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CTP gets adopted

May 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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Smaller printers continue to migrate to CTP, though vendors drop few hints about Print 01

With four months until Print 01, vendors are staying close to the vest about any CTP-related announcements they may make there. Many appear to be in a holding pattern for the time being, refining or commercially releasing the products that they announced last year at Drupa.

What manufacturers will say is that printers are increasingly adopting CTP. Marc Johnson, product line marketing manager for off-press products at Presstek (Hudson, NH), says that while adoption is still under 50 percent even in the 40-inch space, the CTP revolution is nevertheless “well underway.”

The greatest migration to CTP may occur among small- to medium-format printers. Larger printers with the appropriate money, personnel and digital infrastructure have already transitioned, according to Ray Cassino, prepress marketing director at Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA).

Johnson adds that the current changing environment now requires smaller printers to speed up turnaround, handle short runs more efficiently and still reduce overall prepress costs. “These advantages can be had with CTP,” he contends.

According to The Future of Computer-to-Plate, a study of 333 commercial printers in North America conducted by State Street Consultants (Boston), few in the four-page printer market have CTP and buying intentions are high. This study, focusing primarily on the four-up market, estimates that approximately 12,000 printers have a four-page press. For 8,000 of them, it is their largest press. Of this last group, only about three percent have a CTP system — but 14 percent have plans to purchase a platesetter in the next 12 months.

VENDOR RESPONSE

Vendors clearly have witnessed this growing demand. “There are a huge number of four-up imagesetters in the market supporting 29-inch presses,” observes Peter Vanderlaan, product development manager, electronic imaging hardware at Fujifilm Graphic Systems Div. (Itasca, IL). “A growing number of these users are now making the transition to CTP. We are directly aware of this transition, with the success of our four-up Dart Luxel T-6000 CTP platesetter.” Most of the other eight-up CTP vendors also have solutions for this smaller-format market.

Among CreoScitex's (Vancouver, BC) CTP introductions last year was the Lotem 400VA, for example, now commercially available for four-up printers. Gretag Cymbolic (Richmond, BC), too, has been delivering a four-up thermal version of its internal-drum T-wave technology since Q1.

And Lüscher's (Long Island, NY) “Pizza” device, which images plates on a rotating turntable, is targeted at the commercial four-up market, “where price is a serious barrier to going CTP,” says David Parker, director of sales and marketing. “Our goal is to provide a cost-effective four-up device without compromising quality or performance.”

Parker's point about cost is a valid one, as system price is the key barrier to four-page printers going CTP, according to the State Street study.

AFFORDABLE CTP

“Though the CTP equipment is marginally less expensive for smaller printers, the front-end software workflow, transition and other expenses are the same as for larger printers,” notes Jeff Hopkins, general manager for BasysPrint USA (Atlanta). “There certainly has been interest in this market; however, it has been hard for these printers to justify.”

But Johnson contends printers can now install a complete CTP system (including the imager, RIP and plate cleaner) for less than $150,000.

“As CTP moves to smaller shops, the trend is for it to be more affordable, including the workflow, installation and ongoing costs,” Johnson says.

In keeping with this trend, Heidelberg will debut a new, scaleable PDF workflow for the small and midsize printer at the Heidelberg Digital Imaging Assn. meeting in June. “Today's PDF workflows are geared toward the high end, with high-end prices,” says Cassino. “We want to bring the advantages of PDF to other segments.”

Regardless of trends, vendors continue to provide CTP solutions for every level in the marketplace. Here is an update of what's happening with the major platesetter manufacturers.

A.B. DICK

A.B. Dick Co. (Niles, IL) recently unveiled a direct-to-polyester plate device. The new Digital PlateMaster (DPM) 2508 images to polyester plates measuring 20 × 23 inches or offline film up to 20 × 25 inches, from 1200 dpi to 3600 dpi. It offers integrated punching on the drum with an internal drying system. The product is scheduled for release in June.

At Graph Expo ’99, the company rolled out the DPM2340 for 13.4 × 20-inch plates. A.B. Dick has sold more than 1,000 DPM devices, according to Stu Gallup, senior product manager, digital systems.

AGFA

Since Drupa, Agfa (Wilmington, MA) has installed about 300 violet platesetters worldwide, according to Steve Musselman, senior worldwide marketing manager, CTP systems. Plate availability was initially an issue, but the exec says Agfa has increased plate capacity to 160 percent of current demand.

While the industry continues to engage in a violet vs. thermal debate, Musselman notes that worldwide CTP installations split evenly between thermal and visible-light engines. He says that among worldwide Agfa Galileo installations, 85 percent are visible light and 15 percent are thermal.

Newer 30-mW or 35-mW violet-laser diodes are coming onto the market that allow imaging to photopolymer, rather than silver-based, plates. Musselman says Agfa is evaluating the stronger diodes but has yet to incorporate them in its platesetters.

