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RIPping off your Printer?Review of ImagePrint RIP .


What's a RIP anyway?

A RIP (Raster Image Processor) is a dedicated piece of software which can turn your image files or documents into dots of ink on your printer. By definition your printer itself contains one or more "RIP"s, usually for PostScript or some other language or set of display commands. But often your printer driver is built to serve many needs and not to optimize image workflow and image quality for professional photographers.

So a market has emerged for third party RIPs for printers which appeal to graphics professionals. The advantages of using a third party RIP with your existing inkjet or similar printer can include:

  • Better workflow
  • Improved quality
  • Additional print options and capabilities

We'll look at each of these in turn, using the ImagePrint v6 RIP on the Epson 4000 under Windows as a reference implementation.

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Using a RIP

A software RIP replaces your print driver completely, so rather than printing from your applications through the print driver you send files directly to the RIP, which prepares them for printing and sends them directly to the print engine inside the printer. That often allows the print engine to directly drive the CMYK (or 6-color) print engine without going through the intermediate step of sending RGB to the print driver. Often RIPs can also automatically print all images which are deposited in a particular folder or reprint jobs which have been submitted previously with the same options.
You set your print options in the RIP instead of in the driver, including paper type, color profile and optionally scaling, cropping, and multiple image printing (step & repeat).

Better Workflow

One of the major attractions of a RIP for me was workflow. Having to open each image in Photoshop, lay it out carefully, size it correctly and then print it was tedious. And when using rolls on my Epson I was always struggling with placing multiple images and page orientation. My workflow goals in using a RIP were to free up Photoshop more quickly, save me time hassling with print layouts and allow me to effectively print multiple images on roll paper.
Once I learned the idiosyncrasies of the ImagePrint RIP it delivered on all these counts. Frankly the user interface for ImagePrint is clumsy and not very intuitive. But the manual does walk you through all the functions and it does make good use of dragging and dropping images onto your "paper" to lay them out. The ability to drag images onto your virtual page, rotate, scale and crop them is very helpful. I just wish the tools were easier to use. The Crop tool, for example, is very picky about picky selection handles exactly or it starts your cropping over.
Achieving my first workflow goal--keeping Photoshop usable while printing--was a no-brainer. Because ImagePrint prints Photoshop & TIFF files directly when they are dragged onto it (I drag them directly from DigitalPro for Windows, but you can use any image browser or drag them directly from your OS) Photoshop is not tied up at all so you can continue to use it for other tasks. ImagePrint also starts printing faster, so my productivity is higher.
I also started saving time with print layouts. While I don't have the sort of "piecework" print needs that would make use of ImagePrint's "Best Fit" auto-layout capability, it did let me drag multiple images onto my paper and size and rotat them before printing. If I wanted to reprint a previous job it was easy to rebuild and reprint it. The only tricky part was learning to use the scaling and cropping functions of ImagePrint. They are powerful but not intuitive. In particular the cropping function would benefit greatly from working the same was as the one in Photoshop. I did enjoy being able to resubmit print jobs as needed to print additional copies of prints which I have sold. I could also leave my paper "size" at 17" roll x 144" long and set Imageprint to automatically only use the amount of paper it needed and cut the paper after that.

Improved Image Quality

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A RIP can benefit print quality in several different ways. First, it can talk directly to the 4 or 6 color print engine in your printer instead of sending RGB data to the driver to be converted. Second it can send more than 8-bits per pixel and third, it normally comes with a wide variety of carefully tuned profiles for various paper and printer combinations. ImagePrint takes advantage of all three of these capabilities. The results of printing through ImagePrint were without exception better than those from printing through the standard Epson driver and profiles.
But I wanted to see if the ImagePrint advantage was because of the RIP architecture or the profiles. So I compared it to the custom profiles I have created for my printer using Gretag Macbeth's ProfileMaker and an Eye-One Spectrophotometer. I found that the results were almost identical. That told me I wasn't going to gain quality from using ImagePrint, but at least I wasn't sacrificing any. However, The ProfileMaker/Eye-One combination is several thousand dollars, so being able to match it by purchasing a several hundred dollar RIP is very appealing for those who have not yet invested in a high-end profile generation system.
Note that in order to get the ImagePrint results to look as good as those from my profiles I needed to change the CMYK rendering to Relative Colorimetric from Perceptual, so make sure and experiment with various renderings. Also make sure you've downloaded the latest "v6" profiles from the ImagePrint site for your exact paper and ink set. I was very impressed by the large array of papers which had been profiled for use with ImagePrint.

Additional Capabilities

One of the most frustrating limitations of the Epson driver for my Epson 4000 is that it won't print images over 5' long. For panoramas on a 17" roll I'd like to be able to print at least 8' or longer. With Imageprint I can. It supports page lengths up to over 20'. The other capabilities of Imageprint were not quite as exciting but the built-in capability to step and repeat an image for multiple image printing and to print crop marks were helpful. Imageprint also fully supports the borderless print capability of the Epson.
Accurate proofing is another key benefit of using a RIP. In fact the "Pro" configuration of the Epson 4000 includes the 4000 itself plus a copy of the Colorburst RIP and an ethernet card. However, proofing is a specialty need useful to those who send prints to CMYK presses not under their control but need accurate previews (proofs) for themselves or clients. If you aren't in the business of delivering color accurate CMYK results using a commercial press to your clients this capability probably won't help you. But if you are a RIP can be a valuable tool in providing these soft proofs.

My Changed Printing Workflow

The biggest change in my workflow is that I can now leave a 17" roll of paper (either Hahnemuhle German Etching for "artsy" looking prints or's own MicroLuster for "photo" looking prints) loaded in my Epson 4000 and to do 8"x10" or other smaller sizes I can just lay a couple of them out side by side and print on the roll. Trimming them later (make sure and invest in a nice paper cutter if you go this route!) is still much more convenient than stocking and swapping sheets of paper.

The Bottom Line

If you find that printing squeezes your workflow, then consider investing in a RIP. Or if you have a highly capable printer but have not yet invested in sophisticated tools for generating custom profiles or don't want to spend your time profiling, consider a RIP. But if you're happily printing from Photoshop and are satisfied with the profiles you have for your printer, then you're probably better off saving your money for ink, paper, or more camera gear. RIPs are not cheap. Imageprint, for example, costs from $500 to $5000 depending on your model printer and whether you need Postscript support.
Frankly, as a working photographer I didn't have time to evaluate every RIP on the market, so I'm sure the tradeoffs are different for each of the products. Please let us know your thoughts on Imageprint or any other RIP in our Software forum.
Other RIPs include:

--David Cardinal, Editor, DigitalPro Shooter













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