Farewell “Harlequin Host Renderer”, hello “Harlequin Core”

We’ve now been shipping the Harlequin Host Renderer™ (HHR) to OEMs and partners for over a decade, driving digital printers and presses. Back then Harlequin was our only substantial software component for use in digital front ends (DFEs), and we just came up with a name that seemed to describe what it did.

Since then our technology set includes a component that can be used upstream of the RIP, for creating, modifying, analyzing, visualizing, etc page description languages like PDF: that’s Mako™. And we’ve also added a high-performance halftone screening engine: ScreenPro™.

We’ve positioned these components as a “Core” range and their names reflect this: “Mako Core” and “ScreenPro Core”. We also added higher level components in our Direct™ range, for printer OEMs who don’t want to dig into the complexities of system engineering, or who want to get to market faster.

Harlequin is already part of Harlequin Direct™, and we’re now amending the name of the SDK to bring it into line with our other “Core” component technologies. The diagram below shows how those various offerings fit together for a wide range of digital printer and press vendors (please click on it for a better view).

So, farewell “Harlequin Host Renderer”, hello “Harlequin Core”.

Global Graphics Software product entry point diagram

Further reading:

1. What is a Raster Image Processor (RIP)

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AI – Man vs Machine – a new way of thinking?

When drupa opened its virtual doors this year, Eric Worrall, Global Graphics Software’s VP of products and services, joined industry colleagues from the SAS-Institute, Zaikio GmbH and Print Business Media and took part in one of the live sessions: a discussion about how man adapts to the world where machines can make decisions faster and with more precision than man can, and what print companies need to understand and do to prepare for the upheaval.

Do we need a new way to think about what printers do?

Watch it here:

To find out more about the smart factory and the smart digital front end, visit our website.

Further reading:

Connecting print to the smart factory

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Ditch the disk: a new generation of RIPs to drive your digital press

Vast amounts of data can slow down your digital press resulting in wasted product or delayed delivery times.
Vast amounts of data can slow down your digital press resulting in wasted product or delayed delivery times.

In this post, Global Graphics Software’s product manager for Mako, David Stevenson, explores the challenge of printing large amounts of raster data and the options available to ensure that data doesn’t slow down your digital press:

The print market is increasingly moving to digital: digital printing offers many advantages over conventional printing, the most valuable of these is mass-produced, personalized output making every copy of the print different. At the same time  digital presses are getting faster, wider, and printing at higher resolutions with extended gamut color becoming common place.

To drive the new class of digital presses, you need vast amounts of raster data every second. Traditional print software designed for non-digital workflows attempts to handle this vast amount of data by RIPping ahead, storing rasters to physical disks. However, the rate at which data is needed for the digital press causes disk-based workflows to rapidly hit the data rate boundary. This is the point where even state-of-the-art storage devices are simply too small and slow for the huge data rates required to keep the press running at full rated speed.

This is leading to a new generation of RIPs that ditch the disk and RIP print jobs on the fly directly to the press electronics. As well as driving much higher data rates, it also has the benefit of no wasted time RIPping ahead.

As you can imagine, RIPping directly to the press electronics presents some engineering challenges. For example, two print jobs may look identical before and after printing, but the way in which they have been made can cause them to RIP at very different rates. Additionally, your RIP of choice can have optimizations that make jobs constructed in certain ways to RIP faster or slower. This variability in print job and RIP time is a bit like playing a game of Russian roulette: if you lose the press will be starved of data causing wasted product or delivery delays.

With a RIP driving your press directly you need to have confidence that all jobs submitted can be printed at full speed. That means you need the performance of each print job and page to be predictable and you need to know what speed the press can be run at for a given combination of print Job, RIP and PC.

Knowing this, you may choose to slow down the press so that your RIP can keep up. Better still, keep the press running at full speed by streamlining the job with knowledge of optimizations that work well with your choice of RIP.

Or you could choose to return the print job to the generator with a report explaining what is causing it to run slowly. Armed with this information, the generator can rebuild the job, optimized for your chosen RIP.

Whatever you choose, you will need predictable print jobs to drive your press at the highest speed to maximize your digital press’s productivity.

If you want to know more about the kind of job objects and structure that can slow RIPs down, and the challenge of producing predictable jobs, download this guide: Full Speed Ahead – how to make variable data PDF files that won’t slow your digital press.

You can also find out more about software to optimize both PDFs and non-PDFs for your digital press by visiting our website.

Further reading:

Is your printer software up to the job? The impact of rising data rates on software evolved from traditional print processes 

Future-proofing your digital press to cope with rising data rates

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Connecting print to the Smart Factory

This week WhatTheyThink launched its 2021 Technology Outlook – a resource guide designed for you to quickly learn about new innovations from industry analysts and thought leaders. It includes five technology focus areas: digital printing, labels & packaging, software & workflow, wide format & signage and textiles & apparel, and finishing.

