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  • Leave the Nest...To Software

    Leave the Nest...To Software

    By Richard Romano, Industry Analyst

    For many years, the wide-format graphics conversation centered predominantly on the printing equipment, and usually for good reason, as it is the most expensive and conspicuous part of the production process. Occasionally, finishing capabilities were added into the mix, but one piece of the production puzzle that routinely got short shrift was the front end, aka the RIP.

    Time was, a raster image processor (RIP) didn’t do much else than turn PostScript data into printable dots, but the trend today, especially in wide-format printing, is for RIPs to become control centers for the entire workflow. As a result, the front end is being called on to perform more tasks, Color management is the traditional advanced function of the front end, but it has become common for “RIPs” (if we even want to call them that anymore) to have plug-ins or modules that add features for specific end-use applications, like vehicle graphics or textile printing.

    It’s all about improving productivity and speed. The more tasks that can be automated in the front end, the faster the job moves through the workflow, the fewer human hands are needed, the fewer skilled human hands are needed, and the less likelihood for error.

    One important feature that is making its way into wide-format front ends is “nesting optimization.” That sounds like it’s for the birds, but nesting optimization is especially important when preparing wide-format output. Here’s why. Say you’re printing a number of images that are all destined for the same substrate. They can be multiple copies of the same image, or they can be different images; they could even be different jobs. Substrates used in wide-format printing can be expensive, so the goal is to squeeze—or gang, to use the traditional term—as many images on a page or board as possible, so you can use fewer boards. It’s basically a kind of imposition. Not only is this economical, but it’s also faster.

    The process of orienting all the images so as to fit as many as possible on a single board is called nesting optimization, and the way this has traditionally been done has been to manually move the images around in a program like Adobe Illustrator, then save a new production PDF that will be used for printing. As you can imagine, that can be laborious and time-consuming. Enter advanced shape nesting—and the new Nesting Optimization Engine for Ultimate TechnoGraphics’ Impostrip suite of automated imposition software.

    Nesting optimization tools are appearing in more and more front ends, but many still require some level of human intervention to develop different “nesting plans” and manually tweak nested images. Square or rectangular shapes are pretty straightforward to orient on a sheet or board, but circles, ovals, triangles, and irregular shapes like fish or guitars—or birds—present more problems for optimal nesting. So the goal of the Nesting Optimization Engine is to automatically generate “smart nests” (I guess you’d call them) without that manual intervention.

    Impostrip’s Nesting Optimization Engine connects to the production workflow and when it receives print files, it analyzes them, automatically places regular and irregular shapes in the most optimal way, then generates print-ready PDF files. The analysis can also take into account cutting requirements. For example, shapes that will be contour cut can be nested differently and perhaps even more optimally than those that will be “square” cut. Think about triangles. If a bunch of triangular images are going to be contour cut, they can be nested more closely than if they’re going to be cut out using a basic x-y cutter that can only move in two directions.

    The print file may also need to include logistical information like printers’ marks, barcodes, registration points to guide the cutter, and more. Part of the imposition process is placing these marks on the substrate in an optimal way, as well.

    The Impostrip Nesting Optimization Engine is available as an add-on module to Impostrip Automation and Impostrip Scalable. Impostrip, by the way, launched in 1989, was the first electronic imposition solution, and over the past 27 years has had even more features and functionality incorporated into it—becoming a key component of those versatile front ends that are more and more essential for maximizing a shop’s productivity. The Nesting Optimization Engine is Ultimate’s first product targeted toward the dynamic and fast-growing wide-format and specialty graphics printing market.

    “Nesting Optimization is about automatically laying out files which may have different shapes and sizes such as labels, displays or boxes and preparing press-ready files on-the-fly, allowing print service providers to produce more, better and faster,” said Julie Watson, Executive Vice-President at Ultimate TechnoGraphics. “Impostrip can be integrated into a new or an existing workflow providing the flexibility to run as a black box in full automation mode.”

    The Impostrip Nesting Optimization Engine is being officially launched at Drupa. More information an be found at www.imposition.com.


    • David Milisock
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      David Milisock commented
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      Did you recently write this?

    • prwhite
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      prwhite commented
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      Yes, Richard Romano just wrote this.
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