Building the Industrial Inkjet DFE


Meteor Inkjet are among the sponsors for the InPrint USA conference and a Global Knowledge Partner for InPrint. In this article, Sales director at Meteor Inkjet Ltd, Jonathan (JW) Wilson, explains the complexities of building a digital front end (DFE) for your target market.

So, you need to build an industrial DFE. Where do you start? How do you get it right for your chosen market? And what exactly is it anyway?

What is a DFE?

The Digital Front End (DFE) or print server, is a software engine that enables you to print successfully and consistently. It resides on or near the printer and specifically acts to control the datapath, data submission and synchronisation of data down to the printheads. It can also potentially control motion, pumps, valves and other activities.It typically doesn’t include the Raster Image Processor (RIP), and at this point it’s important to highlight the difference between a DFE and a RIP, something which seems to cause confusion among the printing world:

A DFE is a multi-faceted software engine enabling you to print successfully and consistently.

A DFE is a multi-faceted software engine enabling you to print successfully and consistently.

A DFE can have a RIP, but it doesn’t necessarily need one because what a DFE is really doing is providing a machine builder a quick mechanism to get up and running in printing, without having to develop everything themselves.A RIP isn’t a DFE, it’s a specific process for image rendering. A RIP allows you to take in a Page Description Language file like a PDF, which enables you to work with self-contained higher-level file formats, and render it down to a TIFF without you having to use an image manipulation and creation tool like Photoshop – the RIPremoves that process. It also manages colour and screening. People often use DFE and RIP interchangeably; a RIP can be a core element of a DFE, but it doesn’t have to be.

How easy is it to build?

If you have a sound knowledge of current software development methodologies and languages and have the time to learn how to access an API, then you may have the expertise to build your own DFE using a Software Development Kit (SDK). Points to consider are: Should it be written in .NET, C, C# or C++? Should it be Windows or Mac-based? Compatible with Android? How fast should it go, and how secure should it be? With an SDK, you can build your own user-interface, or machine interface (MMI), or you can commission a systems integrator to do this work.

In a scanning DFE, for example, you need to consider aspects such as swath data separation, motion sequencing, ink pump control and the print datapath driver.

Under the hood of a scanning DFE

Under the hood of a scanning DFE

DFEs can be built for your specific market – so whether that’stextiles, product decoration or wall coverings, you can customise them to suit your needs.

The Meteor SDK

You can develop a customised industrial DFE using Meteor’sSoftware Development Kit (SDK) or by licensing an application-tuned Meteor DFE. Meteor’s SDK is compatible with all major industrial inkjet printheads. SDKs for scanning or single pass printers enable systems to be built from the ground up and allow developers to easily run associated printhead drive electronics. There are specific features for industrial applications, including ceramic, textile and 3D printing.

For more information about building an industrial DFE contact Meteor Inkjet Ltd at:

About the author - Jonathan Wilson (JW)

Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson

JW has worked in the digital printing industry for more than 20 years.  Passionate about printing, he has a strong history of helping commercial printers transition from analog to digital. Now with Meteor, JW leads a global sales team that focuses on easing the adoption and integration of industrial inkjet in application areas such as product decoration, packaging, labelling, ceramics and textiles. Meteor Inkjet Ltd is the leading independent specialist in industrial inkjet printhead driving solutions.

Prior to Meteor Inkjet, JW worked for Global Graphics Software and Xerox in management, business development, marketing and technical support roles. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management and has an MBA from the University of Leicester and an honours degree in computer science from the University of Hertfordshire.