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Compromise-free plates

Apr 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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It's easier than ever to go green in prepress as ecofriendly plate technology steps up to conventional CTP benchmarks. Printers implementing cleaner CTP technology report benefits beyond environmental stewardship, including reduced costs and more efficient production. And new ecofriendly plates are eliminating drawbacks such as slower imaging and shorter run lengths vs. conventional.

“This technology is getting better and better,” says Ray Cassino, director of Prinect and CTP product management, Heidelberg USA (Kennesaw, GA). “In the past, there was a performance stigma around this technology,” he says, explaining that the larger printing companies were less inclined to adopt “green” CTP than the 2-up and 4-up market. “If you had a platesetter that did 21 plates per hour with plates that required chemistry, and then you went processless or chem-free, you took a performance hit. That certainly kept some of the big players out of the game.” Heidelberg and other vendors now offer chemistry-free plates that image at normal machine speeds and reduced chemistry plates that stand up to very long runs. According to Cassino, the 8-up market is taking notice.

Green CTP also is moving downstream to smaller format shops. Following drupa 2008, Mark Baker-Homes, iCtP business unit director for Glunz & Jensen (Elkwood, VA), noted that the majority of chemistry-free CTP solutions have largely excluded smaller printers. With the launch of the company's second-generation PlateWriter 2000, he said, “We expect to ignite immense excitement amongst all small printing companies and commercial print establishments who look to invest in CTP and are keen to embrace the environmentally friendly message.”

Colleen Molkenbur, senior product manager for Mitsubishi Imaging (MPM), Inc. (Rye, NY), touts the environmental benefits of polyester plates vs. aluminum. “Yes, polyester plates are petroleum based, but like metal plates, they are recyclable. And more importantly, the carbon footprint — from production of the raw materials through the printer's production of the imaged plate — is significantly smaller.”

With these developments and violet chemistry-free CTP hitting the commercial print market this year, it seems there will be an ecofriendly CTP alternative to every plate used in any type of printing operation.

Earth-friendly options

Agfa's (Ridgefield Park, NJ) ThermoFuse non-ablative plate technology is available on a broad range of plates for various applications. A very thin single-layer coating of aqueous solution physically bonds the image to the plate without chemical processing.

The :Azura TS thermal, negative working plate for low- to mid-volume commercial printing incorporates ThermoFuse technology. Built on the original Agfa :Azura chemistry-free plate, it features increased sensitivity and requires less laser power, reportedly increasing throughput by up to 50%. It images at up to 240 lpi (:Sublima screening) and runs 100,000 impressions. The plate requires a gumming process in a clean-out unit.

The reduced chemistry :Amigo plate brings the benefits of ThermoFuse to higher run lengths — up to 200,000 unbaked or 500,000 baked. It is a daylight working thermal plate that delivers high-resolution plate performance, including stochastic (FM) screening, as well as low chemistry usage and long bath life. It can be imaged on any 830nm thermal platesetter.

Agfa's :Acento II 4-up and 6-up thermal CTP compact platesetters, compatible with Agfa's :Azura plate line, produce up to 21 plates/hr. See

Up to speed

Heidelberg's new Saphira Chemfree 101 negative working, daylight-safe, anodized thermal plate features a higher spectral sensitivity that enables it to be imaged at full or near-full speed on all Suprasetters. “Our 21 plate per hour model gets 21 plates per hour, and on the 27 plate per hour model there's a slight slowdown from 27 to 25,” says Cassino. The plate requires gumming in a small clean-out unit, which is self-cleaning, uses no water and requires a monthly gum change.

“The Saphira Chemfree 101 plate is positioned as the perfect combination with our A52/A75 Suprasetter models, which have been developed with the environment in mind,” says Don Rogers, Heidelberg USA's consumables product manager for CTP, proofing and plates. “The power consumption for these models is 1,000 watts — less than most hair dryers.” Cassino notes that the lasers turn off when the platesetter is not in use, minimizing energy usage.

Much less chemistry is used in processing this plate.

