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The details are in the dots

Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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American Quick Printer

RIPit (Citrus Heights, CA) says its PerfectBlend hybrid screening technology offers printers the best of both worlds: a traditional AM halftone pattern over most of the tonal range and an FM pattern in the highlights and shadows. Users reportedly can hold linescreens up to 80 percent higher than AM with no problems on press. We asked some PerfectBlend users for their feedback.

Amazing image quality from poly plates
Creative Media (Staten Island, NY) is a small commercial printer located on the second floor of an office building in a manufacturing area. The nine-employee company also does video production, Web development and graphic design. Years ago, Creative Media bought a RIPit imagesetter to produce film in-house. “We had an Itek 430 camera we were using to make Silvermaster plates,” recalls Richard Grado, president. “But when we moved, we didn’t want to take that big camera with us, so we started making polyester plates on the RIPit. We just bought the material and a processor—it was a natural progression.” The company later upgraded to a Speedsetter 400.

Creative Media initially produced polyester plates for some small ABDick presses, and added a four-color Ryobi 524HXXP in April 2005. Grado considered stepping up to another vendor’s metal platesetter but couldn’t justify the $70,000 price tag. “From a workflow perspective, that [metal] platemaker is a manual system. If I need 50 plates, I’m standing there for five hours making plates—loading, unloading, processing and everything else. With the RIPit inline system, I hit the button, go home, and the next morning, 50 plates are sitting there.”

Soon after installing the new press, Creative Media began using RIPit’s PerfectBlend hybrid screening technology for high-end jobs. Grado calls the results incredible. “We run a 235-line screen and the image quality is amazing.”

Creative Media used PerfectBlend to produce a coffee-table book for a museum client. “Some of it was two-color, some was four, there were images on every page,” explains Grado. “We used PerfectBlend screening because we knew we’d hold our dots better on the low end and keep them open better in the shadows. The book came out fantastic.”

Grado says PerfectBlend helps operators do their jobs. “Our press operator gets four plates and has them loaded and running up to color in 10 minutes. From a production standpoint, it keeps us moving very well.”

‘Better quality than our presses were designed to deliver’
The Village Printer (Boulder, CO) is a 4,000-sq.-ft. operation. Including owner David Robinson and his wife, Judy, the company has six employees and one part-timer. “A lot of print shops like mine started in shopping centers and [eventually became] small commercial printers,” says Robinson. “We compete quite handily with larger printers.”

The Village Printer has three Ryobi presses: a 3302, 3200 and 3304. On the prepress side, the company began producing film in-house nine years ago. “We still have that RIPit imagesetter—it never had a service call,” notes Robinson. “We followed that up with a RIPit direct-to-poly system with an inline processor and the OpenRIP Symphony software. We recently installed a RIPit direct-to-metal system—it really increases productivity on the Ryobi 3404.”

Robinson says he preferred to use metal plates on his four-color press but found most systems too expensive until RIPit introduced the Speedsetter VM. It’s a manual system, but Robinson says he couldn’t be happier with it. “Most direct-to-metal systems that have plate handlers and whatnot are into six figures. For a small printer like me, that’s out of the question.”

OpenRIP Symphony includes imposition and trapping software; PerfectBlend is sold separately. “It’s well worth the money,” says Robinson. “Hybrid screening is like putting your press on steroids. It takes your duplicator and absolutely maximizes its ability to do quality work.”

Although the Ryobi 3404 is rated for 175-line screening, The Village Printer has produced 240-line work. Robinson adds that PerfectBlend eliminates some on-press headaches. “We don’t have to fight with the screens plugging or with the finer ends of the screens disappearing. It’s much easier for the press operator. We run better quality than our presses were designed to deliver, and it’s because of that screening.”

Agfa honors :Sublima users
The inaugural winners of Agfa’s (Ridgefield, NJ) “:Sublima Distinctive Marketing Awards” are:

  • Holden Color (Simi Valley, CA)
  • Kempenfelt Graphics Group (Barrie, Ontario)
  • Pacific Printing (Fresno, CA)
  • Ramsey Press (Mahwah, NJ)
“These recipients have risen above a commodity mindset, and have actively positioned their quality and value propositions to their respective markets with their own :Sublima-enabled campaigns,” says Steve Musselman, senior manager for the market development of digital solutions and emerging technologies for Agfa Graphics, North America.

:Sublima, an XM (cross-modulated) screening solution, combines the benefits of AM screening (smooth gradations and highly controllable midtones) with those of FM (consistent fine detail rendering in shadows and highlights). See

Dot’s all
Which screening method is the most popular among smaller printers? Here’s what some vendors had to say.

