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RIPs--Directing the Imagesetter

February 1999
Adobe's PostScript Level 3 and PDF, plus new technologies from Harlequin, Rampage and others, are forging new frontiers in output functionality. The goal? Maximize total throughput. For the imagesetter, throughput starts at the RIP.


BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO


Raster image processor (RIP). Ironic that the term used to describe the most complex, multi-tasked, time-sensitive phase of preprinting shares its acronym with a much more tranquil phrase: Rest In Peace.

Rest is one task the RIP only performs under the most nightmarish of production circumstances, barring any natural disasters the prepress director can pin RIP degradation on—and get away with it. Without doubt, if a RIP fails, stopping productivity and choking a prepress department, the only peace a prepress director can expect may be attached to a pink slip.

The RIP controls every major component in a print job's early life, from interpreting a growing array of file formats to deciphering color to maximizing throughput performance at the output device.

When selecting a RIP, a prepress manager—knowing the RIP is the cornerstone of any given prepress department, impacting every aspect of every print job for which that department is responsible—must determine exactly where the RIP will fit into an established prepress workflow. This means determining how the RIP will facilitate color separation and OPI swaps, as well as handle imposition and trapping—especially trapping and imposition, arguably the most time-sensitive productivity functions in prepress.

"Inexorably, craft skills like trapping and imposition are evolving into manufacturing processes. Automating these processes within an increasingly modular RIP architecture yields increased overall productivity," states Bob Trenhamp, president and CEO at PrePRESS Solutions. "By providing a data channel that starts with the content creators and extends into the pressroom, today's RIPs are becoming the glue in the modern prepress workflow. Tomorrow's RIPs promise links all the way from asset management systems to advanced imaging technologies, thanks to a relentless adherence to standards, database integration, remote interfaces and data compression."

What does this mean for today's imagesetter—whether the imagesetter of choice is the latest, greatest output model or an old faithful?

Robert Cook, product manager at IPTech, offers a perspective. "We see three key areas of interest that are providing momentum for future RIP development and sophistication: legacy upgrades, direct-to-plate and workflow integration.

"Many shops have big investments in older imagesetters and RIPs," Cook continues. "While these legacy imagesetters are still capable of producing excellent output, their legacy RIPs cannot handle the forever-expanding list of demands and expectations of today's production environment.

"We see the owners of these older imagesetters doing the math and realizing that they can upgrade to new RIPs—gaining all the advantages of PostScript 3, PDF RIPing, in-RIP trapping, greater reliability and vastly improved performance— and get all of this for a fraction of what the old RIPs cost in their heyday," Cook states.

During the past several years, RIPs have evolved from single-mode software interpreters able to take in just PostScript to highly sophisticated workflow automation tools that can interpret multiple file formats (PS, EPS, TIFF, TIFF/IT-P1, PDF, DCS32), apply multiple in-RIP operations—chiefly screening, color management, display list editing, trapping—and render output as different file formats to different output devices, or to disk storage for output at a later time.

An Age of ScriptWorks
With the release of ScriptWorks 4.0 in early 1996, Harlequin introduced the concept of the RIP Management System with the ability to control complex processes beyond just interpretation and rasterizing. ScriptWorks 4.0 (and subsequent releases) reinforced Harlequin's position as a leading RIP provider for the imagesetter market.

The latest version of Harlequin's flagship ScriptWorks product marks an equally significant milestone in Harlequin RIP evolution by redefining the concept of the RIP as a Reconfigurable Image Processor—a new name for an aging acronym. Harlequin reports this redefined concept of the RIP will enable the introduction of even higher performance RIP configurations for the latest generation of high-speed imagesetters.

For example, ScriptWorks 5.0, which was released to its OEM partners in December 1998, is the first Harlequin RIP with a scalable architecture that enables Harlequin OEMs to license GUI-less configurations, as well as versions that separate the traditional interpretation and rasterization steps in the RIPing process.

Users will start to see parallel RIPing configurations where jobs are split into pages, processed across multiple RIPs and then stitched back together in an imposed flat for output to the imagesetter. With this added configuration and workflow flexibility, Harlequin OEMs can ensure that performance bottlenecks will be eliminated and that their RIP solutions will keep up with the new high-speed imagesetters.

