How do I choose the right PC specification for my digital press workflow?

When planning the implementation of your first or next digital press, the PC specification you choose to run your software workflow will play an important part in the data rates you will be able to achieve. Assuming you are not bottlenecked by disk drive performance due to requiring intermediate disk accesses, you can generally expect data rates to rise with the computational power of your PC.

It might therefore make sense to review the PassMark scores for a range of CPUs within your budget and make your choice based on that, but this alone won’t be enough to tell you whether you’ll be able to drive your printer at full rated speed. Similarly, you may already have an existing PC system in mind but need to know if it will be powerful enough for your new requirements.

Ideally, you could set up an evaluation system to run some typical print jobs to get a definitive answer, but this could be costly and labor-intensive, especially if this is your first digital press.

It’s for this reason we created Direct Benchmark™: an analysis tool that exercises Harlequin Direct™, our ultra-high data rate RIPping and screening solution, with your choice of press configuration and print jobs, stepping through a tuning cycle to obtain a series of data rates and line speeds that can be achieved.

There are two main ways Direct Benchmark can help you: firstly, if you have an existing PC system to run on, you can install Direct Benchmark and gather your own results; secondly, you could base your decision on a database of Direct Benchmark results we are gathering here at Global Graphics Software from running a variety of jobs on a range of PC specifications.

Running Direct Benchmark yourself

Whilst a real Harlequin Direct system would be connected to printhead electronics and driving your press directly, the Harlequin Direct invoked by Direct Benchmark doesn’t require this connection. This makes it very quick and easy to install and start gathering performance numbers. The screenshot below shows the settings you can use to reflect your printer configuration and define the print jobs to benchmark.

During benchmarking, you will be presented with a screen showing statistics for each run and a real-time graph of data rate at the bottom, and then you will be able to export the results at the end. If you would like to see Direct Benchmark in action, you can view a short demo here:

Using the Direct Benchmark database

If you aren’t in a position to run Direct Benchmark yourself, we are in the process of gathering results for a range of press configurations and print jobs, running on a variety of PC hardware specifications. This is being conducted in conjunction with Proactive Technologies, who are providing access to some of the machines we’re using. Whilst it is too early to draw any conclusions or share our results at this stage, if you have some typical print jobs and a press configuration in mind, please get in touch with me, ian.bolton@globalgraphics.com, because we may be able to generate the results for you.

For more information about Direct, please visit globalgraphics.com/direct

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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.

 

Why does optimization of VDP jobs matter?

Would you fill your brand-new Ferrari with cheap and inferior fuel? It’s a question posed by Martin Bailey in his new guide: ‘Full Speed Ahead – how to make variable data PDF files that won’t slow your digital press’. It’s an analogy he uses to explain the importance of putting well-constructed PDF files through your DFE so that they don’t disrupt the printing process and the DFE runs as efficiently as possible. 

Here are Martin’s recommendations to help you avoid making jobs that delay the printing process, so you can be assured that you’ll meet your print deadline reliably and achieve your printing goals effectively:

If you’re printing work that doesn’t make use of variable data on a digital press, you’re probably producing short runs. If you weren’t, you’d be more likely to choose an offset or flexo press instead. But “short runs” very rarely means a single copy.

Let’s assume that you’re printing, for example, 50 copies of a series of booklets, or of an imposed form of labels. In this case the DFE on your digital press only needs to RIP each PDF page once.

To continue the example, let’s assume that you’re printing on a press that can produce 100 pages per minute (or the equivalent area for labels etc.). If all your jobs are 50 copies long, you therefore need to RIP jobs at only two pages per minute (100ppm/50 copies). Once a job is fully RIPped and the copies are running on press you have plenty of time to get the next job prepared before the current one clears the press.

But VDP jobs place additional demands on the processing power available in a DFE because most pages are different to every other page and must therefore each be RIPped separately. If you’re printing at 100 pages per minute the DFE must RIP at 100 pages per minute; fifty times faster than it needed to process for fifty copies of a static job.

Each minor inefficiency in a VDP job will often only add between a few milliseconds and a second or two to the processing of each page, but those times need to be multiplied up by the number of pages in the job. An individual delay of half a second on every page of a 10,000-page job adds up to around an hour and a half for the whole job. For a really big job of a million pages it only takes an extra tenth of a second per page to add 24 hours to the total processing time.

