At the beginning of the digital age, the RIP was the premier tool of printers and repro houses. Today, output devices take centrestage along with file sharing, remote access and Cloud storage applications. However, RIPs still matter – a lot – indeed, print quality depends upon it.
Marc Hermans holds over 25 years of experience within the sign and CAD markets. Before joining SAi in 2001, Marc held previous sales and marketing roles Roland DG and GTX – both in Europe. Currently he is director of sales, EMEA at SAi.
So, what should large format print providers and sign-makers look for when choosing a RIP? Do bundled RIPs offer good value?
Value is in the eye of the beholder. There are many excellent RIP software packages from leading suppliers bundled with printers. A bundled RIP/printer purchase is a good way of ensuring compatibility, but users should look beyond the headlines and the price tag. One important thing to remember is that this is a business decision as well as a technical one. What is your business’ USP? Fast and cheap; top quality in everything; or some-where in between? Do you need to consider the ability to add more printers or a cutter in the foreseeable future? These factors should influence your buying decision.
Do you know who made the software bundled with the printer? Is it branded and supported, or vanilla and anonymous? What’s the track record of the supplier?
Knowing the origin of your software will inform your decision. If it’s proprietary to the large format printer supplier, find out as much as you can about support, upgrade-ability, scalability, and flexibility.If you can’t learn anything about the supplier of your RIP, should you trust your business with it? How will you handle a colour management problem? Where will you go for support? If the manufacturer is 10,000 miles away, where do you think the software supplier is? If you really love the printer, find out if it will run RIP software from a supplier you are familiar with.
Does the RIPsoftware package offer the features, versatility and flexibility your business needs? Will it enable your business to grow?
To play golf well, you need more than just a nine iron. Look for the tools you need to do the job well. Look also for things that you may need in the future:How easy is it to add new devices? Our industry-renowned Flexi software, for example, offers a comprehensive suite of tools to give large format print providers and sign-makers maximum versatility. Are there applications missing that you may need? Alternatively, you may not need a lot of bells and whistles; in which case a more basic, but robust, RIP will be more cost-effective – but double-check its upgradability and support!
How well will it integrate into your business?
Look for RIP software that will support the majority of your equipment. For example, if you do a lot of banners, and have more than one printer and perhaps a cutter, you may need a RIP software that can combine these functions and drive all your devices. It will simplify operation, streamline workflow, and minimise training. You don’t want little islands of different software in your production shop.
What support is available? Who is it from? How well supported/ trained are they by the supplier?
For busy large format print providers and signmakers, these are crucial questions. Sup-port teams don’t exist just to fix unexpected problems, though how fast and how well they do it is extremely important. They can provide expert knowledge in configuration, workflow efficiency, information on industry trends, application and product advice as well as business development consultancy. A good software reseller will want to build a relationship, not just send you some CDs and move on to the next sale. Learning about the support offered before investing should be high on your check list.
Does it integrate into CNC machining software to enable 3D sign production?
Large format sign and display production is increasingly about differentiating your customers from their competition. Requests for the new and novel will only increase. Demands for new materials, colours, and formats will keep the pressure on your production team. High on the list of the growing trends is sign production using CNC machining. Some RIP software packages for signmakers now offer this capability. For example, the new SAi +EnRoute for Flexi is one that dramatically simplifies file clean-up and toolpath preparation of 2D or 2.5D Flexi design files for CNC output.Making CNC sign production (2D, 2.5D or 3D) part of your offering and promoting it to your customers is an opportunity well worth exploring before deciding on a RIP package.
Does it require a major capital investment, or are subscriptions, and other purchase options available?
Buying a RIP can be a major investment, and the cost can even prevent companies from upgrading to the RIP software package that is best for their business. A monthly subscription is a much cost-effective option, and can be a small revenue expense rather than a large capital cost. SAi introduced the first subscription-based RIP software, offering subscription periods of as little as one month for maximum flexibility and value. Moreover, subscribers have all of the latest features, so they are using the best and latest available.
How easy is it to upgrade? How often should I upgrade?
As all signmakers know, nothing is static. New features, new demands, new materials and colours all mean that an ability to upgrade is essential. How expensive this is, and how easy it is to do are important factors, and may be closely related. An inexpensive software upgrade that requires a lot of downtime is less good value than a more expensive one that can be installed quickly. This problem does not exist with subscription software that is always up to date.
To stay competitive, you should always keep your RIP software up-to-date. If you don’t then you are giving your competitors down the street some serious advantages because they will have the latest features that make their production more efficient. For example, Flexi 12 includes an automated online Art-work Approval, which helps sign and print business turn jobs quicker and get more sales. Businesses without that feature are not as competitive.
Does it have Cloud connectivity? What other value-added services are available?
More and more work is done away from the office, and it is important for managers to be able to view work in progress and collaborate in multiple locations. A cloud-enabled RIP software like Flexi enables safe job storage and col-laboration of sign design. Also, mirroring the trend to be away from the office, SAi’s Flexi Cloud mobile app, the first to be introduced, gives business owners access to job status, information and production trends from virtually anywhere to keep them in control of their business.
What is its speed capability? Does it have the ability to output for multiple devices?
Understanding the ‘sweet spot’ of a large format RIP software package will help you make a decision. It should correspond closely to the type of work you do in terms of speed, quality, functionality and output requirements. If price were no object, what would you buy? Try to find something as close to that as possible. Remember, good enough today just might not be good enough in six months’ time.
RIP software remains an important consideration and can have a long-term effect on your operation. Making the right choice will enable you to get the most from your hardware, and from your business.