"ScriptWorks 5.0 is the first step to achieving this sort of super-high performance, but the truly optimized systems will come with adaptive process control technology as found in Harlequin's EP2000 framework," reports Harlequin's Ralph Lloyd, chief product specialist. "These systems will eventually be able to automatically schedule jobs across RIPs and output devices, predict job-processing time based on past experience, and manage media and system resources, among many other capabilities."

Even so, what's happening with RIPs, relative to output options and life in the average prepress environment? For one, BARCO Graphics' Johan Rommelaere, marketing manager, printers systems, suggests the most common complaint heard in prepress departments around the world is the difference in the images produced by different brands of RIPs, some Adobe licensed, some not.

Not long ago, BARCO introduced FastRIP/U—a universal RIP, which conceptually splits the RIPing process into two phases: the interpretation phase, done in the same way as with other members of the Fast-

RIP family, and the imaging phase, performed on the engine's native RIP. BARCO has licensed Adobe's PostScript Level 3 and is currently implementing a range of very powerful dual-channel FastRIPs to be released during the course of this year.

ECRM also offers an Adobe PostScript 3 RIP called RIPtide for the Intel NT platform. RIPtide offers ECRM customers a Web-based user interface; full PS3 compatibility; in-RIP trapping and separation; patented ECRM screening; PDF compatibility; and 4,096 gray levels for smoother vignettes and blends.

Likewise, David Smith, assistant product development manager, electronic imaging software, at Fujifilm's Graphic Systems Div., states that the Fujifilm HQ RIP V2 (based on the Harlequin ScriptWorks version 4.5 RIP and the Fujifilm CelebraNT RIP) is a genuine Adobe PostScript 3 RIP offering a full range of functionality.

Scitex America, one of Adobe's early partners, made its mark by bringing such high-end tools like trapping and imposition to the desktop. Marc Johnson, product marketing manager, Output Imaging Systems, explains the latest RIP technologies from Scitex.

"When we launched Brisque in 1996, we changed the way that the industry looks at a RIP by talking about RIPing as a manufacturing process. Our focus was on speed, automation, control and tools," Johnson states.

During 1998, Scitex launched the four-processor Brisque4 and 332MHz Brisque Pro. Besides adding support for faster hardware, Scitex also completed development on its PostScript 3 RIP and will be releasing its implementation in the first part of 1999. In addition, Scitex has been expanding its "from anywhere, to anywhere" open RIP concept, adding the import of PDF as well as the export of both PostScript and PDF files.

Peter Gorgone, director of marketing at RIP innovator Rampage, offers a few theories on the impact of the maturation of the PostScript-based imagesetter.

"As the marketplace for the PostScript-based imagesetter matures, many businesses find themselves with two or more imagesetters from different manufacturers," Gorgone states.

This reality often translates into two different RIP workflows—a situation that is confusing for prepress operators, difficult to upgrade and ultimately prone to mistakes.

"Many of these same businesses are also considering platesetters, halftone proofers and other equipment," Gorgone continues. "Increasingly, businesses want the freedom to pick imaging technologies based on their own merits, such as price, quality, speed, consumable costs, service and so on."

The result? All of the above have prompted many prepress operations to move away from single-vendor solutions that lock a business to the resources of one manufacturer.

In these situations, the ability of a RIP to serve as the common thread across old, new and emerging imaging technologies is paramount.

"Today, businesses are eagerly investing in new imagesetters, platesetters and digital proofers, but only if they can tie in with their existing investments," says Gorgone. "It is not uncommon to walk into a Rampage installation and see five or six imaging devices from five or six different manufacturers."

Not long ago, he asserts, the RIP was a commodity, an afterthought to the imagesetter. "Many of the RIPs that we sell are to businesses which are perfectly content with the speed and quality of their imagesetter, but they're looking for increased efficiency in front of it," Gorgone assures, offering one final thought.

A word of caution: "Whether the action list calls for an imagesetter investment or an evaluation of how to best maximize an existing imagesetting workhorse, be sure to develop a benchmark file that is representative of the work that comes through your doors before making any RIP decision. The right decision will result in a more productive imagesetting environment."

The wrong decision?

Back to the pink slip.
 

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