflow, such as the ability to easily gang up multiple images on one sheet to conserve paper. RIPs usually control the printer as well, giving it specific instructions, like how much ink to use for a specific paper, print quality settings and whether or not to cut the paper when the job is complete. And RIPs are not limited to inkjet printers. Many devices, including pro lab machines, use some type of RIP to print files.
To help you decide whether a specific RIP might be right for your workflow, we’ve listed some of the most popular RIPs designed for pro photographers, and described their major functions. We’ve also included a few RIP-like applications that are popular for their flexibility and affordability. Prices vary considerably depending on the product’s features and the kind and make of the printer they’re made for.
RIPs are complex, and you should thoroughly read the maker’s information and do tests with trial downloads before buying one.
COLORBURST comes in at least seven different configurations, but the ones favored by photographers are designed primarily for Epson Stylus Pro printers: X·Photo, X·Proof and X·Proof Plus (Mac only). These three include SpectralVision Pro software to perform linearization and build custom ICC profiles when used with an X-Rite spectrophotometer (sold separately). Linearization helps keep printer output consistent over time, and improves transitions from highlight to shadow in all colors, and is especially useful for making black-and-white prints even-toned.
ColorBurst gives users hundreds of “environments” and ICC color profiles for free, so you don’t have to make every profile from scratch. An environment is where you make adjustments to ink limits, including individual ink channels, and other parameters.
The RIP allows you to print much longer lengths than standard print drivers, a good feature for outputting panoramas and ganging multiple images. A print queue makes it easy to reprint jobs without having to reprocess or resend the files. Pantone licensing allows users to match spot colors, and SWOP certification enables photographers and designers to produce contract-quality prints.
Another ColorBurst product, the ColorBurst Edition, is available as an add-on bundled with all Epson Stylus Pro printers ($200 to $1,000). It has most of the features described above, except the ability to create your own custom output profiles for specific media. You can run a linearization for specific media, however, which is a powerful feature. There’s also an upgrade path, which allows you to pay only the difference—or close to the difference—between the cost of the Epson Professional RIP and one of ColorBurst’s full-featured RIPs.
Price: $500 to $3,000, depending upon features and printer width.
In the ColorBurst X·Proof Plus configuration, you launch SpectralVision Pro software to create a profiling and/or linearization target.
COLORBYTE IMAGEPRINT 7 includes a host of features, and Version 8 is scheduled for release by March. ImagePrint is available for Mac and Windows systems in full and desktop—some functions run in demo mode—versions. It supports a number of printers, including Epson, HP and Roland (check site for specific models).
ImagePrint’s Phatte Black system for swapping between matte black and photo black ink eliminates ink waste while retaining image quality on a number of Epson Stylus Pro printers. The Print Through Application (PTA) feature allows you to print from any application to the ImagePrint RIP.
Free output profiles for many papers are available for download, eliminating the cost of a spectrophotometer. The company often creates profiles upon request at no charge, and you can create your own as well. Unlike other RIPs, ImagePrint provides profiles for various lighting conditions, including tungsten, daylight, cool white fluorescent and mixed light.
ImagePrint 7 offers Artistic Borders through a Border Browser, easy-to-use black-and-white toning and split-toning capability, and a feature called Dynamic Contrast Matching that improves contrast and helps produce more vivid prints. Gray profiles are provided for black-and-white prints, reducing the use of color ink.
This application also allows you to print longer lengths than with standard print drivers. Layouts include image nesting, tiling and sports, wedding and school packages, all with savable settings. The Best Fit option automatically arranges images for the most efficient paper usage. Images with different working spaces, such as sRGB and Adobe RGB (1998), can be placed on the same page.
ImagePrint 8 will feature text capabilities such as transparency, alignment and dropshadow control. You’ll be able to add backgrounds from pictures and generate frames and borders. Cut marks will be visible with additional controls. Version 8 will also introduce a new spooling interface, adjustable columns, new sorting controls, job archiving, and a new shuffle feature that constantly looks for the best way to nest images to save paper.
Price: $500 to $3,000 depending on the features and printer width; comes with one year of support, minimum.
This ImagePrint 7 layout and workspace shows the file browser, Image Properties for Step and Repeat and Image Scale/Placement, and the color management window. Photos ©Andrew Darlow
ERGOSOFT STUDIOPRINT V.2008, a Windows-only application, is one of the three high-end RIPs from a company that’s garnered more than 30 best-in-quality awards from the digital printing industry over the last three years. Altogether, the applications support more than 100 printer models; StudioPrint is the one best suited for photographers.
The JobComposer interface displays the controls for scaling, cropping, duplicating, rotating, tiling and other functions. Picture-Package, with fitting options to control the scale, makes package setup easier. PrintClient gives you details about the print job, including its progress, the elapsed and remaining print time, the number of copies, amount of media consumed and required, as well as the current print speed in square meters per hour. This application also enables longer print lengths than standard print drivers.
Precise density linearization, ink limiting controls, even on individual ink channels, and the ability to choose from different screening options help produce better smoothness and print quality (spectrophotometer required). Custom ICC profiles for 4-, 6-, 8-, and 12-color ink configurations can be generated with ErgoSoft’s optional ColorGPS Profiler module (spectrophotometer required).
The Multi Core CPU halves the time required by the previous version to RIP data.
Price: $900 to $9,000 depending upon printer width and type. Optional ColorGPS Profiling software for StudioPrint sells for about $1,800.
NOT QUITE RIPS
These three options are not RIPs, but have some similar features.
Epson Portrait Edition is a Windows-only hardware/software solution aimed at the wedding, portrait and event photography markets. It’s not labeled as a RIP primarily because it uses Epson printer drivers (integrated into the customized software). The software portion is a customized version of ExpressDigital Darkroom Core Edition workflow software, which includes the ability to create custom print packages, proof sheets, album layouts, calendars and themed layouts.
Users can catalog images by customer, sitting, event, date or location, make non-destructive edits such as color adjustments and red-eye removal, and sell print packages in-house or online via a customized online storefront. Credit card and check processing capabilities are built-in, as are copyright and password protection options.
Users can print automatically to as many as four Epson printers, and although the software is bundled with either the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 and 4880, it can also support the Epson Stylus Pro 7880 and 9880 for 24-inch and 44-inch printing.
Price: about $1,500 for the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 Portrait Edition printer and about $2,200 for the Epson Stylus Pro 4880 (both include the printer).
Qimage batch printing and processing software allows for printing images longer than most standard drivers allow. It works with many printers, including wide-format, and pricing does not change based on size.
It handles image nesting and tiling (ganging up of multiple images) and also has sophisticated sharpening and upsizing capabilities that can really improve the look of printed images (especially at larger output sizes).
Price: $35-$90 (multiple versions available).
Quad Tone RIP is an effective way to produce black-and-white prints on many Epson printers (up to 44-inch). It can be run with Epson inksets, or dedicated black-and-white inksets such as Piezography Neutral K7 from Vermont PhotoInkjet (www.inkjetmall.com).
One of its strongest features is that it can use less color ink to produce better quality prints compared with a standard printer driver. It can also achieve a variety of tones, from cool to warm, that can be saved for later use. When compared with newer Epson K3 ink printers such as the Stylus Pro 3800, 4880, 7880 and 9880, the differences with Quad Tone RIP may not be as apparent.
The Quad Tone RIP can make better black-and-white prints than standard drivers and provides toning control with Curves and Blending options in its Print dialog box. Photo ©Roy Harrington
Andrew Darlow is a photographer, educator, digital imaging consultant and author of “301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers” (Thomson Course Technology). For more information, visit www.imagingbuffet.com.