Better coating for more contrast

“There also has been an improvement in the coating, providing an even higher contrast plate,” says Rogers, “to visually confirm that the plate has the correct information before printing. Also, the plate can be measured by any standard plate reading device.”

The Saphira Chemfree 101 plate, rated for up to 100,000 impressions, can be imaged at up to 200 lpi AM, 30 micron FM or 250 lpi/20 micron hybrid. Cassino says, “In general, we promote hybrid screening over any other type. It's easy for the average printer to print, [because] you don't have to have very strict process controls in your prepress and press areas. You can be ‘normal’ — I didn't say ‘sloppy.’ With FM screening, you've got to have everything finely tuned in prepress and on press. Normally with FM screening, you get shorter run lengths overall because the spot size is so much smaller. So with chem-free plates, it's more a case of the resolution of the plate itself. A plate that can handle a 30 micron FM screen can still handle a 200 line AM screen. Most people today are printing 175 lpi, and these plates can go up to 300 lpi with hybrid screening. I wouldn't use FM screening — although it's a good technology and it has its application — as the benchmark of quality.”

Reduced chemistry, better UV compatibility

Heidelberg's Saphira Thermoplate NA reduced chemistry plate — using up to five times less chemistry — is recommended for very high print volumes. The plate is rated for up to 200,000 impressions (up to 500,000 baked) and offers improved compatibility with UV inks. “If a plate can be baked, then you can use it for UV applications,” Cassino explains. “The ink is very abrasive and also the stock that you print on is usually coarser, and that breaks down the plate quicker. Without baking, some plates cannot handle any UV printing whatsoever. Others can do short-run UV — 20,000 or 30,000 impressions — and if baked, up into the hundreds of thousands.”


Quality, speed & price

“Processless plates were a no-brainer for us from the very beginning because of the savings,” says Garrett Anderson, president of Anderson Print Group, a general commercial printer based in Omaha, NE (

Fujifilm's (Valhalla, NY) Ecomaxx-T thermal processless plates enabled Anderson to make the leap from film-based imaging to the latest CTP technology. “Our workflow has changed drastically,” he says. “The processless plates are a little bit more expensive, but we're saving enough with them to outrun the difference. We went from three positions down to two, and that's helped us stay competitive.”

Compatible with most thermal (830nm) platesetters, the daylight-safe Ecomaxx-T requires low imaging power that results in the same plate production speed as conventional thermal. It is a non-ablative plate that images at 200 lpi AM or 300 lpi FM/hybrid and supports run lengths up to 100,000 impressions. It carries a latent image with contrast, allowing visual inspection after imaging. On press, its MultiGrain technology enables the plate to carry ink and fountain solution quickly, hitting full production within a similar number of waste sheets to conventional plates.

Anderson was surprised to find the new plate enabled faster makeready, getting up to color in 10-15 sheets instead of their previous standard, 100-200 sheets. “[That was] just a golden nugget we discovered once everything was in place,” he says.

Fujifilm also offers the daylight handling Brillia HD processless thermal plate. It supports run lengths up to 100,000 impressions and offers 200 lpi AM or 300 lpi hybrid/FM resolution.

According to Tony Mraz, production manager for The Digital Hub (Chicago), “[Fujifilm's] Brillia HD processless thermal plates image at the full speed of our platesetter and are twice as fast as the product we were using before.” The Digital Hub uses a Fujifilm Dart 4300 S platesetter.

The newest addition to Fujifilm's CTP family is the 2-up to 8-up Javelin 8800 series, introduced at Graph Expo 08. The Javelin 8800ZX can image 51 plates/hr.; the Javelin 8800E images 24 plates/hr.; the Javelin 8800S images 32 plates/hr.; and the Javelin 8800Z images 42 plates/hr. The E and S models can be upgraded in the field.


Smooth sailing (Tempe, AZ) is a short-run printer with two facilities and 85 employees generating $25 million per year. The company recently switched from chemistry-free CTP to Kodak's (Rochester, NY) Thermal Direct Non Process Plate. It develops on press, eliminating the costs associated with standalone processors. The plate is compatible with standard thermal CTP platesetters and a wide range of inks and fountain solutions. It can be handled before and after imaging safely for up to 1 hour under white light and 4 hours under yellow light. It offers up to 200 lpi AM or 25 micron FM resolution and supports run lengths up to 100,000 impressions.