“You have to look at the practicality of using photopolymer plates,” insists Musselman. “From what the market has told us, these printers have preferred a silver-based solution — primarily because of the higher-quality, linear plate and its stable shelf life.”

BARCO

Barco Graphics' (South Windsor, CT) Commercial Printing Business will continue to promote both its Mondrian very-large format and ViKing violet platesetter technologies introduced at Drupa, according to Phil Crosby, dealer support specialist and product manager for the Impress proofing system.

Barco recently announced its first North American installation of the Mondrian by Eclipse Colour (Burlington, ON), a 20-employee, four- to eight-color printer that was once a high-end prepress house.

BASYSPRINT

BasysPrint went “incognito” between last May and September, according to Hopkins, while it was moving U.S. headquarters to Atlanta and reestablishing its U.S. presence. The exec indicates, however, that the company plans to be at Print 01 “in a big way.”

Its UV-Setter 57 platesetter, a computer-to-conventional plate system that uses UV light to image plates, was introduced at Drupa and began shipping in January.

CITIPLATE

Citiplate (Roslyn Heights, NY), a U.S. manufacturer of UV, thermal and violet CTP plates, announced its intentions last fall to ship a UV-laser, internal-drum platesetter in 2001. The firm has been privately showing the Aqua LHP platesetter (so called because it is designed for optimum performance with Citiplate's Aqua LHP System UV plates) to its current plate clients, according to principal Charles S. Cusumano Jr.

The Aqua LHP platesetter is contract-manufactured for Citiplate by Escher-Grad, whose own violet-diode platesetters employ similar construction. Robert Dainton, Citiplate technical director, says the Aqua LHP unit differs in that it employs a true, one-watt rated, direct (not frequency-doubled) UV gas laser, operating at 365 nm.

The first model will be an eight-up device, for imaging plates up to 41.5 inches at 2540 dpi in about three minutes. Dainton says Citiplate has plans to eventually introduce 16-, 24- and 32-up platesetters with similar features and the same laser imaging source.

CREOSCITEX

CreoScitex's Lotem 800 Quantum thermal device, originally scheduled for release in Q1, is currently in a “very successful” beta cycle, according to Mark Sullivan, marketing director, business development. He indicates commercial delivery will begin in the latter half of the year.

The exec sees continued widespread adoption of thermal imaging in the commercial marketplace, “using a variety of plates, increased automation, proofing on the same machine and higher-quality printing using FM screening. We also expect to see increased adoption of CTP within the packaging and newspaper segments.”

ECRM

ECRM (Tewksbury, MA) offers both thermal and visible-light platesetters. In terms of its violet solutions, director of marketing John De Vito says ECRM will focus development efforts on the four-up violet TigerCat rather than jumping to a larger-format violet device right away. “If our customers and market require an eight-up violet platesetter, then we would certainly consider the opportunity,” he comments.

De Vito says printers will see “a vastly different” ECRM at Print 01 than they have in the past. “Expect to see complete solutions for both the commercial printing and publishing markets that will incorporate a powerful digital workflow, thermal and visible-light CTP, digital halftone proofing and high-speed imagesetting,” he says.

FUJI

Fuji will soon be releasing a Multi-Loader feature for its Dart Luxel platesetter. On the Saber front, “I can't talk about anything new today,” says Vanderlaan. “But the current device is receiving kudos from users. We can't install them fast enough.”

Fuji showed a violet photopolymer plate at Drupa but doesn't appear to be investing more in violet technology at the moment. But, “our plate is ready” whenever the equipment using the new 30-mW violet-laser diodes hits the market, says Jim Crawford, group manager of product development, output media.

GRETAG CYMBOLIC SCIENCES

Gretag Cymbolic began installing the thermal units of its PlateJet Sapphire in Q4 of 2000. Danta DiPasquale, director of marketing and business development, reports that 50 percent of the company's sales are for the thermal PlateJet Sapphire running the T-wave technology engine.

The vendor has also completed launching the autoloader for its engines, with some sites running that for the Sapphire engine.

HEIDELBERG

Heidelberg will premier a blue-violet platesetter to the North American market at Print 01. Delivery is expected to begin shortly after.

Rather than seeing blue-violet technology as a step backwards for the industry, Cassino says it is an opportunity to provide CTP solutions to the small to medium market segments — which, he notes, account for more than 80 percent of all printers.

The blue-violet platesetter, to be offered in two-, four- and eight-up versions, is based on Heidelberg's Primesetter imagesetter architecture, which Cassino determines is a natural migration. “The economies of internal-drum architecture along with the blue-violet laser diode allow for manufacturing a platesetter at an attractive price point,” he explains.

The Primesetter uses a red-laser diode, and can image 12-mil polyester plates for four- or eight-up presses. Heidelberg's Quicksetter 350, another imagesetter that can image to polyester plates, has now begun shipping in the U.S. as well.