Hybrid for DI users
We are seeing an increase in requests for higher line screens as well as Kodak Staccato screening for both the Kodak Nexpress 2100 Plus Digital Production Color Press and the Kodak Directpress 5634 DI. In the case of conventional presses in the quick-print sector, adoption rates for higher screen frequencies—AM, FM, or XM—[are] slower. The main reason is that as halftone screen frequencies become finer, they require finer process control in plate imaging and on press.
—Gordon Pritchard, Value in Print marketing manager, Kodak

Hybrid is a practical alternative
Small, quick-turn operations might lack the resources required to implement FM (second-order stochastic) screening. These printers typically cannot afford FM’s trial-and-error implementation, an outside consultant or the time required for ongoing process control. Hybrid screening is a practical alternative. Hybrid combines conventional screening (in the mid-tones) and stochastic screening (in highlights and shadows). With line screens hovering around 300 lpi, hybrid screening effectively eliminates moiré and rosette patterns, key benefits of FM. At the same time, because halftone technology is used in the midtones, hybrid products such as Rampage’s Liso behave normally on press. Implementation and day-to-day operation are considered far easier and practical than second-order FM screening. In addition to the operational benefits of hybrid screening, there are sales and marketing advantages. It can be used as a tie-breaker in competitive situations.
—Peter Gorgone, marketing director, Rampage Systems

Conventional and beyond
Regardless of size, most printers want to achieve the highest possible screening—conventional screening is the likely choice. Most digital print solutions don’t offer extensive screening capabilities, but there are some notable advancements for the quick-print segment.

A recent Artwork Systems project, for example, involved developing a turnkey workflow for the Kodak 5634 DI press. The workflow was based on Nexus and featured imposition, AM and FM screening, and Kodak color management.

For offset printers, there are advanced hybrid screening options, such as Concentric Screening, a halftone screening technology in which the large, solid halftone dot is divided into concentric rings. The thin rings limit the ink film thickness on the halftone dots of the offset plate. The result is a halftone dot that prints with less variation on press, exhibits higher color saturation and enables printers to go to much higher screen rulings than previously obtainable with normal AM screens.
—Mike Rottenborn, vice president of technology marketing, Artwork Systems

Building up to 400-line screens
Sixty years ago, F.P. Horak (Bay City, MI) specialized in business forms. Today, the company strives to provide the complete package. “That’s everything from working with customers on marketing to creative through print, mailing and warehousing, distribution, and fulfillment,” says Bob Charles III, IT manager. “We’re a one-stop shop for print and communication needs.”

F.P. Horak’s pressroom and bindery highlights include rotary web pressess, an all-Heidelberg sheetfed pressroom, and extensive foil embossing, diecutting and letterpress capabilities. The prepress department features a pair of Epson 10000 printers for digital bluelines and contract proofs, as well as a Screen (Rolling Meadows, IL) Trueflow front end driving a Fuji Javelin 9002 platesetter.

F.P. Horak’s standard is a 175-line screen. For higher quality jobs, the company uses Screen’s hybrid Spekta 300-lpi/2,400-dpi screening technology.

One client’s brochures and catalogs feature photos of all aspects of home construction: interiors, exteriors, kitchens, woodwork and so on. “Everything that comes through for that customer is done in Spekta,” says Charles. “A lot of it is coated. It’s very critical work.”

Charles says quality is the chief advantage of using hybrid screening. He’s looking forward to moving up to Screen’s 400-lpi/2,400-dpi version of Spekta. “It’s another bump in quality,” he says. See

Connect the dots: Screening options for the smaller operation
In our April issue, we highlighted two-up computer-to-plate (CTP) options from ECRM (which recently acquired Esko’s polyester plate devices), Glunz & Jensen, Heidelberg, JetPlate, Kodak, MPM, Printware, Presstek, RIPit and Xanté. But once quick and small commercial printers have their workflows and platesetters installed, what’s next? Will they stick with the conventional AM screening typically supplied with the CTP package? Or will they try a second-order FM or hybrid product?

Echoing W. Edwards Deming, Kodak’s Value in Print marketing manager Gordon Pritchard reminds us, “‘Quality is meeting customer expectations.’ There is no “low” or “high end,” there is only one end—meeting those expectations. Like all print buyers, quick printers’ customers still expect the same level of image fidelity and freedom from artifacts such as moiré they expect from conventional print providers.”

Ray Cassino, Heidelberg USA’s (Kennesaw, GA) director of prepress product management, concurs that screening technologies’ benefits aren’t restricted by company size or type. “If you play by the rules, everybody can enjoy the benefits,” he says. “FM screening can be beneficial to high-end packaging printers as well as to quick printers, provided these market segments understand what it takes to implement the technology: a tight rein on process controls in prepress and the pressroom.”

While a wide variety of printers use hybrid screening, Cassino notes it is an especially great fit for polyester plate users. “Hybrid enables some pretty high screen rulings on a polyester plate,” he says. “It keeps the shadows open. The guy who is printing 150-line screens can print 175- or 200-line screens.”

Cassino adds that conventional AM remains a viable option for a wide variety of applications. “If you could only have one kind of screening, one that would be best for all types of printing, generally speaking it would be AM irrational screening. It’s still the best.”

In addition to its IS Classic, Heidelberg offers Satin, which is a second-generation FM product, and Prinect hybrid screening. “Don’t forget, we invented electronic screening,” says Cassino, referring to Heidelberg’s Linotype-Hell heritage. “We offer every type of screening, not to mention a huge variety of different dot shapes. Every screening system has advantages and disadvantages. But if I had to pick one, it would be irrational.”

Katherine O’Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at