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Flexible options

Apr 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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American Quick Printer

For small-format printers, polyester computer-to-plate (CTP) systems have long been considered the most viable, cost-effective tool to bring their prepress operations up to date. Although some four-up metal CTP platesetters also run two-up, the first metal CTP systems were aimed toward larger shops producing longer runs with higher image quality standards—and having deeper pockets.

Currently, several two-up metal CTP systems are available. Polyester plates continue to dominate the quick-print market, while higher-powered metal CTP devices are going into small-format commercial printers with more demanding jobs. With processless CTP gaining momentum and adding another facet to the benefits of going direct to plate (see “Processor-free CTP,” March 2006), the shift from film to digital imaging is reaching small printers of every stripe.

Four-color quality at low cost “My background in poly and CTP goes back 30 years,” says Wayne Nemecek, president of AmeriPrint Graphics, (Neenah, WI). He founded the $5-6 million family company 14 years ago as a short-run commercial offset printer serving nationwide accounts. The company’s core print products are postcards, mailers and sell sheets.

In June 2002, Nemecek decided to purchase the polyester Silver DigiPlate and the DPX CTP platesetter from Mitsubishi Imaging (MPM), Inc. (Rye, NY). “It met all of our needs for cost-effective quick-turn work and ease of use,” he says. The shop also runs a Presstek Dimension 400 metal platesetter. Its presses include two five-color Speedmaster 52 perfectors, three Heidelberg Quickmasters, an envelope press and an older Heidelberg MO.

Nemecek credits the switch from metal to poly CTP for short-run, quick-turn jobs with cutting AmeriPrint’s prepress costs in half. “When you add the cost of chemistry, stripping and labor, we went from an estimated cost of $25 per plate to $5 per plate,” he adds.

Since choosing poly CTP, Nemecek says, “It’s really helped evolve our business. Our sales in that period increased 30 percent and our work has changed to mostly four-color printing.” Today, the shop produces short-run catalogs in addition to its core products, and it competes with digital printers on both quality and price. “MPM helped bring CTP to this market before there were even dedicated CTP platesetters,” says Colleen Molkenbur, Mitsubishi’s marketing manager, CTP. “Our Silver DigiPlate material allowed printers to go CTP through their existing imagesetters.”

MPM currently offers three two-up CTP platesetters: the SDP-Eco1630III, the DPX System and DPX Lite. Released at PRINT 05, DPX Lite is manufactured by Esko-Graphics and distributed in North America by Mitsubishi Imaging.

DPX Lite is designed to bring a high-quality, affordable internal drum CTP solution to the duplicator and portrait press market. It has a built-in processor, and its image-to-punch feature ensures registration for quality two- and four-color output at up to 3,600 dpi. It accommodates 10 x 10-inch to 13.3 x 21.6-inch plates.
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Instant makeready serves demanding clients
“They’ve finally saturated the 40-inch market and started developing CTP for two-up,” says John Winter, owner of The Ink Spot in Quincy, MA. A $2 million shop that’s been in business for 25 years, The Ink Spot caters to customers requiring high-quality two- and four-color offset printing. A Heidelberg GTO 52 and two Ryobi 3302M presses fit the bill. And until two-up metal CTP was available, Winter relied on conventional film-based metal plate imaging, with polyester CTP for quick-print jobs. “Poly works for quick print because the quality demands aren’t as high,” he says.

The Ink Spot became a beta test site for Presstek’s Vector TX 52 and the metal Freedom plate in June 2005. “Small format has tended to mean low quality,” says Winter. “But we’re a high-quality commercial printer that chooses to be small-format because we do short runs. We have the same quality demands as a 40-inch shop.”

In addition to the film costs he saves, Winter says, “When you put [a CTP device] in, you realize the real savings are in the accuracy and the instant makeready.” With customers often making changes to a job at the last minute, the Vector TX 52 enables him to improve customer service while adhering to the schedule. “We can make changes and output a new plate much more quickly,” he says. “Going to a true two-up, metal CTP device that’s also chemistry-free was a no-brainer.”

