Which of the many RIP solutions to select for large format printers?

How do you know which RIP is appropriate for your wide format inkjet printer? This FLAAR web site helps by providing information on as many large format PostScript RIPs as possible. RIPs for wide format color inkjet printers such as Encad NovaJet, Hewlett-Packard DesignJet, Epson, Roland and others.

Several years ago Cactus RIP from 3M was clearly in the top five. Recently, however, Cactus RIP has gotten behind during 2001 and 2002. It took almost six months after HP released its new DesignJet 5000 that Cactus finally became available for this new printer. Then 3M itself sort of dropped this RIP. Next 3M Cactus RIP was picked up by Onyx Graphics (the portion of Gretag that handles Onyx PosterShop). Then Oce bought Gretag. So until the smoke clears, and until Cactus is handled by a software company, we have removed FLAAR recommendation for it.

Back to 3M Cactus RIP: hardware companies are notoriously bad at updating RIPs. Actually neither Encad, Roland, nor HP actually make their RIP themselves (after all, they are hardware manufacturers, not software companies).

For all these reasons we recommend RIP solutions from companies which dedicate themselves exclusively to RIPS. Another key factor is that a RIP company needs to be large enough to survive: BESTColor, PosterJet, Onyx PosterShop, ColorGate, Wasatch are among the key international RIPs. It's hard to keep track of all the other RIPs, since many are European and have no office in the USA.

When you purchase a large format printer you tend to need a RIP. Options are "hardware" RIP (usually an EFI Fiery RIP from Electronics for Imaging) or a "software" RIP. A software RIP may actually include its own hardware (namely a RIP server or print server). The advantage of having the RIP on a separate server is that this frees up your own computer to continue with other projects. Otherwise your main computer will be tied down with RIPing the image data for the wide format printer.

EFI used to be a popular decision until people found out the hidden side of EFI Fiery, namely that this RIP was totally and absolutely dead end. No way to update; no way to upgrade. Worse, no way to run any other printer. So Encad dropped EFI, HP dropped EFI. Only Epson is stuck by contract as is Canon bubble jet. They all are stuck with dedicated Fiery RIP servers from Electronics for Imaging (EFI). But what is the downside of a hardware RIP? Maybe a software RIP is a better decision.

Software RIP has quite a number of advantages, one being that it is more cost effective. Also, software RIP (notably any RIP for proofing such as BEST, ProofMaster, etc), has more color management capabilities.

My first introduction to software RIPs was via Ilford's RIPStar, Ilford's version of Onyx PosterShop. Then I found ColorBus; but this company faltered and did not get updates out. So ColorBus got removed from the recommended list.

So at Seybold I was curious which were the other high-end software PostScript RIP solutions in addition to Onyx PosterShop. This is because the whole list of RIP companies is quite long. With that many choices it is hopeless for an end-user to try to figure out which RIP to select.

We do know it is a complex RIP which means a steep learning curve which implies a several day training session to come up to speed. So here PosterJet (formerly DCS Software) is at an advantage. PosterJet is easy to learn. And PosterJet works on a Mac; you can even park it on an iMac to use as a RIP print server.

We will report on other high-end RIP solutions in future pages of this web site (after the upcoming autumn 2003 trade shows).

Since the EFI Fiery RIP was the first RIP we ever tried, and as the Fiery color controller has a solid reputation, we tended to be impressed. Sort of like having a BMW or Lexus parked on your desk. Shock only set in later, after we learned this RIP could never, not ever be updated. It could never run another printer. None, zero. What a bummer.

Then we got a second EFI Fiery RIP sent to us (this is the new model, various versions work on the HP 2800 or 3800 CP, the Encad, or the Epson 9000). The mascot on top is part of the office decoration, not part of the RIP. The RIP is a dog; the mascot is, I believe, a sheep.

But as we gained several years of experience we had a painful awakening. Hardware RIPs in general (and EFI postscript hardware RIP in particular) may be far from the best solution.

What is better than an EFI Fiery RIP?

Sort of like being married to one partner for three years (EFI) and all of a sudden meeting a new person who is simply better in all respects. You don't want to be rude to your mate, but PosterJet RIP is definitely alluring.

The newest version of PosterJet is now available. PosterJet has so many advantages I can hardly list them all. We have followed PosterJet's growth over the last three years and continue to be impressed. Their office is just a few miles from ours and the President of their company personally installed a demo version for us. We like it when a company president is proud of their product and is willing to stand behind it.

PosterJet is especially good to speed up the pokey Hewlett-Packard DesignJet 1055cm, 2500cp or 3500cp. PosterJet on the HP 5000 is faster than the HP 5000ps ('ps' is HP's internal RIP, which is rather slow on large files).

In the meantime, check out further discussion of RIPs for wide format printers in the PDF download version of the FLAAR Reports on RIPs. Just remember, there are dozens of RIPs that we are not familiar with. We tend to stick with the leading brand names that we can inspect at key tradeshows. We also keep our ears open to learn from end-users which are the favorites. As a result we have a sort of "top 5" which are the ones we feature.

For later this year, 2003, we have many features on RIPs to come. For example, we are curious about ErgoSoft. Just got a very nice comment from a person needing color management for giclee printing.

Just understand we are a bit slow since we are not a commercial company. FLAAR is not a trade magazine, so we don't have paid people on staff just to receive and reprint corporate PR. As a result we can't keep up with every single new version. Instead we concentrate on the overall values of the various products. No matter how many updates, there is still a kernel underneath it all which remains relatively unchanged


Most recently updated June 2, 2003.
Previous updates: May 14, 2002, Jan 7, 2002.