RIP Servers 101: What the Heck is a RIP Server?

Contrary to what the name might suggest, a “RIP Server” isn’t what you call servers that have died. RIP in this case, actually refers to “Raster Image Processor” and are best known as the secret weapon of the color printing industry. Just about every full color sign, brochure and billboard is printed using RIP technology. And, if you do any kind of production color printing, or printing of high-quality color documents on your office printers, chances are you’re using a RIP server without even knowing it.

Back to Basics

The basic concept of RIP has been around for a long time, and from a high level, it takes whatever documents or images you throw at it, and turns it into something your printer can understand. In most cases, RIPing is done via software, using print drivers and languages (aka PostScript) or a special application designed for certain types of printers.

The downside of a lot of RIP software is that you can either get the print job done fast, but sacrifice image quality, or get a great looking print, but have it take a long time to be produced. Have you ever heard the expression “Choose Two: Fast, Cheap, Good”? Software-based RIP can do Fast and Cheap, or Good and Cheap, but if you want Fast and Good, you’ll need to invest in dedicated RIP hardware.

Hardware RIP Servers take all the image processing normally done on your print server by the print driver and transfer it to a dedicated piece of hardware. Some RIP Servers are designed specifically for the RIP Software running on it. Others will be a standard Windows or Linux computer that has only one task: Image Processing.

In the old days (you know, like 5 years ago), a RIP server was an actual server computer that sat next to each high-end color printer in the office. If you hit File>Print in an application on your computer, the document would get processed by the RIP server, which was connected to the printer by an ethernet crossover cable, before it actually made it to the printer. These days, many RIP Servers are integrated directly into the printer hardware, so you’d never know the print job was being processed by a separate computer within your printer.

Tracking Prints on a RIP Server
The print jobs that are sent to a RIP server are usually full color, high-quality prints. RIP servers are most commonly seen in professional services firms like architects, designers and advertisers.

The print jobs are expensive to produce, and in most cases, printed for a specific client. So how do you make sure the cost of that print is billed to the client?

RIP servers add a layer of complexity to any print tracking setup. To take advantage of the performance benefits seen by implementing a RIP, the print jobs should be sent directly from workstations to the RIP server – not sent through an intermediary print server. Since most print tracking software either tracks the print at the workstation or the print server, how do you capture the elusive RIP print?

Some print tracking software can talk directly to the printer or the RIP server to find out who printed what. Argos, for example, integrates with RIPs made by EFI, Creo and Onyx to pick up exactly what was printed. A recent customer of ours is a good case in point. They had been using a tracking solution that required everyone, including the Mac users, to send all print jobs through Windows print server before they went to the RIP server. It worked, but it was maddeningly slow. After switching to Argos, which can track printing without requiring a print server, average print speed increased by 75%! Read the whole story here.

The Many Flavors of RIP

Who makes RIP Servers and Software? Here’s a few of the common tools we see in the field.

EFI Fiery EFI is the RIP Server leader. You’ll find their Fiery RIP hardware embedded inside almost all the major manufacturer’s higher-end color MFPs, such as Canon, Xerox, Konica Minolta and Ricoh. Fiery RIPs can include software, called Command Workstation, that allows you to edit and reprint jobs that have already been sent.

Creo Color Creo RIP servers are also supported by most major manufacturers, including Canon, Xerox and Konica Minolta. Creo is known for their excellent “variable data printing”, or VDP, support. With VDP, every print that comes out of the printer is slightly different. Some examples of this would be direct mail (yes, those glossy personalized postcards you get from realtors may have been processed by a Creo) and Print-On-Demand services like photo books and personalized greeting cards.

EFI Colorproof Did I mention EFI is the RIP Server leader? Colorproof is a RIP solution for large format color printing. It is popular with graphic design and advertising firms who print large, full color images. By large, I mean 24”x36”, 36”x48”, etc. From what I understand, EFI is starting to rebrand Colorproof under their popular Fiery name, and will refer to it as Fiery XF going forward. Because large format color prints are really expensive to create, Colorproof includes very sophisticated software that helps you preview and refine each print job before it goes to the printer. When Colorproof is installed, there is often a print room employee who previews, adjusts and approves every single print job through Colorproof before it comes out of the printer.

Wasatch SoftRIP Wasatch takes a slightly different approach. They acknowledge that computer hardware is becoming ever more powerful every day, and maintain that RIPping doesn’t need to occur on a completely separate piece of hardware. SoftRIP is a software-based RIP solution designed to run on your company’s print server, although you could run it on a standalone server if you desired. Are they right? We’ll see where the industry goes.

Onyx Postershop/Thrive/RIPCenter Onyx software is usually run on a dedicated server, but like Wasatch, does not come with its own dedicated hardware. Onyx has a series of products that are designed for high end print shops. You rarely see Onyx applications in a regular office – Onyx is used by dedicated print professionals who need big, beautiful prints quickly. A lot of full color retail signage you see in stores and restaurants is printed through an Onyx system.

There are many more RIP solutions out there. Which one do you prefer, and why? Add your responses to the comments below.