Presstek’s (Hudson, NH) Vector TX52 thermal platesetter reportedly provides small-format (52 cm and under) printers with a metal platemaking solution designed for maximum ease of use. A Freedom anodized aluminum plate is inserted at the front, then imaged and water-rinsed inside the device before being discharged as press-ready. Rated for up to 25,000 impressions, Freedom is priced to compete with poly plates. Additionally, the Vector TX52 has a small footprint and offers daylight-safe operation. It images at 2,400 dpi on up to 20 x 21-inch plates.
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ContinuousLoad for ongoing output
Kodak’s (Rochester, NY) Magnus 200K thermal CTP platesetter is presented as an affordable two-page configuration supporting conventional plates as well as chemistry-free and processless plates. Driven by a Macintosh-based PS/M digital front end, it is included as part of a full print production system along with KBA’s (Williston, VT) Genius 52 waterless sheetfed offset press.

The Magnus 200K incorporates a fast-rotating external drum and thermal-head technology for efficient handling. It also offers ContinuousLoad functionality: As one plate is imaged, another is placed on standby for automatic loading and imaging. It supports two resolutions and employs Turbo Screening technology. The system-and-workflow solution includes an option to add third-party 1-bit TIFF connectivity.
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Violet brings vital changes
Jim Glover, president of Westerleigh Press (Staten Island, NY), an eight-employee commercial print shop founded in 1921, made the switch to CTP in March 2005. “We couldn’t live without it now,” Glover says. “It’s increased our productivity tremendously, our quality considerably, and it’s reducing our makeready on press.”

Westerleigh Press’ two Ryobi two-color presses and its four-color Heidelberg GTO run jobs ranging from business cards to four-color catalogs. When Glover decided to upgrade the shop’s prepress department to run direct to plate, he consulted employees in prepress and the pressroom about the available CTP technologies. “Quality was a concern,” he says. “I have a friend who runs poly plates and loves it, but for the quality and consistency, metal is worth the investment.” He decided to install the SpeedSetter VM two-up violet metal CTP platesetter from RIPit (Citrus Heights, CA) with OpenRIP Symphony workflow software.

The shop runs 500 to 800 plates per month, and Glover says they’ve run the RIPit system’s plates to more than 100,000 impressions. Previously, Jim’s brother and partner, Ed Johnson, made his plates in the morning and got to press in the afternoon. “I lost him for half a day while he was making plates for a 32-plate job,” says Glover. “Now he’s on press at 8:00 a.m.”

Glover also cites waste reduction and time savings in prepress. “Now I know what my plate cost is, so that makes it easier as we’re taking jobs in,” he says.

“It is reducing the time it takes a job to go through our shop because it gets to press so much faster,” Glover adds. “For any mid-size shop, this is profitable from day one.”

RIPit’s SpeedSetter VM (violet metal) CTP systems are manually loaded and unloaded internal drum devices integrated with the OpenRIP Symphony workflow and a photopolymer plate processor. The newest version of OpenRIP Symphony includes a “Simplified Color Management” feature, preflight enhancements, TIFF Input and an expanded set of PerfectBLEND AM/FM hybrid screening choices for offset printing. The VM systems also are available with “ImagerQ”—a one-bit TIFF server for customers with an established investment in existing workflows.

At Ipex 2006, RIPit is unveiling the SpeedSetter VM-Plus, a two-up version that delivers 35 plates per hour at 2,540 dpi.
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Reaching new heights, with help
Powers Printing (Spartanburg, SC) replaced its old film stripping equipment in 2001. But when owners Ralph and Ray Mechling added a Heidelberg PM 52 to their six-press shop in 2005, they decided to upgrade the prepress department, as well. “[Heidelberg’s] service record with us, on our presses, is fantastic,” says Ray. “They service what they sell.”

The 35-year-old commercial print business added the Prosetter 74 violet metal CTP system to produce plates for its new four-color PM 52, a five-color Heidelberg MO5 half-size press, its two-color Heidelberg Quickmaster and SORK presses, and two other small-format presses. “We’re strictly a Heidelberg shop, now,” says Ralph.

The company has increased its annual revenue target by $2 million since installing the Prosetter 74, PM 52 and a 36-inch Polar cutter from Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA). “Our productivity has increased probably 20 percent,” says Ralph, “and our registration and quality of work have improved because there’s no human error involved.”

Ray says the shop now has a higher quality of product and can service more sophisticated clients. “It allows you to handle just about any customer file format quickly and cost-effectively,” he says. For color-critical jobs, he cites the system’s repeatability as being key to retaining customers.

More than 13 years’ experience in internal drum imaging has enabled Heidelberg to develop the Prosetter range, a generation of violet platesetters built to offer quality and reliability, with operator intervention reduced to a minimum.