As part of the software & workflow technology focus, David Zwang of WhatTheyThink chatted to our VP of products and services, Eric Worrall, about digital front ends (DFEs), the elements that comprise a DFE, and the recent launch of Global Graphics’ SmartDFE™, a complete single-source software and electronics stack that does everything from job creation through to printhead electronics, and a vital component in the smart factory of the future. Smart factories are designed to autonomously run the entire production process and this will include the print subsystems.

Watch it here:

Global Graphics Software's Eric Worrall talking about Smart DFEs
Global Graphics Software’s Eric Worrall talking about Smart DFEs

To find out more about the smart factory and the smart digital front end, visit our website.

 

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Compliance, compatibility, and why some tools are more forgiving of bad PDFs

Compliant and compatible PDF documents and the Harlequin RIP

We added support for native processing of PDF files to the Harlequin RIP® way back in 1997. When we started working on that support we somewhat naïvely assumed that we should implement the written specification and that all would be well. But it was obvious from the very first tests that we performed that we would need to do something a bit more intelligent because a large proportion of PDF files that had been supplied as suitable for production printing did not actually comply with the specification.

Launching a product that would reject many PDF files that could be accepted by other RIPs would be commercial suicide. The fact that, at the time, those other RIPs needed the PDF to be transformed into PostScript first didn’t change the business case.

Unfortunately a lot of PDF files are still being made that don’t comply with the standard, so over the almost a quarter of a century since first launching PDF support we’ve developed our own rules around what Harlequin should do with non-compliant files, and invested many decades of effort in test and development to accept non-compliant files from major applications.

The first rule that we put in place is that Harlequin is not a validation tool. A Harlequin RIP user will have PDF files to be printed, and Harlequin should render those files as long as we can have a high level of confidence that the pages will be rendered as expected.

In other words, we treat both compliance with the PDF standard and compatibility with major PDF creation tools as equally important … and supporting Harlequin RIP users in running profitable businesses as even more so!

The second rule is that silently rendering something incorrectly can be very bad, increasing costs if a reprint is required and causing a print buyer/brand to lose faith in a print service provider/converter. So Harlequin is written to require a reasonably high level of confidence that it can render the file as expected. If a developer opening up the internals of a PDF file couldn’t be sure how it was intended to be rendered then Harlequin should not be rendering it.

We’d expect most other vendors of PDF readers to apply similar logic in their products, and the evidence we’ve seen supports that expectation. The differences between how each product treats invalid PDF are the result of differences in the primary goal of each product, and therefore to the cost of output that is viewed as incorrect.

Consider a PDF viewer for general office or home use, running on a mobile device or PC. The business case for that viewer implies that the most important thing it has to do is to show as much of the information from a PDF file as possible, preferably without worrying the user with warnings or errors. It’s not usually going to be hugely important or costly if the formatting is slightly wrong. You could think of this as being at the opposite end of the scale from a RIP for production printing. In other words, the required level of confidence in accurately rendering the appearance of the page is much lower for the on-screen viewer.

You may have noticed that my description of a viewer could easily be applied to Adobe Reader or Acrobat Pro. Acrobat is also not written primarily as a validation tool, and it’s definitely not appropriate to assume that a PDF file complies with the standard just because it opens in Acrobat. Remember the Acrobat business case, and imagine what the average office user’s response would be if it would not open a significant proportion of PDF files because it flagged them as invalid!

For further reading about PDF documents and standards:

  1. Full Speed Ahead: How to make variable data PDF files that won’t slow your digital press
  2. PDF Processing Steps – the next evolution in handling technical marks

About the author

Martin Bailey, CTO, Global Graphics Software

 

 

 

Martin Bailey, Distinguished Technologist, Global Graphics Software, is currently the primary UK expert to the ISO committees maintaining and developing PDF and PDF/VT and is the author of Full Speed Ahead: how to make variable data PDF files that won’t slow your digital press, a new guide offering advice to anyone with  a stake in variable data printing including graphic designers, print buyers, composition developers and users.

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The Print Report with Deborah Corn and Pat McGrew

Martin Bailey, distinguished technologist at Global Graphics Software, joins hosts Deborah Corn and Pat McGrew in this special episode of The Print Report. Together they discuss the innovative methods used at Global Graphics to solve complex and common printing problems using software.

Martin highlights the award-winning PrintFlat™ technology, which gives smooth, uniform tints and accurate tone reproduction via a simple ‘fingerprint’ calibration of the screening process, and the value of creating optmized PDF files so they don’t slow down your digital press and disrupt the production process.

