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Computer-to-plate or computer-to-press?

Mar 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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What's on your mind? "Staying state-of-the-art" was the top concern cited by 61.4 percent of the participants in NAPL's (Paramus, NJ) State of the Industry survey. And the No. 2 concern? "Shortage of skilled prodcution personnel," cited by 57.9 percent.
Direct-imaging (DI) and computer-to-plate (CTP) technology can help printers address both of these concerns. But how do you determine which is right for your operation?
Do you jump a generation of technology and buy a DI press that images the plates directly on the press, or buy a conventional offset press and invest in a CTP system that eliminates film and images the plates off-press? After talking with vendors and users, some considerations are clearer, but the choice still isn't obvious. Essentially it boils down to evaluating where your business is today images the plates off-press? After talking with vendors and users, some considerations are clearer, but the choice still isn't obvious. Essentially it boils down to evaluating where your business is today and where you'd like it to be tomorrow.


Drupa featured at least a dozen DI presses. Presstek's (Hudson, NH) ProFire imaging technology is employed on the Heidelberg Quickmaster DI, Ryobi 3404 DI, Adast 705 DI, Xerox DocuColor 233 DI and 400 DI, and Sakurai 474 DI.

Presstek also recently signed agreements with Didde Web and Akiyama for its J-press, a 29-inch inline perfecting press.

CreoScitex (Bedford, MA) SQUAREspot technology is currently found on the Heidelberg SM 74 DI, 74 Karat and MAN Roland's DICO presses.

Screen USA (Rolling Meadows, IL) is also a DI contender with the newcomer 15 x 20-inch TruePress 544. Using proprietary Screen technology, the four-color TruePress images inexpensive polyester plates on press and is suitable for runs of 5,000 and fewer.

These manufacturers' laser imaging heads can also be found on their thermal platesetters as well as other vendors. Other CTP options include violet, UV, polyester and inkjet equipment. (See g a price tag on a CTP system is more difficult, given the extensive range of platesetters and the requisite digital infrastructure, but in the four-up format, violet platesetters start at $110,000, and thermal devices start at $130,000.


Although both CTP and DI systems feature a digital workflow that eliminates time-consuming film work and speeds the production process, DI presses seem to have the edge with buyers for whom short runs and a quick turnaround time are top priorities.

kets faster than experienced commercial printers, according to Brad Palmer, Creo Scitex's director of short-run printing. In today's ience. The other half have been installed by commercial printers seeking a niche for short-run color and fast turnaround.

Wiley further notes that half-size Speedmaster 74 DIs are selling well to Quickmaster DI owners who are moving into larger sheet sizes, longer runs and competing with commercial printers.

To succeed with a DI press, traditional commercial printers may have to move outside of their comfort zones. Many are accustomed to focusing on keeping their presses running and maintaining a healthy queue of long-run jobs for customers who are willing to wait.

some traditional printers are successfully incorporating DI presses into their business plans. Metro Digital Printing (Santa Ana, CA), a full-service commercial printer, recognized the opportunities for quick turnaround and added a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI and a Speedmaster 74 DI. The 32-employee, $6 million shop was already using CTP to image plates for a five-color Heidelberg Speedmaster and wanted to expand its print-on-demand (POD) business.

Jobs routinely come in over the Internet in the morning from as far away as Nevada, Texas and Washington. Soft proofs are sent to customers, and jobs are printed, bound in-house and delivered the following day.

The range of presses gives the company a variety of options for the number of colors, varnishes, different signatures, thickness of stock and delivery time. s. In the market we're in, we wish we could do it runs of 500 to 10,000, traditional offset presses that can utilize CTP become the best choice for runs over 20,000. DI presses fill a niche between digital printers and offset presses but, at the same time, DI presses take the digital workflow a step closer to completion. So which to choose?

slightly, they should look at CTP. If a shop doesn't have legacy equipment, however, DI is a good choice. If one is looking for more print capacity, already has two full shifts and needs a new press, DI is a logical step.atesetter could make plates for all your presses.

uterized ink settings, for example, reportedly can produce a saleable sheet on the first pull, providing substantial savings in paper.

Fuhs predicts that within 10 years, 50 percent of the press market will have imaging on press. She anticipates that direct imaging will join other commonplace press features, such as automatic cleaning of blankets and ink trains, and CIP4 functions that feed prepress information to presses.


Although Lont & Overcamp (Prospect Park, NJ) installed a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI and an Adast 755 DI to produce short-run color work, its business development quickly drove it to an eight-page format.

