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Printing multiple photosImageNest RIP review

Control your large format printer
- whatever make

The ImageNest RIP (V1.2 from Blue Cubit) is aimed at giving a usable interface to your large format printer.

Actually it works with any printer that your Mac can drive, such as our old Epson 1160.

  • Notes
    Dec 2011 - We will shortly have an update covering functionality in V3.5
    Apr 2010 an update to this review to cover the additonal functionality included in V2
    February 2012 - ImageNest V3.5 - Adds BPC, resampling to native printer resolution and sharpening to versatile print layout tool.

The ImageNest RIP

The software (V1.2) is only currently available for Apple Macs. We've tested it on a dual G5 PPC machine using OSX 10.4.11 (Tiger). It actually works even better under OSX 10.5 (Leopard), where the underlying print system is improved over OSX Tiger.

We tested the software on the following printers:

Epson 7880 (24") using the Epson driver (colour) | Epson 7880 (24") using the Epson driver (ABW) | Hewlett Packard z3200ps (24") using the HP driver | Epson 9600 (44") using the Epson driver | Epson 9600 (44") using QuadToneRIP | Epson 1160 A3+ printer with 3rd party inks

Quite a range...

Printing via a RIP?

With smaller printers, you typically print one image per sheet of paper. Even with our larger printers I'm often printing on individual sheets from A3+ to A1 size.

However, what if you want to use Roll Paper or print multiple images on a sheet?

Printing multiple photos

Using ImageNest 1.2 to print multiple images on an HP 24" z3200ps.

Existing printer drivers just don't offer much in the way of layout options, and setting up custom paper sizes for odd shaped prints is somewhat hit and miss, and prone to wasting paper.

In the past, image layout features have been a feature of expensive RIP (Raster Image Processor) software that also took over printer control from the manufacturers' printer drivers.

RIPs also were an important tool in getting better quality prints from your printer. Back in 2004 I got a copy of the ImagePrint RIP to drive my 9600, specifically for the quality of black and white printing it produces.

That was 2004, but printer manufacturers have put a lot of effort into improving the quality of prints from their supplied drivers. That and the sheer cost of updating some RIP software, means that our 7880 is driven using the Epson drivers (see out 7880 review for more information).

  • Note - Conventional RIPs definitely still have their place in some applications, particularly proofing and other press related work. I would argue that as tools for photographers such as myself producing high quality prints for clients, their usefulness (given the costs) is nowhere near what it once was.

We've been testing a Hewlett Packard z3200ps and have a detailed review. This gave an excellent chance to test ImageNest with a range of printers and driver types.

Using ImageNest

ImageNest is a software package (demo available) that handles image layout for you.

At its simplest, I select a load of image files (JPEG, PSD etc.) and open them. The files are automatically shunted round to fit my chosen page size. If extra pages are needed, then extra ones are created.

Then I print, via the normal printer dialogue for my chosen printer. The files are spooled as if I was printing directly from an application. Not long after, my printer (network or directly attached) starts up and out come prints, with roll paper being automatically cut as needed.

There is some considerable flexibility in image formats supported, for example you can print the embedded (corrected) JPEG files in DNG raw camera files.

I can print to any printer that I've installed a driver for.

The example shows all the printers installed on my test machine - if the printer has three different drivers, then I can use any one.

selection of photo printer

The example below shows a whole load of small sample files (from our Gallery) added to ImageNest.

I happen to have specified a particular 24"x 35" sheet paper (custom) size for this job, but you can actually use any supported paper size.

Note how the images have been interleaved to fit the paper.

If you are trimming paper afterwards you might prefer to minimise the cutting, with a bit more paper use.

If you change the nesting method then the images are moved to a new arrangement (within a few seconds) - move your mouse over the picture to see a minimal cutting layout.

cutting layout for prints

You can alter the print borders and spacing, and add cutting marks if needed.

Move your mouse pointer over the image below to see the results of changing border settings (again, the images get re-arranged in seconds).

image layout optionsThe paper size 24"x35" may seem an odd one, but with roll paper, you are not restricted to standard paper sizes.

I'd set the custom paper size as you would for any application on the Mac - in this case there is a page size option in the program.

printer paper sizes

Custom sizes can be set up for your printer.

custom paper sizesWith 24" paper in the printer I have a number of different length pages set up.

I still work in both cm and inches, so hence the particular names I've chosen.

The 230cm size is from my Epson 7880 where the maximum print length (via the Epson driver ) is 230cm.

It's actually a convenient size for printing some of my panoramic prints, with the added advantage that if I'm using ImageNest on the 7880, it will trim the paper after printing.

Thus a 180cm long print with a 10cm border will get cut at 200cm.

If I'm printing with the 24" HP z3200ps then the HP driver has a similar 'cut to length' feature that can be used, and I'll choose the 'sheet' setting.

The example below shows a collection of images on a full length paper size for the 7880.

At the Roll setting, ImageNest will trim at the end of the images, not the paper size.

images fited on to large roll of paper

In the examples so far I've just printed images at their 'actual size'.

It's possible to resize (and crop) images when loaded, so as to fit particular paper sizes.

Changing image sizes

I've recently been updating the site gallery, and make a point of producing large prints of any image that I intend to include.

As such I've a folder full of images that have been produced for printing at a particular size, in this case approximately 17"x25".

  • Note - I always end any 'print ready' filename with a 'P' so that I know it's been sharpened for print. It just means that I don't accidentally use an already sharpened image for subsequent adjustment, without knowing it's a print file.

collection of photos to print at large size

The file dialogue in ImageNest allows for multiple file selections, and for resizing your images.

