DigitalPro Shooter Volume 3, Issue 8, September 9, 2005

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RIPping off your Printer? Will the big bucks for a printing RIP pay off in improved workflow and quality? Find out what we discovered by working with ImagePrint.

In New Products:

  • Canon raises the "full frame" ante with the EOS 5D
  • Dan Margulis authors a ground-breaking new book on a radically different way to do color correction.
  • We also let you know about a cool new product for folder synchronization.

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

New Products

 Canon 5D

Canon 5D: Canon has again upped the stakes in the mid-range D-SLR category with the 5D. At $3,000 it brings 12+MP within the reach of many pros and passionate amateurs not willing to spring for the $8,000 1DS Mark II. Like the 1DS, it is a full frame camera, which is still a must have for many shooters and should allow it to have lower native noise than cameras with similar resolution but smaller sensors.

The 5D is not as versatile as the Nikon D2X--it does not offer a "high speed" option for those who need action photography, but it is not as expensive, either.

Key features include:

  • 12.8MP full frame sensor at 3 frames per second
  • 9-point AF
  • 100,000 image shutter life
  • 2.5" LCD Screen

The 5D also includes Canon's new Picture Style settings, which are designed to simplify and replace the confusing array of color matrix and other processing settings found on their earlier D-SLRs. I haven't used a camera with Picture Styles yet, but Canon is to be applauded for working to streamline and simplify the complex settings needed to get the most out of high-end D-SLRs. The 5D is expected to ship in October.

  Dan Margulis, color correction guru and author of some of the best books on Photoshop color correction, has written a new book on using the LAB colorspace for color correction. My copy is on the way and I'll be doing a more complete review, but it is such a unique idea and has received so much good feedback that I wanted to give you a heads up. You can buy the book online.

File Synchronizer: As online disk copies of images become increasingly economical and therefore popular as a way to make copies of your images, "sync" software which can make sure that your clone drive has the same images as your main drive has become essential. Up until now I had been using the copy of Retrospect that came with my Maxtor One Touch. It is a nice backup program which can also clone drives. However, it is inflexible when it comes to sync options. In some cases I only want to sync files by copying in one direction or the other. For example, if a file was accidentally deleted on my main drive I don't want that to cause that same file to be deleted from my backup drive when I sync it.

Fortunately there is an excellent and free utility, Allway Sync, that is very fast and very flexible. It can quickly match up your drives and lets you choose which direction you want to sync: original to clone, clone to original, or both directions. I've been using it for several months now and it has performed flawlessly. You can create folder lists as jobs and perform other sophisticated operations as well. A great deal for free software!

Well, they're not new, but disk drives continue to plummet in price--making them an ever more attractive alternative for volume storage and backup. You can now easily get 100GB laptop external drives and 400GB desktop external drives for from $.30/GB to $1/GB.

DigitalPro Tip

Remember that your options for finding images are not limited to the options on the Find Image dialog. Once you've found a set of images using Find you can use the results grid to filter the list of found files by any combination of queries, as well as sort them however you need. Once you have the images you want the Display command will show them on the light table or you can export a report listing all the images.

--David Cardinal, Editor, DigitalPro Shooter

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All contents copyright Pro Shooters LLC. All rights reserved.
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