Tune in here:

The Print Report with Deborah Corn and Pat McGrew

 

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Using the Mako Core SDK to modify documents in Microsoft’s Universal Print

Over the past year, Microsoft has been working hard to bring its new Cloud printing service, Universal Print, to general availability.

As a part of Universal Print, developers get access to a set of Graph APIs that allows analysis and modification of print job payload data. This feature enables a few different scenarios, including adding security (e.g. redactions or watermarks) to a Universal Print-based workflow.

As a curious engineer, I wanted to see how different it would be for an independent software vendor (ISV) to use our Mako™ Core SDK to modify a print job flowing through Universal Print, instead of using a more traditional route of using a virtual printer driver.

Thinking about the workflow a little more, I came up with the following design:

Using the Mako SDK to modify documents in Universal Print.
Using the Mako SDK to modify documents in Universal Print.

In the design above, we can see the end-user’s Word document gets printed to a virtual printer. This allows the ISV to be notified of the job, and modify it accordingly using Mako. Once modified, the ISV then redirects the job on to the physical printer for printing.

There’s a couple of nice things about this design:

Firstly, it uses the Graph API to access Universal Print, which is an easy-to-use and well documented REST API. Secondly, since the functionality is accessed via a REST API, it allows our ISV service to be written in whichever Mako supported language we like.

I chose C# to make best use of the C# Graph API SDK.

Developing the service

There are five main steps to developing the service:

  1. Handle print job notifications
  2. Download the print job payload
  3. Modify the payload
  4. Upload the payload
  5. Redirect to the target printer

Handle print job notifications

To be notified of print jobs in Universal print, you can use the Graph’s change notifications. These will allow you to sign up to a notification, which will call a provided webhook.

Download the print job payload

Once we have notification that a print job has been sent to our virtual printer, we can start downloading its payload.

Here we use the appropriate Graph APIs, along with standard Graph authentication to access the print job’s document. We then simply save it to disk.

Modify the payload

Once we have the document on disk (although Mako can also modify streams too!), we can open the document and modify it using Mako’s document object model (DOM).

Alternatively, Mako can also convert from one page description language (PDL) to another. This is useful in situations where your destination printer doesn’t support the input PDL.

Upload the payload

Uploading the modified document is straightforward. This time we use the Graph API to create an upload session, and use the WebClient class to put the document back into the original print job.

Redirect to the target printer

And finally, after the print job has been updated, we can redirect it onto another printer. This redirection also automatically completes the print job and task.

Alternatively, if we want to be a little more green, we could always send the document to OneDrive, Sharepoint, or another document management system. After doing so, you then complete the print job and its associated task.

See it in action

We actually coded this demo live in our last Mako webinar, showing an implementation where an ISV wants to automatically redact content.

Access the code directly at our GitHub repository or watch the webinar recording below:

Try it out

We’re keen to talk to you about your Universal Print project and see how we can help. Contact us here.

For more information about Mako, visit globalgraphics.com/mako.

About the author

Andy Cardy, Principal Engineer at Global Graphics Software
Andy Cardy, Principal Engineer at Global Graphics Software

Further reading:

  1. Carry out complex tasks for your print workflow easily with Mako
  2. Improving PDF accessibility with Structure Tagging

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Compensating for blocked or deviated nozzles

As digital presses become wider and higher resolution, supporting additional inks beyond CMYK, the total number of nozzles required per press increases, which in turn raises the likelihood of at least one of those nozzles failing to jet or becoming deviated (and needing to be disabled). Each nozzle that is out will result in a lack of ink where it should have been in a straight line along the direction of print.

One obvious response would be to fix the problematic nozzles, when they have been detected, but this kind of physical intervention interrupts production and can be impractical. Replacing the affected printhead altogether is another possibility, but again this will have an unwelcome financial impact.

Our sister company, Meteor Inkjet, offers NozzleFix™, an embedded software/hardware solution to compensate for missing nozzles.  But for digital printing equipment which does not incorporate Meteor printhead electronics, software compensation may also be beneficial.  In this post, we will look at a software-based approach where good working nozzles can compensate for any misbehaving neighbors as required.

Nozzle-Out compensation in software

As the word “compensation” suggests, this solution works by telling certain nozzles to jet more ink than they otherwise would have to make up for a deficit caused by nozzles that were not jetting or had to be turned off because they had deviated.

For one-drop screening, this could mean that whenever a drop should have been output by a nozzle that’s out, a nozzle on either side could be asked to jet that drop instead. An alternative to this, which can accommodate any drop size, is to apply compensation before screening, working with intensities rather than drops.

Here’s how it works: when a nozzle is off, the intensity for each pixel associated with that nozzle is used to boost the intensity of neighboring pixels, which are then screened as normal.