If you’re printing at 120ppm the DFE must process each page in an average of half a second or less to keep up with the press. The fastest continuous feed inkjet presses at the time of writing are capable of printing an area equivalent to over 13,000 pages per minute, which means each page must be processed in just over 4ms. It doesn’t take much of a slow-down to start impacting throughput.

If you’re involved in this kind of calculation you may find the digital press data rate calculator useful: Download the data rate calculator

Global Graphics Software’s digital press data rate calculator.
Global Graphics Software’s digital press data rate calculator.

This extra load has led DFE builders to develop a variety of optimizations. Most of these work by reducing the amount of data that must be RIPped. But even with those optimizations a complex VDP job typically requires significantly more processing power than a ‘static’ job where every copy is the same.

The amount of processing required to prepare a PDF file for print in a DFE can vary hugely without affecting the visual appearance of the printed result, depending on how it is constructed.

Poorly constructed PDF files can therefore impact a print service provider in one or both of two ways:

  • Output is not achieved at engine speed, reducing return on investment (ROI) because fewer jobs can be produced per shift. In extreme cases when printing on a continuous feed (web-fed) press a failure to deliver rasters for printing fast enough can also lead to media wastage and may confuse in-line or near-line finishing.
  • In order to compensate for jobs that take longer to process in the DFE, press vendors often provide more hardware to expand the processing capability, increasing the bill of materials, and therefore the capital cost of the DFE.

Once the press is installed and running the production manager will usually calculate and tune their understanding of how many jobs of what type can be printed in a shift. Customer services representatives work to ensure that customer expectations are set appropriately, and the company falls into a regular pattern. Most jobs are quoted on an acceptable turn-round time and delivered on schedule.

Depending on how many presses the print site has, and how they are connected to one or more DFEs this may lead to a press sitting idle, waiting for pages to print. It may also delay other jobs in the queue or mean that they must be moved to a different press. Moving jobs at the last minute may not be easy if the presses available are not identical. Different presses may require different print streams or imposition and there may be limitations on stock availability, etc.

Many jobs have tight deadlines on delivery schedules; they may need to be ready for a specific time, with penalties for late delivery, or the potential for reduced return for the marketing department behind a direct mail campaign. Brand owners may be ordering labels or cartons on a just in time (JIT) plan, and there may be consequences for late delivery ranging from an annoyed customer to penalty clauses being invoked.

Those problems for the print service provider percolate upstream to brand owners and other groups commissioning digital print. Producing an inefficiently constructed PDF file will increase the risk that your job will not be delivered by the expected time.

You shouldn’t take these recommendations as suggesting that the DFE on any press is inadequate. Think of it as the equivalent of a suggestion that you should not fill your brand-new Ferrari with cheap and inferior fuel!

 

Full Speed Ahead: how to make variable data PDF files that won't slow your digital press edited by Global Graphics Software

The above is an excerpt from Full Speed Ahead: how to make variable data PDF files that won’t slow your digital press. The guide is designed to help you avoid making jobs that disrupt and delay the printing process, increasing the probability of everyone involved in delivering the printed piece; hitting their deadlines reliably and achieving their goals effectively.

DOWNLOAD THE FREE FULL GUIDE HERE: https://bit.ly/fsa-pdf

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About the author:

Martin Bailey, CTO, Global Graphics Software
Martin Bailey, CTO, Global Graphics Software

Martin Bailey first joined what has now become Global Graphics Software in the early nineties, and has worked in customer support, development and product management for the Harlequin RIP as well as becoming the company’s Chief Technology Officer. During that time he’s also been actively involved in a number of print-related standards activities, including chairing CIP4, CGATS and the ISO PDF/X committee. He’s currently the primary UK expert to the ISO committees maintaining and developing PDF and PDF/VT.

 

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

When we hear the phrase “big data”, we’re meant to think of extremely large data sets that are too complex to process in traditional ways. But, in the context of the next generation of digital presses, you’d be forgiven for thinking it refers to the ultra-high data rates required to drive them.

For example, consider a typical narrow-web label press: 13 inches (330mm) wide, 4 colors, 600x600dpi, running at 230 fpm (70m/min). This requires 0.9 GB/s of raster data to drive it at its rated speed.

Assuming next year’s press adds three more colors (Orange, Green and White) and is upgraded to 1200x1200dpi and expected to run a little faster at 330 fpm (100m/min), the required data rate will jump to 8.6 GB/s: almost a factor of ten increase!