Prosetter’s modular design enables the user to add a Single Cassette Loader or Multi Cassette Loader to a basic unit, turning it into a fully automatic system. Prosetter P52 users can upgrade from two- to four-page format. The four-up Prosetter 74 handles up to 24 plates per hour.

Prosetter can be integrated into the JDF-based Prinect Printready System workflow solutions from Heidelberg, and other advantages reportedly are gained via the Prinect CP2000 Center for plate production control.
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Flexible violet system promises quick ROI
ECRM’s (Tewksbury, MA) MAKO 2 CTP system reportedly delivers high-quality, two-page violet metal platesetting at the price of an imagesetter.

The MAKO 2 accepts 8.9 x 9.9-inch to 22 x 26.4-inch plates and offers seven resolutions from 1,200 to 3,550 dpi (up to 200-lpi output). An optional automated plate output transport enables direct connection to an online processor. A plate is loaded into the MAKO 2 in yellow safelight conditions and registered to the pin bar, which is configured with the same notch positions as the press that will run the plate, ensuring fast in-register press mounting. This pin bar system is interchangeable, allowing the same platesetter to be used for a wide variety of presses.

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A violet development
In January 2006, Printware, LLC (St. Paul, MN) moved to acquire HighWater Designs Ltd. (Cheltenham, England), a developer, manufacturer and distributor of prepress products and services. Specializing in software, interface solutions and metal CTP systems for small and midsize commercial printers, HighWater also is an OEM partner to Global Graphics. HighWater-manufactured metal platesetters are sold in the United States under the Printware PlateStream brand.

Printware introduced the PlateStream Violet at PRINT 05. Designed to be an affordable and versatile two-up violet metal CTP system, it includes a platesetter and processor with the Harlequin-based PlateStream RIP. The system accepts plates from 11.8 x 14.9-inch, 6 mil, to 21.6 x 24.6-inch, 12 mil. Printware’s True Drum Imaging Technology produces up to 200 lpi. The VioletStream metal plates are capable of running 250,000 impressions or more, and the system outputs up to 30 plates per hour.
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Inkjet-based CTP
Glunz & Jensen (Elkwood, VA) launched its iCtP PlateWriter 4200 at PRINT 05.

The PlateWriter jets a patented Liquid Dot solution onto a grained, anodized aluminum, non-photosensitive printing plate. The imaged plates are fed through a finishing unit that dries the plates and bonds the “liquid dots” to the plate surface. The system consists of a PlateWriter imaging engine, a finishing unit with gumming station, and a Glunz & Jensen-specified hardware RIP including a Harlequin-based Xitron software RIP.

iCtP’s cost per plate reportedly is much less than the cost of conventional platesetting. The system also boasts a required investment significantly lower than the cost of laser-based plate imaging systems.
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‘A total prepress system’
Xanté Corp. (Mobile, AL) has just released the fifth generation of its electrophotographic PlateMaker series: PlateMaker5. “A total prepress system,” it produces poly plates, film and paper proofs. It was designed specifically for small printers in need of a low-cost, high-quality, chemical-free CTP system.

Its Z-Dot technology allows for more control over dot gain and 256 shades of gray (150 lpi). Z-7 technology reportedly provides the tools to ensure clean plates, sharp images, high line screens, accurate registration and exact halftones.

PlateMaker 5 images at 1,200 dpi with 128- or 256-MB RAM; 2,400 dpi with 256-MB RAM. Its Auto Plate Loader has a 50-plate capacity, and the device outputs up to 120 plates per hour. A 340-mm option is available for plates wider than 13 inches.
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Take a new look
iSetter is JetPlate Systems, LLC’s (Lutz, FL) new breed of inkjet CTP technology designed to offer higher print quality, faster throughput and more robustness than any other inkjet CTP system. Its single-footprint design enables one-step imaging and processing for conventional aluminum, photosensitive plates. iSetter is compatible with Kodak and Agfa plates rated for run lengths up to 100,000 impressions.

JetPlate’s new CTP system includes many new features but will remain priced at $40,000. The company’s earlier CTP platesetter models are being discontinued.

JetPlate’s previous inkjet CTP systems were modified inkjet printers and plate processors, whereas iSetter has been designed from the ground up as an integrated inkjet CTP product.

JetPlate partner Alan Brynjolfsson explains: “iSetter is a major advancement in inkjet CTP that will likely raise a lot of eyebrows. We believe it will change the CTP landscape, and we are excited about its upcoming release this fall.”
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Denise Kapel is the managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at