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Four-up CTP: Don't forget the plates

Sep 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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We profiled smaller-format and midsize CTP users in August's “Four-up CTP: cheaper, better, faster, more” (p. 28). We continue our focus on CTP in this issue, with more user profiles — and with slightly more emphasis on the plate side of the equation. According to a recent report by UK-based graphic-arts analysts Vantage Strategic Marketing, CTP plates accounted for 18 percent of the total plate market in 2001 and may represent more than 40 percent of worldwide demand by 2006.

CONSUMABLE CONSIDERATION

Supreme Graphics (Arcadia, WI) is a $5.5 million general commercial printer that typically prints four-color brochures, point-of-sale folders and saddlestitched books. Its Supreme School Supply Co. division produces class record and plan books for school administrators. Supreme Graphics only operates one eight-hour shift per day, five days a week, but with 13 presses of varying sizes to outfit, its prepress department often produces upwards of 100 plates per day.

Plate availability was therefore one of several concerns when the printer decided to go CTP. An ad hoc committee comprising the art director, a prepress employee, the plant manager and president Chuck Blaschko evaluated the equipment and eventually settled on a basysPrint (Atlanta) UV-Setter 57 running Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) (Norwalk, CT) Craftsman plates. The UV-Setter 57 is a four-up, computer-to-conventional-plate device that images analog plates using a UV-light source.

“With visible light, we were concerned about the lack of vendors that could offer the plates — and if that vendor is installing a lot of these devices around the world, would it run out of supply?” says Blaschko.

To top it off, Blaschko estimates that a visible-light system would have cost about $70,000 more, and a thermal system, about $40,000 more, than going with basysPrint's computer-to-conventional-plate device. “The machinery itself was not that much of a determining factor,” the exec admits. “We did press tests with all three systems, and found very little difference. It was more on the consumables end — the plate prices for the other systems were considerably higher, and even the chemistry for thermal processing is more expensive than conventional. With computer to conventional plate, we weren't changing anything in prepress or the pressroom.” Conventional bluelines and Matchprints can also be made on the machine, though Supreme Graphics did install an Epson 10000 for digital contract proofing.

After using the Rampage RIP and Preps Pro software for a year, Supreme Graphics installed the UV-Setter in April. According to plant manager Dan Bjerke, “The next day, we went to CTP and never looked back.” Nearly every job that comes into Supreme Graphics is now processed via the platesetter, except for some contract work that is still done with film.

According to Bjerke, going computer to conventional plate “basically cut everything in half or more.” Once a job is RIPed, he says it takes about four minutes to output a plate, compared with the five minutes it used to take to run film, then the additional time burning the plates.

“Our press operators have been very receptive to the new technology,” adds Blaschko. “Press makeready time has been cut by 50 percent, from a half-hour to 15 minutes.”

DIDN'T WANT BAKING

In 1995, Horton & Horton (H&H) Printing (Little Rock, AR) had part ownership in a prepress house that did all of the printer's prepress. But in 2000, it was time for an upgrade. “We decided to sell our partnership in that business, and began buying out our prepress from other service bureaus in town,” explains Brad Horton, owner and general manager of the family-owned four- and eight-up printer. In 2000, the company started outputting its own film, and eventually it eliminated most of its stripping and burned flats.

H&H is a 20-employee, commercial sheetfed printer that operates a mix of presses, including a 40-inch, two-color Heidelberg; a 25-inch, four-color Heidelberg; a 28-inch, two-color MAN Roland; and Hamada, Ryobi and A.B. Dick duplicators. A sister location does duplicator and four-up work.

While H&H evaluated a range of CTP devices, “we were scared of the chemistry disposal for the visible-light devices, as well as the availability of plates,” says Horton. The printer eventually purchased a Creo (Bedford, MA) Trendsetter running the Prinergy workflow and KPG SWORD thermal no-preheat or postbake plates.

Horton says it's hard to say which was selected first, the device or the plates. The exec says his comfort level with his KPG rep, a longtime acquaintance, coupled with KPG's confidence in its thermal plate, played a key role in his decision.

H&H began installing its digital hardware and software on Feb. 4. Installation took about three days; Horton reports that within two weeks, the company was up to about 90 percent CTP. “We were worried to death about the transition, but now I just can't believe we didn't do it two years ago,” he says. H&H averages about 60 plates per day. The company runs 13-hour shifts, six days a week.

