When a new technology is introduced into an industry, there is usually a small band of innovators who hop on board first. They invest their time and money in hopes of leveraging it to improve productivity and gain a competitive advantage. Over time, as the technology becomes increasingly accepted in the industry, the competitive advantage largely disappears and new users must adopt it simply to keep pace.
When a new technology is introduced into an industry, there is usually a small band of innovators who hop on board first. They invest their time and money in hopes of leveraging it to improve productivity and gain a competitive advantage. Over time, as the technology becomes increasingly accepted in the industry, the competitive advantage largely disappears and new users must adopt it simply to keep pace. As an example of this, Mark Bagley—a consultant and owner of Digital Marketing Solutions in Orlando, FL— believes that RIP software is currently in that life cycle stage where screen printers need to have it simply to exist.
“The screen printers who are have been in business for more than a couple of years are being forced to bring on more technology that will allow them to compete with direct-to-digital market. New screen printers may still limit themselves to printing one or two colors, but in time it will make it tougher to survive. After that, they start to look into RIP software,” he says.
A generation ago, a small mom-and-pop shop could get by simply offering simple one- or two-color prints. With the rise of the digital age, artists and consumers have become aware of the options available online for customized, limited run products that feature multiple colors and even photo reproduction. When they visit their local screen printer, they’re expecting similar quality and price points. RIP software is a critical tool towards achieving that capability using affordable inkjet printers.
For those unfamiliar with RIP technology, its function as commonly used in the screen printing industry is fairly basic. An acronym for Raster Image Processor, the software takes files from graphic programs by running them through Postscript and converting them to halftone dots that can be recognized by an inkjet printer, while also allowing the user to dictate the number of passes the jets will make. (Inkjet printers are designed to print everything in color and absent a RIP, it would likely attempt to print the halftone as a shade of gray.) It has allowed screen printers to move away from expensive image setters and gives them ability to print high-quality films using affordable inkjet printers, rather than pricey laser printers.
Bagley has been closely involved with the development of RIP software over the years. In terms of recent incarnations of the technology, he says that many of the advancements have arisen in an attempt to achieve results similar to direct-to-digital printing. On such advancement is the ability to use the software to choose the size of ink dot that the printer lies down on the film.
“The reason this came about is because of the direct-to-garment (DTG) side of things, and they’re able to print smaller dots. They’re going directly on the shirt, and it doesn’t have to sit on the emulsion that’s on the fibers of the screen, so they’re able to fire smaller dots. In the screen print world we’re trying to get them closer to a similar type of output. By using the FM screening, it gives the user control over what dot they’re using, depending on which screen mesh they have, and be able to get rid of some of those standard rosette patterns that you’ll see. This improves the quality,” Bagley says.
Another fairly recent development is the ability to use black ink in multiple cartridges on certain printers, resulting in higher quality films and faster output.
“Most of the RIP software gives you the ability to choose exactly how many channels of ink you can pull black from. For example, you could choose from one to eight, depending on how many ink channels you have,” he says.
User friendliness has become a focus, especially in terms of being able to select default settings. For example, users can dictate their desired angle and have the setting hard-coded into the software. With some products, the settings can be controlled in the graphic software during output. The proprietary nature of RIP software has also given way to a more universal solution.
“In the past, a lot of the RIPs were focused to specific distributors of equipment and supplies. So the RIP would come with a density curve specific to the film that was being sold. Now a lot of the RIPs come with multiple types of density curves already built in to it. So it gives users the ability to source different types of film and figure out which one truly works the best for them,” Bagley says.
While RIP allows for the use for small, inexpensive inkjet printers, users with more money to invest might be better served with a hybrid printer that can output a greater amount of work. Hybrid printers allow for the use of two different types of ink, so that it can print both film positives and other mediums such as dye sublimation transfers. To maximize the benefits of these printers, Bagley developed the concept for MultiRIP Hybrid software.
“The hybrid RIPs allow users to take advantage of more expensive or industrial printers, instead of the smaller printers that require smaller cartridges, or a bulk feed ink system which can be a challenge to maintain,” he says.
RIPs in T-shirt printing
Scott Fresener has been involved with screen printing since 1970. Today, Fresener says the challenge for RIP developers is keeping up with the changes in other technologies—the graphic programs and operating systems—that the software must integrate with to produce a high-quality output.
