Need help with formats, languages, and color

Help.  I am not a graphics professional but am trying to make enough sense of some terms to buy a new printer.  I mostly do not understand the difference between raster and vector graphics, and the implications of that for printing and esp color management.  I currently go most grpahic work in Photoshop, Pagemaker and Maptitude (a GIS program).  I nearly always produce pdf files from those programs.  I do color management mostly by trial and error - change settings in one or more programs until things look right.  Up til now I have been mostly printing with an HP 8500 PS.

I am considering a large format printer, an HP 130.  I asked HP about color management and they launched into a complex (for me) story of PS language, raster and vector graphics.  They sell a $700 PS RIP software for this printer, but I don't know how to tell if I need that.

Can anyone give me the short course on this?  I have read all the Adobe help files on color management, but don't get it.


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David BruggeCommented:
Sorry pj, no short answer here:

The easy part of your question…the difference between vector and bitmap
You remember from geometry that vectors are lines. Vector artwork uses mathematical formulas to draw images. Specifically lines

A typical vector program (such as Adobe Illustrator) will say go this far down the page and this far to the right and draw a circle with a radius of this many inches and a line thickness of this much and a color of such and such and a fill of something else. (In reality, it doesn’t really draw a circle, it draws a series of tiny lines in the shape of a circle.)

A bitmap is a map or grid of bits of information.
A bitmap image (such as PhotoShop) will say, this image is twenty pixels wide. The first pixel is #5F6CB0, the second pixel is #5F6CB0, the third pixel is #5F6CB0…..and so on until it gets to the end.

With vector, the resolution of the image is not determined until it is printed. If you send your circle to a 72 dot per inch printer, it will look rough as a cob. If you send the exact same file to a 1800 dot per inch printer, it will look razor sharp. Raster Image Processing (RIP) is the process of taking vector art and calculating what each and every dot on the printed page should be, based on the instructions in the file.

With a bitmap image, as I’m sure you know, you define the resolution from the start. Any time that you change the image resolution up or down, you degrade the image to some degree. Bitmap images (for the most part) go straight to the printer and are printed “as is.”

The hard part:
Color management
In a nutshell, we see images on the computer screen as projected light. We see printed colors as reflected light. With projected light, red plus green equals yellow. With reflected light, Red and Green make black (if using “perfect” pigments, which don’t exist, so we actually end up with a muddy gray)
The mechanics that go into defining and changing the colors in one method are entirely different than the way it is handled colors in the other. On top of that, every single monitor, and every single printer, will show what is supposed to be the same color, differently.
Color management is the task of making all of the devices talk nice and show the same colors as best they can. It is the attempt to get what you see on your screen to come out the same on your printer.

There is a whole lot of information about color management, almost all of it confusing.
A good place to start is here:
I very strongly urge you to get a handle on color management BEFORE you invest in a large format printer. You already know how expensive the guess and check method is using a small printer.
In addition to that, working with a RIP has a learning curve of it’s own. Best to take it one step at a time.

The secret to color management is profiling. Profiling hardware and software, measures the colors that come out of your monitor and compares them to a set standard, then calibrates your monitor to get it as close to a standard set of colors that it can.
Once this is done, you print a sample color chart using your printer, tape a color swatch next to it and scan the image.
The software looks at the color chart and determines how far off the scanner is and calibrates it into compliance. Then it looks at the colors that your printer printed and determines what adjustments need to be made to get them to look like the standards.

You then use this profile for every print that you make. It adjusts the colors so that they print as close to standard as they can get.

Every time you make a change to the printer such as different paper, or printing at a high resolution, calls for a different profile because the printer is throwing out ink in a different way.

I'll let you absorb some of this before I start spewing about postscript RIPs and what they will and won't do for you

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Jose ParrotGraphics ExpertCommented:
Hi Pam,

It sounds like vector or raster isn't the main matter in your case.

All jet printers are raster devices. That is: you always will print raster images. Even vector created images like the ones created by Corel Draw, for instance, are raster images when goes to printing. Features like brushes and aerograph effects are pure bitmaped images, the basic format for printing. Concluding this part: The final printable format is pure raster, so it doesn't matter.

Second, on color management, there are 3 levels of analysis.

Level 1: For graphic artists, the printer you are considering, has its own basic profiles for color balancing and calibration (not management), that could be all that an artist needs for.

Level 2: For a small printing business, probably the HP130gp is good enough. That model has a colorimeter that permits a moderate control (and management) to color, balancing, calibration that provides some control on the display and printer colors. This is a very hard subject: to print exactly what you see at the display. The printer makes the colors by subtractive process (acting on the reflected incident "white" light), and the display by adicitve process (acting on the RGB lights). So, it is probably the most difficult problem to solve. Gama control on the display is part of that process as well.

Level 3: If it is the case of a medium to large printing house, your needs are for professional proofing, by using the printer to make YCMB separate and progressive proofs, before producing photolytes. You need a RIP software. In this case, it is better to invest on a high-end product.

Take a look on for good advisoring.
There, in the directory AdobeRIPressReadyinkjetproofing/AdobePressReadyproofinRIP.htm they provide a comparaison of several Raster Image Processors, including the RIP suggested by HP.

Also, a deep description on all the fisrt line large format printers is provided there.

Hope you found it useful.
pjfromnyAuthor Commented:
This is great information from both responses - exactly what I need, though its going to take me a while to digest all this and learn to apply it.  I'm working on the information posted and the links.
pjfromnyAuthor Commented:
Note:  While I had to choose one answer of the above for the "accepted answer" both of these were invaluable.

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