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Reviews and evaluations on RIP´s for fine art giclée printing, Software RIP vs Hardware RIP, PostScript for large format printers? Print E-mail
  • What is a RIP for a large format printer? Why do I need a RIP? Why do I need one for wide format fine art giclée printers? How can I avoid having to buy a RIP?
  • FAQ's on RIP´s s
  • Which RIP should I select? If I really need a RIP, which one is best? What is the difference between hardware RIP and software RIP?
  • Which large format RIP´s will work on my Macintosh? EFI Fiery hardware RIP, Onyx Postershop, 3M Cactus, PosterJet?
  • Everyone who contemplates buying a wide format printer faces the decision "what RIP should I select?."

Help me understand what a RIP is, and does,!

First, like everything else in the computer world, it is more important to learn how to use a feature than to really understand what makes it tick. So basically, a RIP (Raster Image Processor) is software (even when called "hardware RIP it is still just software, which is explained in Nicholas Hellmuth's newest report series).

This software takes your image and text and tells the wide format printer where and how to place each squirt of ink on the paper. The PostScript (from Adobe) tells the printer how to make the alphanumeric portion of your text look nice (eliminates the jaggies). The RIP takes vector graphics (defined mathematically) and places them in a bit-mapped raster arrangement so the printer can reproduce the images and text at the highest quality possible within the system (RIP + color management + ink selection + media selection + printer choice = your system).

Can't the printer and computer figure all this out by themselves?

Yes, and no.

If any of the components of the system are missing, then the chain is broken at that point.

If any of the components is weak, then that is your weakest link.

Now you see why it is worthwhile learning about RIP options so you can make an informed decision.

It is fully natural to be confused. Until Professor Hellmuth spent since 1997 taking notes on his experiences with RIPs for Encad, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Mimaki, ColorSpan, and Ixia-Iris 3047 Giclée printers, it was confusing for him also.

Some wide format printers will indeed print, right out of the box, with no RIP. But I do not know any professional graphics studio that would ever even consider trying to save money in this ineffective manner. If you intend to sell the output from your wide format printer then you need fast output, which means you need an external RIP.

But if you wish to save $$$ by avoiding having to buy a RIP, then you might wish to get Hellmuth's insights on which printers can operate without a RIP... but, what the printer manufacturer does not tell you... if you avoid a RIP, what kinds of printing are not supported until you indeed obtain a RIP. Now perhaps you can see why readers prefer first to consult with an experienced institute such as FLAAR.

RIP´s for Hewlett-Packard large format DesignJet inkjet printers

We recently tested the HP 5000ps and its nice UV pigmented inks. Great color gamut but it took 20 minutes per 100 MB of file size for the ps to RIP the files. Thus a 300 MB photo took over an hour to RIP. In the year 2002 there was no excuse for that since there are plenty of after-market software RIP´s that RIP-on-the-fly. Printing starts in about 11 seconds if you know what RIP to select. Thus although we still recommend the HP 5000 for photo-realistic and fine art printing, but be sure to get an after-market RIP if you need speed.

If you wish up to 6 free FLAAR First Level Reports, fill out the inquiry-survey form, let us know what kind of printing you are interested in, specify what printers you wish to know about, and we will respond with the appropriate information.

Where can you get PosterJet RIP? We recently found their US tech support and the new company in California that will handle PosterJet nationwide (PosterJet itself is made in England).

More than 70 different brands of RIP software exist. Of these brands, about 15 companies went bankrupt or otherwise dropped out of the market. Even venerable Adobe stopped making RIPs over three years ago. So FLAAR has spent several years at the university researching the leading RIPs that have survived. You do not want to buy a RIP and then have the company go belly up, or simply drop the RIP, stop offering upgrades, and abandoning tech support. To help end-users Dr Hellmuth has prepared an entire series of tips, help, and information. His graduate student assistants have tested, evaluated, and compared Wasatch, Scanvec-Amiable, PosterShop, PosterJet, HP's ps RIP, and even the new RIP from Canon.

Software RIP vs hardware RIP?

My first RIP was an EFI Fiery RIP kindly sent to my Digital Imaging Technology Center by EFI (to use to evaluate and review an Encad NovaJetPro, this was about 5 years ago). This was very clever of EFI to send this RIP outright because this RIP is still fully functional and will probably never stop working. There is virtually nothing that could possibly go wrong with it. This is because there is not much inside the attractive case besides air.

Hardware RIP is simply a separate box, actually a computer, and actually a cheap low-MHz PC (though not labeled as such, but it usually has an outdated Pentium processor inside). This is called a hardware RIP because EFI (Electronics for Imaging) has already loaded the software into the computer hardware for you. So you never see any software, indeed the box has no CD slot. It is a dedicated RIP, dedicated solely to the (usually one) computer that it is made to coordinate with.

We have experience with four hardware RIPs. All our experiences are reported personally by Nicholas in his informative series on RIPs.

But more important, Disadvantages of hardware RIP.