The printer added an Omnitrade press; two six-color, one four-color and one two-color MAN Roland presses; and a CTP system from basysPrint GmbH (West Windsor, NJ) that can utilize conventional plates. The CTP system produces 20 to 30 plates an hour, enough to keep the 45-employee, $6 million shop running smoothly. Despite the time saving benefits claimed for DI systems, Josh Lont, vice president, doesn't see a fit for the eight-up format.

40-inch DI press. Equipped with an imaging system developed jointly with CreoScitex, it is said to image plates in four minutes, with makeready taking place simultaneously.

apart, especially in the eyes of technology-savvy print buyers.

The press is expected to be used for directories, financial printing and children's books, as well as short-run commercial, point-of-purchase and packaging applications. Sales for Project D will start in September.


DI presses, which once enjoyed unique speed advantages, now face competition from improved offset presses equipped with automatic wash-up and plate hanging. Plates, for example, can be hung automatically in three to four minutes.

According to Crawford, run length becomes secondary because the choice of CTP or DI is relevant today in the four-up arena where cost is the major factor. If plate imaging consumes press time, it can be expensive, especially when the printer specializes in short runs.

CreoScitex's Palmer offers a different view. tra time or work, while other things, like blanket washing, are done.. There's an awful lot of them out there and they are being used for short runs and POD, not variable data. Kohl. years, vice president Angelo Autiero wanted to become more efficient and stay ahead of the competition.

By adopting an all-digital workflow and installing an Agfa green-laser Galileo platemaker, along with Apogee software and digital proofing systems this past September, Autiero says the investment paid off and required adding a second shift. Because it can image different sized plates and run automatically, the platesetter solves production problems that DI presses couldn't.

tes, and after about five minutes of adjustments, we're running. We've cut our makeready for six colors from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.front of it.cision. Because they use the same lasers mass-produced for consumer applications and plates that use the same processing chemicals as film, violet devices are seen by many as an affordable strategy for smaller printers. This past May, Agfa, Barco, ECRM, Escher-Grad, Highwater, Krause and Purup-Eskofot all added violet-laser platesetters. Also, Heidelberg has announced it will introduce four- and eight-up blue-violet platesetters based on its Primesetter imagesetter.

Although there is currently only one violet plate available, at least two others are in development. Despite the single-consumable supplier situation, however, Agfa reports that 165 violet Galileos shipped worldwide in 2000.

UV platesetters that image conventional plates also hold promise. Escher-Grad and Purup-Eskofot are joining basysPrint in the UV CTP arena.

While not new, polyester plates produced on imagesetters are a viable CTP option for short-run work (25,000 impressions). Polyester is no longer just for small printers of the output technology, which means firms can install different devices for different requirements at the same time.10 years ago to go into four-color printing. With 20 employees and $2.6 million in annual sales, the company runs 26-inch Shinohara four-color, Ryobi 3200 two-color and AB Dick 9985 two-color presses.

As the company moved to digital prepress, and the Shinohara with automatic plate hanging, they found that the press was finishing jobs before plates for the next job were ready. Stripping and burning plates took 35 to 45 minutes. With a year's experience in digital workflow, Olympus installed a Screen PlateRite 4000 thermal CTP plate recorder and made the transition overnight. Now the next job is up and running on the press within 15 to 20 minutes after the previous job is completed. Makeready also takes less time because the PlateRite sends CIP3 data to set the ink fountains on the press.

0 percent better.plates, and we can switch plates to three different sizes on the fly. If a hard drive crashed on the DI, we'd have no way to supply plates to the press. If prepress went down, we didn't want the presses to go down. We were also concerned about waterless plates. Thermal plates have been around longer, and we're comfortable with the process.nt, will review the state of digital printing and the extent it has penetrated sheetfed printing companies. A panel of printers will discuss training, staffing, marketing and general equipment issues.

A digital-imaging (DI) press vendor panel, moderated by Ray Prince, GATF senior technical consultant, will discuss DI press advantages, costs, print quality, requirements and available laser/plate combinations. For more information, contact NAPL at (800) 642-6275.

Putting DI presses to the test

GATF had direct-imaging (DI) press manufacturers print a GATF test form and ship 100 copies to the Sewickley, PA-based group.

ri Project D, Ryobi 3404 DP DI, Screen TruePress 744, Xerox DocuColor 233 DI and Xerox DocuColor 400 DI.

Here's what GATF found:

  • DI presses print similarly to conventional presses with regard to print characteristics.

  • Dot-gain curves, with proper calibration, could match the press proof that GATF provided.

  • Most manufacturers chose to print their sheets at 175 lpi to 200 lpi, and seem to be targeting the technology to higher-end commercial printing.

For more information, contact GATF research scientist Dr. Richard Adams at: