One of the most fundamental problems in developing an inkjet press is how to get all the data needed to the printheads. Single pass printers in particular require an enormous amount of data, which increases exponentially with higher resolution printheads.
Global Graphics Direct graphics pipeline ensures that the RIP’ed elements are streamed to the printheads in the right order.
But expectations have gone up – with seven or more colours, wider presses from 330mm to a metre or more, and speeds up to 300 mpm all becoming more common. All of this depends on being able to feed even greater amounts of data to the printheads – even improving resolution from 600dpi to 1200dpi can quadruple the amount of data requird, which in turn creates a major bottleneck that can limit the running speed of the press. The obvious solution of course would be to chuck yet more expensive servers at this problem to handle all that data but that would push up the price of the press.
Global Graphics has opted to take a different approach. The company has historically suffered from the perception that Adobe-based RIPs are better than its Harlequin alternative, though I don’t believe this is the case. Global Graphics has sought to counter this by optimizing its software to operate more efficiently so as to offer press vendors a more cost-effective solution; it has an excellent record to draw on since its software drives many high end systems today from the likes of HP’s PageWide Inkjet Presses through to Durst’s label and wide format printers.
But Martin Bailey, Global Graphics’ chief technical officer, points out that large companies like HP have the resources to develop highly complex solutions, saying: “Tier 1 vendors historically did just that but now we are talking to people who don’t have the software teams to do that so it’s a big ask for them to build a highly efficient RIP.”
Thus the company’s latest proposal is to remove the disks from the servers so that the RIP’ed data is sent direct to the printheads. This has the dual advantage that it cuts out the time needed to write the data to the disk buffer and also takes out the need for expensive servers, which in turn should reduce the overall cost of each press. Jill Taylor, corporate communications director for Global Graphics, points out: “We know there is a demand for this because we are being asked for it.”
The company has developed a new graphics pipeline, called Direct, that it is offering to printer developers. This is made up of a number of pieces. PDFs can either be RIP’ed through the Harlequin Direct RIP, or they can be screened through ScreenPro Direct. Then a third element, Streamline Direct, optimises the different elements to ensure that the data stream arrives at the printheads with everything in the right order. This is crucial because in a standard system, where everything is first written to disk, the data can be called off in the right order but with this approach each individual printhead has to receive exactly the right data regardless of its place across the print width, or the colour, or whether its variable data, image or text, which is quite a complex task.
However, Eric Worrall, Global Graphics’ VP of product management, says that this is not down to any significant change in how that data is RIP’ed, noting: “We are just sending each page and the whole of that page data down to the press. We are optimising it where we can, so that where we cache certain static data and then send the variable data then we will use that but not all use cases allow that.”
Worral says that the technology grew out of the company‘s existing ScreenPro software, which I’ve already covered here. He explains: “The ScreenPro Direct is very straightforward. The data that comes in is contone so it’s the same data for every job and it doesn’t matter how complex that data is and we have been doing that for four or five years.” He adds: “The bit we shied away from was Harlequin because then we have to take any kind of PDF no matter how matter how complex and guarantee that we can keep up with the press.”
He says: “The data sent to the press is screened so it’s already reduced from the contone data that ScreenPro would need. Also the PC is close so what comes out the back of it is not going across the network cabling. Each section of the print bar is driven by one or two cables.” This also means that the server has to be physically located very close to the press.
Worrall points out that the Direct software is fully finished server software, rather than an SDK so that there’s very little further development required from a press vendor. That said, there is still a process to integrate it into the press. Bailey says that if a vendor already has the drive electronics for the printheads “then it’s largely plug and play, taking about 25 days to integrate into the pipeline”. That would allow a vendor to drive files through Harlequin to the printheads though Bailey estimates that it would take around eight weeks to have a fully functioning front end able to control the press, which is a remarkably short time frame in developing an inkjet press.
As such this fits in with Global Graphics strategy over the last few years – to use smart software to help inkjet press developers reduce their costs and to get to market quicker. You can find further information from globalgraphics.com.