A reader writes:
" I was lucky to use the Fiery as a test, we didn't pay for it before we got rid of it, it was very slow and fiddly to set up. It gave no better results than the (printer's own) driver for RGB images."

As of March 2001 EFI (Electronics for Imaging) has finally abandoned its attempt to foist its hardware RIP on people. Only with the Canon BJ-W9000 and possibly will EFI continue it's dead-end hardware policy. Too many users have learned that hardware RIP offers few benefits. So now Electronics for Imaging offers a software version for the new Epson 10000 and Epson 10000CF (EFI Fiery Spark Software RIP). Downside is that we were told the new EFI Fiery RIP is still zero-upgrade path and can't work on any other printer. We will need to learn more about these aspects to be sure, plus whether you get any of the countless necessary options that all other software RIP´s offer. Thus there was no special reason to use any EFI RIP if other RIP´s are better, faster, and offer smooth upgrade path.

Can all RIP´s handle 6 color inkjet printers? If you have an Encad or HP printer they use the standard 4 colors CMYK and most RIP´s should work just fine. But the Epson, ColorSpan, Roland and many Mutoh and other printers use six colors. Many older RIP´s cannot handle all six colors. Of course the new versions of the better RIP´s are coming out with six-color capability. Thus PosterJet, a full-featured RIP for large format printers, will have six-color support in its upcoming version.

What about printers with 8 colors? or 12 colors such as the ColorSpan? FLAAR has two ColorSpan printers, the DisplayMaker XII and the Mach 12. Thus we have plenty of reports on these printers and the RIPs which run them.

Can you RIP from a Macintosh?

This question is covered thoroughly in the FLAAR report series.

Do you absolutely have to buy the RIP that is recommended by the wide format printer company?

Yes and no. Yes in the sense that, hopefully, the wide format printer company will have selected the RIP which is really the best for their printer (as opposed to selecting the RIP that gives them the most profit). The only known case that I would personally suggest considering an alternative RIP is when the Amiable RIP is bundled with a printer such as early Roland's and the economy model of Encad. That Scanvec-Amiable RIP comes with the printer. Such on-board RIPs usually imply a lite version, a polite way of saying that most of the features of a full-strength RIP are disabled.

Same with RIPs featured or favored by HP. If they are bundled with the printer they tend to be lite. HP offers the EFI Fiery RIP with its Hewlett-Packard DesignJet 2800CP and 3800CP. Encad used to offer a comparable EFI Fiery RIP with its Encad printers. Epson offers an EFI Fiery RIP with the Epson 9000. Canon also offers the EFI Fiery RIP. That is primarily due to the profit margin not because this is a better RIP. It is easier, quicker, and hence more profitable for the printer companies and hence their sales reps to work with just one single RIP. That way they can install it quickly.

What is really inside a "hardware RIP?"

Out of curiosity one day I opened up my nice Fiery RIP. Other than a the Fiery controller, the insides of the earlier hardware RIP´s was mainly empty space. That's right, mainly air, the same air that fills the space inside any normal computer. What is in the "hardware" that makes a hardware RIP superior? It doesn't even have a usable monitor, just a dinky little LCD mini-screen. The primary hardware inside is an elderly Pentium or comparable chip, probably a generation or so passe, a hard disk (must unlikely a Seagate Cheetah, in other words, just a cheap generic hard drive), a small bit of RAM (my old computer has 800 MB and my new G4 has 1.5 GB RAM. Even my laptop probably has more RAM than a hardware RIP). So please, what is such a big deal about hardware RIP? Anything that is in the hardware can be done perfectly well, and often better, with software.

It's the same with scanners. Scanner hardware is mostly just standard generic electronics, a cheap plastic lens, and perhaps mirrors. It is the software that makes one scanner better than another (such as Scitex and LinoColor at the high-end and SilverFast at midrange). SilverFast scanner software is so good that it can turn a cheap scanner such as an Epson into a rather sophisticated challenger to a more costly Umax.

The hardware RIP I had in 1997 was totally and completely obsolete two years later; the manufacturer told me it couldn't even run another brand of large format printer. I must admit, that the slick logo and racing-car design of the hardware RIP sure looked nice in my office. Also, it was easy to use, actually I never had to do anything else but plug it in on Day One, and never had to fiddle with it for the next three years. Why should I need to? There were so few capabilities and no upgrade path there was not that much to learn about it. It faithfully ran the aging Encad NovaJetPro, and still runs it quiet well, about as obsolete as the 300 dpi this system is capable of.

RIP´s for desktop laser printers.

If you need a good software to enhance your Hewlett-Packard desktop laser printers the best are from InfoWave, especially if you have to connect a Macintosh to the cheaper HP laser printers (which only work with a Mac if you use InfoWave PowerPrint). InfoWave products are now part of Strydent Software. They offer PowerPrint Mobile Edition, PowerPrint 5.0, and PowerPrint for Networks.


Last updated: Jan. 16, 2004
Previous updates: Sept. 24, 2003, Jan. 15, 2003, May. 17, 2002, Aug. 14, 2002.

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