H&H actually installed the whole system without first demoing the SWORD plate. “We had tested KPG's Thermal Gold, and that's the plate we thought we'd end up with,” explains the exec. “But when SWORD became available, we went with it. The Gold plates required pre- and postbake ovens, and we neither wanted nor had room for that.”

The SWORD plates have reportedly been working so well for H&H that another printer that it does joint business with recently switched to the product as well. “We were actually buying plates from the other printer on this piece of business,” Horton says. “The other plates worked fine on press, but when we went to the SWORD, we sent some demo plates over and the other printer loved them.”

MIXING SPECIFIC PLATE AND PRESS

Steve Kramer researched CTP for two years before making a purchase. “We weren't doing film in-house, so it was a big step for us,” he says. Kramer owns Printech (Huntington Beach, CA), a 19-employee commercial sheetfed printer that prints catalogs, brochures and flyers, as well as letterhead and business cards. An average press run is about 3,000 to 5,000 impressions. Printech operates a six-color Mitsubishi 1F, a two-color Shinohara and seven two-color Ryobi presses.

Kramer attended both Graph Expo 2000 and Print 01, “so I could run from one end to the other and compare the equipment. By going two years in a row, I could see what vendors had updated and what kind of progress they were making — and I could make sure they were still there.”

Printech eventually purchased a four-up Creo Trendsetter Spectrum with Brisque workflow and Preps Pro software, and Western Lithotech, A Lastra Group Co.'s (St. Louis) DiamondPlate LT-2 plates. In addition to the Spectrum feature on the Trendsetter, which allows proofing on the device, Printech operates an Iris43WIDE for proofing. (Kramer says Printech uses the Iris more often for proofing — “some customers do want a Matchprint off the Spectrum and are willing to pay extra for it, but Matchprint costs three times more than an Iris,” he relates.)

“I was scared to death,” admits Kramer. “I didn't even know what a RIP was. But just in working with it, I now can't believe how easy it really was. I'm still learning, but I began outputting plates in no time.” Printech is about 90 percent CTP right now, and Kramer does most of the prepress work himself. He received a week's training and had an employee familiar with film output help him through the transitional phase.

The exec initially outsourced jobs that were too difficult to manage, such as those with multiple colors and those that were tough to impose. But “within a month and a half, there was no reason to even think film anymore,” he claims.

The exec says press operators didn't have any apprehension in going to digital plates — six months before installing the platesetter, Kramer did a test run of sorts by having a friend output a catalog job entirely on CTP plates. “The press operators loved it,” he reports.

Which is not to say all was problem-free on press once Printech officially switched over to CTP. Kramer admits operators experienced a lot of problems with the plates at first: “The problems had to do with our type of press and that type of plate,” he says. Western Litho reps worked with Printech and supplied the LT-2E plates, which Kramer says have a different grain from the LT-2s and reportedly run much better on Printech's press. “That solved any of the problems we were having,” he says. “We're making plates on the platesetter for everything, even our duplicators.”

A RIP is a RIP is a RIP…

“Ten years ago, the workflow was: You open up the document, click ‘print,’ and PostScript travels down and onto the device — you didn't touch a thing until something fell out at the back end of the device,” says consultant Hal Hinderliter, president of Hinderliter Consulting & Creative Services (San Luis Obispo, CA). “Now you can export to PDF, drop it into a hot folder… you can do all sorts of crazy things.”

The catch, says Hinderliter, is that workflow options can cost money, and a lot of four-up printers can't necessarily afford all the optional bells and whistles. Nevertheless, he identifies at least three levels of RIPs on the market:

Level 1 is the barebones RIP, according to Hinderliter. “Some CTP devices do the same thing as back in the imagesetter days,” he says.

Level 2 typically consists of a standard RIP (often Harlequin) with plug-ins, such as PDF/X and TIFF/it. According to the consultant, the base RIP typically costs between $12,000 and $17,000. On top of that, expect to pay about $5,000 per plug-in.

The third level is from “the vendors with the big-boy RIPs offering smaller-scale versions of what they have,” says Hinderliter, such as Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) with its MetaDimension, Creo (Bedford, MA) with its Prinergy and Brisque Entro, or Fuji (Hanover Park, IL) with its CelebraNT. These more-sophisticated front ends can cost about $30,000, the consultant estimates.