Already this is a data rate far in excess of what the fastest solid-state drives can manage, so what hope is there for a traditional disk-based workflow when moving to 20 inches wide, duplex or 200m/min? Clearly, any part of the workflow involving a disk drive is going to become a bottleneck.

Ditch the disk with Direct
Ditch the disk. Rather than write intermediate raster files to disk between RIPping and screening, or between screening and the printhead electronics, everything takes place in memory.

This was one of the reasons behind the creation of Direct™, the integrated software pipeline we announced at the end of April. Rather than write intermediate raster files to disk between RIPping and screening, or between screening and the printhead electronics, everything takes place in memory.

There’s more to future-proofing your press than eliminating comparatively slow disk accesses, however. You’ll need a system that’s scalable and built from the fastest components, which is why Harlequin Direct™ is composed from a configurable number of Harlequin Host Renderer™ and ScreenPro™ instances working in parallel to make the best of the most powerful desktop PCs available.

When it comes to adding new colors or supporting duplex, the scalability extends to multiple Harlequin Directs across multiple PCs, one per print bar.

When it comes to adding new colors or supporting duplex, the scalability extends to multiple Harlequin Directs across multiple PCs, one per printbar.

An added advantage of this approach is that each printbar need not use the same resolution or drop-count etc. For example, you might wish to use a lower resolution and disable color management for white or varnish. Our Press Operator Controller user interface is supplied to manage your configuration, along with submitting and controlling your print jobs.

Our Press Operator Controller user interface is supplied to manage your configuration, along with submitting and controlling your print jobs.

The beauty of a software-only solution like Direct is that once you have built it into your workflow, you are free to upgrade your PCs over time for greater performance without any further software integration expense. A Direct-based system will evolve as your needs evolve, making it the ideal choice for future-proofing your next digital press.

For more information about Direct, please visit globalgraphics.com/direct.

To be the first to receive our blog posts, news updates and product news why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter? Subscribe here

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

About the author:
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.

Choosing the class of your raster image processor (RIP) – Part I

Part I: How to calculate data rates

If you’re in the process of choosing or building a digital front end for your press, you’ll need to consider how much RIPing power you need for the capabilities of the press and the kinds of jobs that will be run on it. The RIP converts text and image data from many file formats including PDF, TIFF™ or JPEG into a format that a printing device such as an inkjet printhead, toner marking engine or laser platesetter can understand. But how do you know what RIP is best for you and what solution can best deliver maximum throughout on your output device? This is the first of two posts by Global Graphics Software’s CTO, Martin Bailey, where he advises how to size a solution for a digital press using the data rate required on the output side.

Over the years at Global Graphics Software, we’ve found that the best guidance we can give to our OEM partners in sizing digital press systems based on our own solution, the Harlequin RIP®, comes from a relatively simple calculation of the data rate required on the output side. And now we’re making a tool to calculate those data rates available to you. All you need to do is to download it from the web and to open it in Excel.

Download it here:  Global_Graphics_Software_Press_data_rates

You will, of course, also need the specifications of the press(es) that you want to calculate data rates for.

You can use the spreadsheet to calculate data rates based on pages per minute, web speed, sheets or square meters per minute or per hour, or on head frequency. Which is most appropriate for you depends on which market sector you’re selling your press into and where your focus is on the technical aspects of the press.

It calculates the data rate for delivering unscreened 8 bits per pixel (contone) rasters. This has proven to be a better metric for estimating RIP requirements than taking the bit depth of halftoned raster delivery into account. In practice Harlequin will run at about the same speed for 8-bit contone and for 1-bit halftone output because the extra work of halftoning is offset by the reduced volume of raster data to move around. Multi-level halftones delivered in 2-bit or 4-bit rasters take a little bit longer, but not enough to need to be considered here.

You can also use the sheet-fed calculation for conventional print platesetters if you so desire. You might find it eye-opening to compare data rate requirements for an offset or flexo platesetter with those for a typical digital press!

Fortunately, the latest version of the Harlequin RIP offers a framework that can help you to meet all these requirements. It offers a complete scale of solutions from a single RIP through multiple RIPs on a single server, up to multiple RIPs across multiple servers.

In my next post I’ll share how the data rate number can be used to make a first approximation of which class of RIP integration you should be considering.

 

The above is an excerpt from our latest white paper: Scalable performance with the Harlequin RIP®. Download the white paper here