Let ‘er RIP

What you need to know about raster image processing

In desktop publishing, RIP — raster image processing [verb] or raster image processor [noun] — is the process and the means of turning vector digital information such as a PostScript file into a high-resolution raster image. That is, the RIP takes the digital information about fonts and graphics that describes the appearance of your file and translates it into an image composed of individual dots that the imaging device (such as your desktop printer or an imagesetter) can output.

Think of the RIP as a translator between you and your printer. You give it instructions in the language of your desktop publishing application and the RIP translates your instructions into the language of the printer. If your language is too complicated for the translator or it misunderstands your instructions the file doesn’t rip.

You may not have a RIP, instead relying on the printer driver to communicate between your application and your desktop printer.

In some cases, this works fine. But in keeping with our language translator analogy, it’s like using gestures and facial expressions to convey complex ideas — not very efficient and some thoughts are misunderstood. The RIP offers additional features and functions not found in your standard printer driver.

Who has the RIP?
The RIP comes in firmware, hardware, or software versions. Firmware RIP is built-in to the device, such as the PostScript RIP built-in to many desktop printers. The hardware RIP is a dedicated piece of hardware configured to process digital files. It often comes with specific types of devices, such as an imagesetter. The software RIP is an independent program that can work with many types of devices.

For basic desktop printing, your main concern is in having a PostScript capable printer if printing EPS graphics and the complex documents common in desktop publishing. Many laser printers come with PostScript Level 3 RIP. With inkjet printers, you purchase a separate software RIP solution to get PostScript unless you’re using the more expensive high-end inkjet or dye-sub proofers that come with PostScript RIP software or hardware.

Large design offices and print service providers use a fancy RIP. In some cases these RIP solutions perform additional functions alone or in conjunction with dedicated software including queuing print jobs, batch processing, imposition, trapping, color separations, and halftone screening. The RIP software may include additional preflight functions such as checking for missing fonts or graphics prior to RIPping.