Improving your Printing Workflow: ImagePrint 8 & Qimage 2009 Reviewed

Last week I wrote about a great way to improve the quality of your prints by creating customer printer profiles with Spyder3Print SR. But as anyone who prints a lot knows, that is only half the story. Between layout, spooling, swapping paper and ink, and reprinting on demand the actual production workflow is as big a challenge as print quality for anyone serious about printing.

Fortunately there are two excellent software packages that can help. Today we'll look at Imageprint 8 and Qimage 2009 Studio Edition. By reading the review hopefully you can learn whether one or the other of these applications should be part of your photography toolset...

RIP Basics

If you're unfamiliar with using a RIP the basic idea is very simple. Rather then printing each individual image from your photo processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom or Capture, you save them to disk and use a separate package that makes it easy to print in various orientations and layouts. This becomes particularly valuable when you have a wide format or roll feed printer as you can easily print many images at once without having the time consuming chore of laying out your own pages by hand in Photoshop. A true RIP like Imageprint completely replaces the vendor's print driver so it can also blow away many of the limitations your print driver has. For example I was able to print 12' high canvas banners of a giant Redwood tree on my Epson 4000 for an exhibition by using Imageprint--while with the Epson driver I couldn't even print one 5' long. Other printer management software like Qimage handles the chores of layout and spooling but uses the print driver to do the actual rendering. In both cases layouts are simplified by the use of templates which can be as simple as pre-defined locations for a few images on a large page or as complex as album pages with artistic backgrounds and text.

Introducing Imageprint 8

Imageprint 8 is the latest version of Colorbyte Software's feature packed RIP (Raster Image Processor) software. Initally RIPs were used to translate graphics files into the "raster" or ink dots needed by the printer. It didn't take long before they began to add features for page layout, templates, print spooling and other productivity improvements. Imageprint is one of the better known RIPs and is priced inexpensively enough (less than $1000 for most wide format printers) to be considered for a serious amateur--although it is certainly targeted at those making a living by producing prints in volume for sale or for exhibitions.

In addition to substantially enhancing your printing workflow, Imageprint offers a set of color correction controls coupled with advanced rendering algorithms and a large library of custom profiles which can significantly improve your print quality. In particular if you need to do some light tweaking on a number of images it is much quicker to use the excellent color correction tool in Imageprint than go all the way back to Photoshop to make the adjustment.

By contrast Qimage is a very inexpensive (even the studio version is under $100) print layout and spooling tool. It is a real workhorse for many event photographers who rely on its extreme speed to pipeline their on-site printing when time is money. First known for being one of the original Raw file converters Qimage has had a loyal following in the production printing business for nearly a decade. Unlike Imageprint, Qimage uses your existing printer driver and printer profiles, so it won't have any effect on your print quality. It is strictly a productivity tool.

Do you need a RIP at all?

You may not have heard much about RIPs or have read about them and been confused about their value. A great place to start is the article . In short, if you print a lot and would like to spend less time trying to manually layout or queue your images and free up Photoshop to do your image editing while your RIP prints in the background, then you're a good candidate for one.

Imageprint 8: Teaching an old dog new tricks

To current users of Imageprint version 8 will look very familiar. The basic interface is pretty much unchanged but has been souped up with some nice ease of use enhancements and a bevy of features. Tooltips are more plentiful and more helpful so the tools are easier to navigate.

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Like the raw processors on the front end Imageprint is starting to chip away at functionality that used to be the exclusive territory of Photoshop. Version 8 adds the ability to place text anywhere on your printed page. Coupled with a more powerful system for templates and layouts Imageprint 8 is now a fully-featured solution for commercial, wedding and event photographers to produce finished album pages or other multi-image prints. Images can easily be set as page backgrounds and images can now have borders and mattes with a couple mouse clicks. All these things are doable in Photoshop but they do take work and of course you may prefer to have the image composition be nicely placed in your printer software at the end of their workflow.

Imageprint 8 also adds an interesting feature called Boundaries--which are essentially mini-pages you can place anywhere on your page and size and crop separately. Each boundary area can include images, backgrounds, etc.

