Select the right RIP software for digital textile printing.
By Dean Derhak
You think that the time has come to make the jump into digital textile printing. Whether you’re a current digital print service provider or a traditional textile printer, you’re looking for a way to expand your business. At the same time, you want to keep up with customer needs while effectively producing samples and short-run jobs that are as consistent as possible with traditional textile production processes.
When considering digital textile printing, you will no doubt research the printer and its capabilities, types of digital fabrics and the ink to ensure they meet your business requirements. However, the one piece often overlooked in the decision-making process is the RIP (raster image processor) software. Choosing the right RIP can either enable or hinder your ability to be productive and succeed in digital textile printing.
A current trend is the packaging of “complete integrated solutions” by resellers that includes the printer, ink and RIP software. While making it easy to get your foot in the digital door, these “one size fits all” packages can limit your choices and business growth potential. The RIP software provided in these packages is often feature-limited and, in most cases, works with only one or a very limited number of printers. An “open system” gives you the ability to pick the best possible solution for your business needs.
The quality of the RIP software directly determines the quality of the output. The RIP is an important link between the creative design content (vector art or raster image) files and your printer. The RIP provides the means of taking multiple content types, processing them for a specific print environment, and communicating that processed data to the printer for final output. A RIP determines the color, screen pattern and resolution of the output.
Picking the right RIP software
So how do you select the right RIP software for your digital textile workflow? Start with the company offering the product. The software vendor should understand your business and application challenges, help you maintain or increase your profitability, and help you differentiate your business from the competition.
What about features and functions? The correct features will save you time, minimize errors and reduce a significant amount of waste. There are several questions to ask and items to investigate before making a purchase, such as ease of use, expertise in color management and understanding workflow needs.
There are many RIP software packages currently available, and several are very similar in feature and function. Typically RIP software has been designed for paper-based digital printing. To accommodate digital textile printing, some software vendors have added one or two required tools and called it a digital textile RIP.
The right RIP should be designed with textile printing in mind. Is the product easy to use even for complicated tasks? How easy is it to set up custom print scenarios with specialized inks and get the colors to print in the correct order? How about controlling the volume and transition of each ink channel so that you get proper saturation, while maintaining high quality output? Can you define accurate screens to avoid moiré, which can be difficult on some fabrics? You should also make sure that the tools you use on an every day basis are always available or easy to find.
Each type of fabric presents unique challenges, specifically concerning color. By understanding what colors are possible with a given ink and fabric combination, you can begin to set the correct expectations for your customers. The RIP software should feature intuitive tools for color correction, including the ability to reliably match custom or named spot colors. You will also need powerful color control tools for calibrating and creating color profiles (ICC profiles), which enable you to maximize the color gamut of your inks. Media calibration is a critical step in ensuring consistent output. Make sure you have the right calibration tools (a densitometer or spectrophotometer) and software tools and that you can perform a calibration at any time. This will ensure reliable color reproduction, save time in the long run and reduce waste due to multiple reprints. Investing in RIP software that has the right color management tools and a history of consistent, exceptional color will pay dividends in your final output.
You should look for RIP software that supports the creative design process and cuts down on turnaround times. Can the software handle multiple file types? Will it enable you to fix simple errors in PostScript or PDF files without returning the original content to the designers or using other design applications? Can the RIP also compensate for sizing problems due to stretching or shrinkage of the fabric during processing?
Most RIP software packages will allow you to customize and configure settings for processing and preferences for best performance in your specific workflow. These are RIP-specific, and you should consult with your reseller about these settings. The RIP should also be able to grow with your business. It should support multiple printers and be scalable as the need presents itself. The RIP should get the most out of the printer you are using. It should be able to complement current workflow and work with existing systems, such as including the ability to proof digital separations created by other applications. The software should work on both PC and Macintosh platforms. If you use several different types of digital printers, consider standardizing on one RIP solution. Having a consistent workflow for all of your printers will increase productivity.
Before making your final choice, consider the issue of training and support. You should first look for a reseller that is certified on the printers and RIP software it is offering. Most resellers will handle the hardware and software installation and will be your first level of training and support. Post-installation, check into what support options are available from the RIP software vendor. Does the vendor offer a web site with 24/7 access to a knowledge base that is regularly updated? Does it offer the ability to log issues or questions? Does the vendor maintain a call center? What is the process for obtaining quality support?
Once you’ve chosen your RIP software and have been using it for a while, you should look at ways to optimize it for increased productivity. First and foremost, it is critical to keep software and hardware up to date. Processing of content files is very system-intensive. It requires free hard drive space and lots of memory. Check it often, and upgrade as necessary.
Opportunities in digital textile printing
Printer and ink technology have been growing in leaps and bounds. Production speeds are higher and color possibilities have grown. These advancements have made the adaptation of digital printing much more appealing. Recent releases of RIP software have been focused on support for new devices and new operating systems. There have been improvements in color management allowing for a bigger color gamut and better accuracy. Digital textile printing is a growing market with lots of potential. With the right tools, you can be successful in this burgeoning market.