“RIPs don’t really get better; they just keep up with technology. When [graphics-program developers] bring out new software, guys like me cringe. We know they will dish out sloppy code. The RIP will choke, and the customer will blame us. RIPs have a pretty basic function—to make a cheap printer with no brains produce a thing of beauty—but RIP developers have to keep one step ahead of the latest and greatest software and operating systems,” he explains.
Changes in RIP
An additional challenge is keeping up with the latest and greatest in printers, a product line that seems to evolve even faster than the software side.
“Most RIPs work on Epson printers (Figure 1) and you know Epson, they aren’t happy if they can’t roll out a new printer every six months,” he says.
Fresener’s current product is called T-RIP (Figure 2). The Windows-based application is compatible with all versions of CorelDRAW, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop. It works with a variety of inkjet films and offers a complete workflow for film output. A free, 15-day trial version is available at www.T-BizNetwork.com.
At ErgoSoft, whose TexPrint RIP is optimized for high-end digital textile production, improving workflow is always a priority when they upgrade their software offerings.
“What we have been focusing on, and what we’ll continue to focus on, is automating work flows. Using the processing powers of computers with multiple gigs of RAM allocated to RIP servers, the user can drive many wide-format printers off of one RIP station,” says Jonathan Read, manager of North American sales for ErgoSoft.
High-quality output is obviously the biggest selling point of RIP software, but Read believes that user friendliness is one important way that his software distinguishes itself with some of the other products.
“The biggest thing is usability. If it’s too convoluted, it’s not usable. We’ve always had the mindset that if you make something simple, people will use it. So something as basic as re-linearization, which is critical to color consistency, we have a very streamlined work flow and customers can go in there and do re-linearization in a matter of minutes,” he notes.
Dan Reid, president of RPImaging and a color-management consultant, sees the integration of G7 into RIP software as a significant development. G7 is a print-calibration process recommended for sheet-fed printing, but it is also being used successfully in screen printing.
“Most of the improvements in recent years have been incorporating the G7 calibration method as part of the RIP-calibration routine. Also iterative color calibration has improved consistency in printing and color match to reference print processes like GRACoL and SWOP. Screen printers are slowly adopting the G7 method with success. Of course those with higher end clients and budgets for improvements are the first adopters,” Reid explains.
Reid’s company is a dealer for Caldera, Onyx, and EFI software. He believes that future upgrades will impact the use of color in direct-to-garment printing.
“Improvements on the horizon are better color measurement devices that record color with improved accuracy. The current crop of measurement devices does not measure optical brighteners accurately to predict how the substrate will shift color under different light sources,” he says.
In terms of future innovations in the ability to print film separations, Bob Drake doesn’t see much in store. This isn’t because the software is being edged out by other options, but because it is doing its job about as well as it possibly can.
Drake is the owner of Performance Screen Supply located in Manalapan, NJ, and is a dealer of AccuRIP software (Figure 3). While RIP software must keep up with new technologies in terms of compatibility, he believes that improvements in print quality have become almost immaterial as it applies to the needs of screen printers.
“Epson is coming out with new printers all the time, but the resolution these printers print at is so much higher than we’ll ever use or need, it’s really immaterial for screen printers. I just had a customer; I sold him an $89 Epson Workforce 1100 factory refurbished printer. He puts that together with the right ink, the RIP and the film, and he’s printing imagesetter-quality work. And printing beautiful film positives,” he says.
At this point in time, Drake doesn’t believe the screen printing industry is impacted by a digital divide when it comes to RIP software. Not only has it become more of a necessity than a luxury, but we’ve also entered the age where just about everyone entering the industry grew up in the computer generation, and have little problem adapting to new technologies
“As the old generation of screen printers move on, all of the new guys who get into it are up on computers. It’s very easy and we’re able to talk people through it. Set up takes just a few minutes and then they’re up and running,” he says.
If RIPs have indeed reached optimal performance, then software providers will need to find new ways to differentiate their products. The demand for RIP software is strong and many developers will be looking for a piece of the pie.
“RIP is my number one, fastest growing product segment. I’m shaking my head at how fast this market is growing. People are converting over to inkjets with RIPs at an amazing pace. A lot of that is because we finally have inexpensive, large-scale printers. That’s huge. Entry cost is the driving factor for the screen printing market. The large printing shops will always have the best and greatest stuff, but these small print shops—and there are tens of thousands of them out there—it’s all about how affordable it is to get this RIP software,” he says.
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