At the high end, the vendor has released the multi-cassette loader (MCL) for its Topsetter 102 external-drum thermal platesetters. Heidelberg had originally marketed the Trendsetter platesetter in a joint venture with Creo, but acquired intellectual rights to Screen (USA) technology and introduced the Topsetter line after Creo's merger with Scitex.

The MCL capabilities convert the Topsetter 102 into a fully automatic platesetter with three cassettes, each of which can hold up to 100 12-mil plates, according to product manager Mark Tonkovich. The MCL feature can be expanded up to a four- or five-cassette capacity, and increases productivity to 12 plates per hour. Heidelberg will soon release the MCL for its Topsetter 74.

KODAK POLYCHROME GRAPHICS

Kodak Polychrome Graphics (Norwalk, CT) continues to improve its no-process thermal plate. “As platesetter manufacturers enhance and develop the debris removal systems of their platesetters, no-process technology will begin to have a broader market,” says Diane Amann-Demmel, manager, printing plates, U.S. and Canada region.

At Print, the vendor plans to show enhancements to some of its existing products, as well as announce a new product offering in its thermal line.

KRAUSE

“We were pleased with how well violet-diode imaging was received by the market,” says Daniel Wilzinski, executive vice president of Krause America (Branford, CT). “Machine performance proved even stronger than originally projected.”

Krause's LaserStar (LS) CTP units cover the 40-inch market, and up to 78 inches in the commercial and packaging markets. At Nexpo in June, it will introduce the LS Jet Eco for the U.S. newspaper market.

LÜSCHER

Lüscher's Pizza system is not shipping yet and the company has not set a firm date for release at this time.

According to Parker, Xpose! 180 is doing well in Europe, with the first U.S. installation planned for June. The U.S. customer will also be installing a 67 × 54-inch Xpose! 160.

PRINTING DEVELOPMENTS, INC. (PDI)

The Eclipse Thermal CTP plate is currently in beta in a combination of large heatset web and midsize sheetfed commercial print sites, according to Dwight Zilinskas, director of international sales and marketing.

“So far, everything is looking good,” Zilinskas reports. “We will continue this process in a controlled sales environment until we are certain that we have maximized its features and benefits.”

Full commercialization will take another few months, according to Zilinskas. In the meantime, he says PDI (Racine, WI) is working with the major platesetter manufacturers to qualify Eclipse Thermal on their thermal imaging devices.

PRESSTEK

Presstek, as most readers know, has forayed into direct imaging (DI) as well as CTP. But Johnson contends that DI is not an either/or proposition vs. CTP. “DI enables printers to reduce turnaround and handle short runs,” he explains. “CTP offers many of the DI press advantages to printers who have existing presses.” He points out that Presstek has one customer that began with a DI press and then added CTP and a conventional press.

Johnson says Presstek's current product lineup, the Dimension 200, 400 and 800, will be showcased in a number of booths at Print 01, running Anthem, PEARLdry and some other thermal plates, and being driven by “all of the significant workflow players.”

PURUP-ESKOFOT

Purup-Eskofot's (Kennesaw, GA) violet lasers are now available and can also be retrofitted onto equipment already in the field, according to Jim Jeffers, regional sales manager. He adds that printers can expect Purup-Eskofot to come out soon with a violet machine with a faster spinner and greater productivity.

Jeffers has no updates on the Dicon UV system demonstrated at Drupa last year, other than to say that it is a continuing project. Actual availability may still be 12 to 18 months in the future.

SCREEN (USA)

Screen (Rolling Meadows, IL) plans to debut what business development manager Mike Fox says are significant enhancements and new developments for its PlateRite line of thermal platesetters.

In the meantime, the company is promoting the use of its Spekta halftone screening technology with its CTP systems. A combination of amplitude modulation and frequency modulation screening, Spekta reportedly achieves qualities comparable to 300-plus lpi under 150-lpi conditions.

XANTÉ

Xanté's (Mobile, AL) PlateMaker 3 is a desktop CTP system that images to polyester plates. The vendor has worked closely with Agfa on the Myriad 2 plate, specifically developed for the PlateMaker, according to Arthur Verwey, Xanté's vice president of worldwide marketing. Other polyester plates do work on the PlateMaker, though Verwey says he cannot guarantee the results.

“We are continuing to devote R&D efforts on innovative technology to increase productivity for printing professionals,” Verwey says. Though he can't give specifics yet, the exec adds that Xanté will have some announcements for Print 01.

EVOLUTIONARY OR REVOLUTIONARY?

So, what can printers expect at Print and in the future? CreoScitex's Sullivan contends that as CTP undergoes widespread adoption, the market will only see evolutionary improvements to the technology. But Barco's Crosby is not so sure.

“Personally, I still think that processless bright-light CTP imaging is a promise yet to be fully realized,” Crosby says. “I learned long ago not to say that something will ‘never’ be, however. I think we still could be looking at revolutionary technological improvements. I certainly don't think we have exhausted the inventive coffers yet.”

And until then, “the technology we currently use will continue to evolve,” Crosby says.