The need for a high-end RIP will depend on the individual company and its typical jobs, though Hinderliter notes that even smaller printers can benefit from their multiple functionality. But the thing to keep in mind above all is training: “Training is the most frequently overlooked part of CTP installation,” the consultant observes. “Printers looking into CTP investigate the dollars and ROI, and they realize later, ‘Doesn't someone need to learn imposition and run the RIP?’”

More on four-up CTP

Our August 2002 article, “Four-up CTP: cheaper, better, faster, more,” offered some real-world profiles of violet and thermal installations, including Bramkamp Printing (Cincinnati); Hart Graphics (Knoxville, TN); Scoville Press (Plymouth, MN); Tepel Brothers (Troy, MI); Frontier Printing (Ft. Collins, CO); Printing Images (Pottstown, PA); and Brooklyn Printing (Brooklyn Park, MN). You can find the article online at americanprinter.com.


For a comprehensive overview of recent violet, thermal and UV introductions, see “CTP moves forward,” May 2002, p. 36.

CTP news

First violet photopolymer plates in production

Martin Litho (Tampa, FL) has reportedly become the first eight-up commercial color printer to run 30-mW violet photopolymer plates, according to Escher-Grad Technologies, Inc. (Montreal). Martin Litho recently installed Escher-Grad's Cobalt-8 violet CTP system and is imaging to DiamondPlate LV-1 violet photopolymer plates from Western Lithotech, A Lastra Group Co. (St. Louis).

In other news, Escher-Grad's Cobalt-4 platesetter was recently showcased at xpedx's National Technology Center (NTC) grand opening in Twinsburg, OH. The device, which ran live demonstrations throughout the two-day event, will remain a permanent exhibit at the NTC. Escher-Grad will soon also install a Cobalt-8 on premises. Xpedx has been Escher-Grad's distributor since this spring.

Plate-reader study available

GATF (Sewickley, PA) conducted a study that examined the performance and accuracy of four charge-coupled-device (CCD), plate-reading systems: the Acme Plate Reader, Centurfax CC-Dot 4, Viptronic/Beta Screen Ultra Dottie, Techkon DMS 910 and X-Rite 530 Spectrodensitometer.

“Plate Reading Technologies and Their Performance on CTP Plates” can help printers select a plate-reading system that is optimal for their plates. The 48-page, softcover booklet is available for $129 ($59 for GATF/PIA members), not including shipping. To order call (800) 662-3916 or visit gain.net.

Large printers no longer dominant CTP buyers

Large printers are no longer the dominant buyers in the metal CTP market, according to a new report by State Street Consultants, Inc. (Boston). Through 1999, more than 75 percent of all metal CTP units installed each year at printers were reportedly in plants with more than 100 employees. In 2000, the proportion dropped to half, and in 2001, it dropped to little more than a third, equaling installation rates of printers with 50 to 99 employees.

For more information, call (617) 482-1234 or visit statestreetconsultants.com.

CTP environmental regulations

When going CTP, consider the attendant environmental issues, urges CPAC, Inc. (Leicester, NY), a manufacturer of equipment that neutralizes CTP waste chemicals. “The pH hazards that accompany CTP processes are often overlooked. Many printers don't realize that this pH regulation affects them,” observes the firm's Jodi Crawford.

According to Crawford, disposal of printing-plate effluents is regulated by environmental regulations under the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), but local regulations may be more stringent.

For more information on the topic, contact CPAC, which also offers an environmental support service, at (800) 477-1417.

Inline plate turner

Conveyors Plus (Orland Park, IL) plate turners interface between platesetters and plate-processing equipment. The plate turners reportedly can automate plate-processing lines while minimizing processing-equipment size by turning a plate to its narrowest dimension for processing.

In addition to its Quantum 2K right-angle plate-transfer assembly, Conveyors Plus now offers an inline version, Quantum IPT-2002. The new unit has many of the features of the right-angle unit, but also offers a hands-free, self-centering inline workflow.

For information, call (708) 361-1512 or e-mail contact@conveyorsplus.net.

Print Imaging Sciences, Inc.'s (PISCES) (Nashua, NH) JetPlate recently received an InterTech Technology Award from GATF (Sewickley, PA). Based on an inexpensive B3-format inkjet printer, the desktop metal CTP system reportedly enables a printer to accept a digital job file from a customer, image the job onto a conventional subtractive aluminum plate and immediately go to press.

For a complete list of the InterTech winners, see the Industry News section, p. 17.