In this case I've selected 11"x17" as the maximum dimensions of the file, so as to fit on to 13"x19" (A3+) paper.

selecting images to print

I don't want the images cropped in this instance (this is an option, and you have full control over each crop).

Here are the images loaded onto the original 24"x35" sheets I was using.

multiple photos per sheet

A change to the paper size and I've specified one image per sheet.

The view below shows the ~25"x17" images resized to fit on A3+ paper.

If you roll over the image, you can see an image of slightly different aspect ratio has been fitted on the page.

auto fit of sizes

Individual images can be resized too.

resizing images

Another feature I noticed with interest was that individual images can be moved on a sheet by selecting 'Bottom Weight'.

This is where you offset an image slightly in a frame to give slightly better balance. You could also do this by manually placing the image, but the bottom weight can apply to all images.

Move your mouse over the image to see the effect.

bottom weighting for prints

The software has many other features that make it easy to use, such as a configurable menu strip.

The documentation is available on the Blue Cubit site, and I'd definitely suggest a browse.

Colour management

The picture in the window above is in the large ProPhoto colour space and is being displayed correctly on my monitor.

What happens when the files are sent to the printer, where are profiles applied?

ImageNest makes use of ColorSync in OSX to handle the appropriate conversions.

The OSX 10.5 (Leopard) print dialogue allows you to specify the appropriate printer profile for the paper you are using.

You can use whatever custom profiling and printer driver setting give you the best results for any particular printer you choose.

Rendering intent is the default that was set in the ImageNest preferences for the type of file you are handling (RGB, CMYK or greyscale)

If I want to print my greyscale images via a different driver such as QuadToneRIP or Epson's ABW print mode, then I have to do a separate print job for each driver/setting.

There are example printer dialogues and settings for Canon, HP and Epson printers in the ImageNest documentation.

For both Epson ABW and the HP black and white printing I might want to use a QuadToneRIP 'correction' profile to linearise output for a particular paper. If I was printing from Photoshop, I'd apply it in the printer dialogue, but there is nowhere here to do so.

The solution is to modify your greyscale images before printing. So, if I had a particular profile to linearise B/W I'd first convert it to my greyscale image and then assign back to the original profile.

An example. Image is in Grey Gamma 2.2 space. First convert it to the correcting QTR profile (appearance does not change) then assign a Grey Gamma 2.2 profile to it (image changes appearance). The image is now adjusted to counteract the non linearity of the particular paper/ink/printer I'm using.

This is a bit of a kludge, but by doing the conversion as a Photoshop action I can produce a folder of files specifically for printing. Just make sure you identify the files some way, since if you print them on another printer they will be wrong.

Note - I'll have more about this aspect of black and white printing in our upcoming review of the Hewlett Packard 24" z3200ps printer.

Issues with OSX 10.4 Tiger

Some of the print driver colour management settings are not available under OSX 10.4

Fortunately there is a way of specifying profiles with the ColorSync Utility (found in Applications/Utilities).

In the example below, I've set a paper profile for the HP z3200ps and a third party (Innova) paper.

colorsync printer setup

Note... the sRGB 'Factory' setting above is part of the default setting of the z3200 in ColorSync - it's nothing to do with profile setting in ImageNest. This colorsync setting is only needed if you are using OSX10.4 - needless to say, I don't use sRGB for printing very often. It gets over-ridden for example if you were printing from Photoshop (where you'd not go near the ColorSync Utility)

In this case, the profile worked fine for colour and greyscale prints on Innova IFA14 (Smooth Cotton High White).

If I was using the Epson 7880, I'd need to set a profile (for the 'standard' setting) for the paper I'm using with the printer.

Conclusions

It's nice to use a bit of software that 'just works'.

We've looked at the latest version V1.2, but do note that some parts of the web site still refer to the functionality of older versions.

Whether for printing individual images or laying out multiple images, the software makes good use of existing printer drivers.

The software handles all major file formats available including HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Camera RAW files (it can print an embedded corrected JPEG from a DNG file)

Although not covered here, the RIP will print Vector and text files (PDF, EPS, Adobe Illustrator, PostScript). It can also be used as a layout 'Front End' for RIPs such as ColorBurst X-Photo and X-Proof.

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I was able to get basic functionality working without any real need to read the documentation - although I'd suggest a good read, just to find all the little extras included.

Several times I thought - 'If only I could do X' only to find that the functionality was already there.

The manual is available on-line - have a look, since it's possible that some features I've glossed over in my testing, will be just what you want.

There are a few limitations when using OSX 10.4 (Tiger) but it is good to see support retained for older Macs - business finances at the moment are putting back many upgrade decisions, and it's nice to know that Blue Cubit have not followed the punitive upgrade pricing of others in this market.

If you have several large format printers then the pricing policy makes the software quite cheap to run, since licensing is based on the width of the largest printer you want to use, not on a per printer basis.

If you find yourself spending a lot of time producing contact sheets or multiple prints, then ImageNest is definitely worth looking at as part of your workflow.

Summary

Software that can make using a wide format printer easier and more economical.

ImageNest 1.2 (Universal Binary PPC and Intel) runs on Mac OSX 10.5, with support for 10.4 with some minor caveats relating to colour management setup.

  • Notes
    February 2012 - ImageNest V3.5
    Dec 2011 - We will shortly have an update covering functionality in V3.5
    Apr 2010 an update to this review to cover the additonal functionality included in V2

Available from Blue Cubit.

Pricing (Supports multiple printers with no additional cost and any printer smaller is supported).

Full support and ordering details

More Info on our site that may be of interest

The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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