New Spooling Interface

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Of course all of these improvements would be of limited value if they weren't easy to use and print. Colorbyte has done a nice job of updating their Spoolface system for printing & re-printing jobs (whether because of additional orders or just because of printer problems re-printing is a way of life). One feature that contributes to peace of mind is Job archiving. Even though Spoolface retains your jobs it was always a little worrisome that one might disappear before you got another order. Now you can quickly archive jobs and recall them later. If you are offering prints for sale online or at a show it is mandatory that you be able to reproduce them identically as needed. This feature ensures you can do that. Before using Imageprint jobs to do reprinting I used to rely on saving a flattened version of the Photoshop file but they became painful to manage and often wound up getting edited for another project just before I needed them again.

Built-in Gallery Wrap Support

I've been having a lot of fun with Gallery Wraps that I get printed by, which I plan to keep doing. But of course I've wondered about doing my own. There were two problems I had to overcome. The first was the ability to extend images onto the sides in a nice-looking way--some images have enough background to do this by virtual cropping, but some are tight to the edges. Imageprint 8 now does exactly that. My second problem is stretching the canvas over the frame. Hahnemuhle now offers kits for that purpose, so when I get a chance I'll definitely try out the combination. In the meantime if anyone has been using these features or others to make their own gallery wraps please do let us know in our forums on

Color Correction

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Imageprint has always featured color correction but it keeps getting better and better. Historically I've been a fan of doing my color correction in Photoshop, but when different media (for example art paper or canvas instead of photo paper) requires some tuning to make the print look right it is actually much easier for me to do it using the nice color correction tool in Imageprint. Imageprint's color correction tool features a Tone tab which is similar to Photoshops levels as well as a Cast tab which is like a super-sized version of the Adobe Hue-Saturation adjustment--it lets you select particular colors and then change their color composition.

Profiles, Profiles, Profiles

While the price tag for Imageprint can seem high for a piece of software that "only" improves your printing, one of the large benefits of it is the extensive library of excellent printer profiles. Because most modern printers are fairly well calibrated to a standard these semi-custom (specific to a printer+ink+paper combination, but not to your exact printer) profiles can do an excellent job of color rendition. And they have an extensive selection of grayscale profiles as well for printing in black and white.

End those Pesky Ink Changes

Imageprint also supports Phatte Black, an interesting technology which allows owners of the 4880 and other printers which can not simultaneously have both a Photo Black and Matte Black ink loaded to print on both photo and art paper without changing inks. The upside is a huge boost in running costs compared to the $50 or more it costs in ink to swap cartridges. The downside is that you can only print from Imageprint while the Phatte black cartridge is in place (you can always switch back to the standard cartridges the same way you can normally switch between matte and photo black). So far I haven't experimented with the Phatte black system, since I've left my Epson 4000 in place for use with canvas and art paper while using my new Epson 4880 with photo paper, but I may once my 5-1/2 year old Epson 4000 eventually is retired.

What I'd Like to See in Imageprint

Even with all the new features Imageprint 8 is certainly not perfect. Personally I'd love to see a more intuitive system for template creation. Each time I go to create one I need to sort of learn how over again. They are very powerful but it could be more straightforward. The tools palette is getting better but I think it could be better integrated with the image scaling & layout palette. I also tend to get confused by the positioning of the output profile in the image menu while other printing options are in the Print menu. Since each time I go to print and set the paper type I'd like to ensure that I have the correct profile selected I'd like to see the printer profile selection there.

I should also note that Imageprint is one of the few remaining pieces of software to use a hardware dongle for copy protection. Not really a big deal as the drivers (including for Windows 7) seem to be pretty trouble free, but I know that can be an issue for some folks.

Qimage, the Speedy Workhorse

Qimage does not offer all the fancy composition tools that Imageprint does. And it doesn't offer any of its own printing technology. But then again it is a fraction of the price. What it does do is provide a high-speed system you can run in batch or interactively for producing prints--one on a page or custom layout templates--in a timely manner. [Editor's Note: Thanks to Rick Moore, one of our regular forum contributors, for reminding us that Qimage offers excellent re-sizing/scaling for images so for the automated production of various size images this is a clear advantage compared to having to do all the work in Photoshop one image at a time.]

Where to Buy

Qimage is sold directly by DDI Software in three configurations ranging from $35 to $90 depending on how many of the workflow features you need. . Colorbyte software also sells Imageprintwith a demo download and various canned demos available. Imageprint is also available from some high end photo resellers.

Let us hear from you!

Please let us know your thoughts on these or other similar products either by commenting directly on this review or posting to our forums on .