This is best understood by way of an example. Consider an 8-bit continuous tone input TIFF™ which has the value 160 for every pixel. If we are using one neighbor on either side of a pixel to compensate, we will add 80 to their intensity before screening. If we are using two neighbors on each side, we would add 40.

The greatly zoomed-in images above illustrate the results after 3-drop screening for this example: the left image has one nozzle out and no compensation; the middle image shows compensation with one neighbor either side; the right image shows the use of two neighbors on each side.

Of course, the impact is best judged from the actual prints, where the combination of high resolution and ink results in an impressive optical illusion!

Image shows nozzles out and then a compensated version

 

The scans above were printed at 1200dpi. The image on the left simulates a number of missing nozzles, which can be seen by the presence of thin horizontal white lines (you may need to enlarge it for the full effect). The image on the right shows the impact of applying compensation to each nozzle neighboring a missing nozzle.

Rapid response and adjustment

A key benefit of this software-based approach is that a rapid response and adjustment can happen as soon as a problematic nozzle is detected. There is no need to wait for engineer and parts availability. Additionally, there is no trade-off to make between taking costly action each time a problematic nozzle presents itself or having a tolerance or threshold where nothing is done until a certain number of quality issues have accumulated.

Learn more about the technologies available to improve the quality of your inkjet output by visiting our website.

About the author

Ian Bolton, Product Manager, Direct
Ian Bolton, Product Manager – Direct

Ian has over 15 years’ experience in industry as a software engineer focusing on high performance. With a passion for problem-solving, Ian’s role as product manager for the Direct range gives him the opportunity to work with printer OEMs and break down any new technology barriers that may be preventing them from reaching their digital printer’s full potential.

Further reading:

  1. What causes banding in inkjet? (And the smart software solution to fix it.)
  2. Streaks and Banding: Measuring macro uniformity in the context of optimization processes for inkjet printing

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Live coding with Mako Core

Last week, my colleague David Stevenson and I ignored all common sense and ran a live coding demo using Mako™. What could have gone wrong!?

Mako is a software development kit that can be used to add a variety of functions into software products, which is why it’s often referred to as the software engineer’s Swiss Army knife.

During the demo we showed how to use Mako to modernize your print infrastructure in three simple ways:

Firstly, we looked at modernization through library consolidation and showed how you can operate on multiple PDLs including PDF, PCL, PostScript® and XPS, all using a single Mako SDK library. We then looked at adopting automated workflows with Mako and demonstrated how to analyze and redact text automatically in a PDF, using Mako’s layout analysis and text search capabilities. Finally, we showed how you can make the most of print infrastructure-as-a-service by integrating Mako with Microsoft’s Universal Print, including modifying and redirecting print jobs.

Thankfully, nothing did go wrong and if you missed it, don’t worry. We recorded everything and you can watch the recording on demand here:

Also, feel free to watch some of our other past webinars on our YouTube channel to find out more about the Mako SDK.

For more information about Mako, visit globalgraphics.com/mako

Further reading

  1. Carry out complex tasks for your print workflow easily with Mako
  2. Improving PDF accessibility with Structure Tagging

About the author

Andy Cardy, Principal Engineer at Global Graphics Software
Andy Cardy, Principal Engineer at Global Graphics Software

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The Digimarc interview: Fast, efficient print production with variable data printing

The impact of poorly constructed PDF files on production schedules has increased as press resolution, colorant count, speed, and width rise – greatly increasing the data rate required to drive them.

This increase in data places additional demands on the processing power of the DFE and risks slowing down the digital press: a delay of half a second on every page of a 10,000-page job adds 90 minutes to the whole job, while for a job of a million pages an extra tenth of a second per page adds 24 hours to the total processing time.

In his guide: Full Speed Ahead – How to make variable data PDF files that won’t slow your digital press, Martin Bailey, distinguished technologist at Global Graphics Software, gives some technical recommendations as to how you can make sure that you don’t make a PDF file for a variable data job that will bring a digital press to its knees. It provides objective information for graphic designers, print buyers, production managers, press operators, owners of PSPs, and developers of digital presses and composition tools.

Martin has just released a second edition of the guide and in this film he talks about the updates to Digimarc‘s marketing communications manager, Rob Fay. Digimarc provides additional functionality to Global Graphics’ software platforms and is a sponsor of the guide.

Topics in the interview include:

  • The guide’s purpose and target audiences
  • Background on updates related to the standards PDF/X-6 and PDF/VT-3
  • Differences in the various VDP applications: traceability; trackability; and personalization
  • Recent improvements in DFE (digital front end) technology that are enabling more advanced VDP

Martin Bailey, CTO, Global Graphics Software, and Rob Fay of Digimarc

WATCH THE INTERVIEW HERE

DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE HERE

Further reading:

  1. What’s the best effective photographic image resolution for your variable data print jobs?
  2. Why does optimization of VDP jobs matter?

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