“We image the plates using standard AM screening at 200 lpi, they go straight to the press and we do a normal rollup,” says Glenn Kacsh, vice president of manufacturing for

Kacsh says staff concerns posed the biggest challenge when implementing processless CTP. “People tend to have preconceived notions, such as, ‘I don't want all that junk in my fountain solution.’ We had a conference call with Kodak and they gave us a lot more information.” In the end, 48Hourprint's press operators found absolutely no changes were required on press.

“The only weakness to the plates is that they scratch easily,” Kacsh notes. “You do have to be careful in handling, so there was a learning curve. But as far as startup and printability goes, we never saw any issues with it.”

Kodak's PF-N Non Process Plate for newspaper applications also develops on press, eliminating the need for a plate processor or chemistry, thus reducing environmental impact.


Short-run flexibility

Mitsubishi Imaging (MPM) Inc.'s (Rye, NY) Thermal DigiPlate System consists of the TDP-459 platesetter — which produces 60 plates/hr. in sizes up to 18.1 × 20.7 inches — and the TDP-R175 paper-based plate material, rated for 3,000 impressions. The flexible, paper-based CTP plate is completely processless. Thermal DigiPlate thermal fusing technology generates plates that produce no waste except for the plate itself.

For 10 years, MPM has offered the reduced chemistry Eco1630 series of platesetters. Its processing technology replaces a typical bath style processor with a coating bar, which applies a thin layer of chemical onto the plate, reducing chemistry and maintenance. The Eco1630IIIR can produce plates up to 16.8 × 22.8 inches and images at up to 2,400 dpi.

MPM has taken its patented Eco-coating technology to the DPX 4 Eco 4-up polyester platesetter. The DPX 4 Eco is fully automated and produces daylight safe, reduced chemistry polyester CTP plates up to 26.77 × 29.7 inches.


MPM plate earns accolades

MPM's Thermal DigiPlate has received the “Distinguished Technology Award” from the Japanese Society of Printing Science and Technology. The award recognizes a technology that made extraordinary contribution to the development of printing. The plate also has been awarded a “Gold Clione Mark” ranking from the Environment Pollution Prevention Printing Association (E3PA) in Japan.

Processless polyester & metal

Xanté's (Mobile, AL) PlateMaker 5 XL Large Format CTP System, which debuted at Graph Expo 08, produces 16-up processless polyester plates and paper proofs up to 36 × 48 inches. Powered by the Xanté Symphony Workflow, the all-in-one PDF workflow preserves file content and automates prepress tasks such as imposition and trapping. The toner-based polyester platemaking solution requires no plate processing chemicals. Plates can be imaged in about one minute and placed directly on press. The Platemaker 5 XL is designed for single- and spot-color work. It uses Myriad polyester plates, which have hydrophilic properties that provide fast rollup and a durable plate surface.

Xanté's PlateMaker5 produces paper proofs, film and processless polyester plates. Xanté's electrophotographic Z-7 Technology images up to 120 Myriad 2 polyester plates/hr., rated for run lengths of 20,000 impressions or more. The grained surface of the Myriad 2 plate allows it to hold very small halftone dots. A 340MM option was designed specifically for the Heidelberg Printmaster QM 46.

The Xanté Impressia Metal PlateSetter images processless Aspen metal plates for 2-up portrait presses. This desktop CTP platesetter images plates in 60 seconds and allows users to control dimensional accuracy, spot function and dot gain. The internal Adobe PostScript 3 RIP provides 2,400 x 2,400-dpi resolution. Impressia plates need no chemicals before running on the press, and each plate is rated for more than 25,000 impressions.


Inkjet strikes again

Glunz & Jensen's PlateWriter 2000 and 2400 debuted at drupa 2008. These processor-free, B3 format platesetters transfer the press-ready image directly onto daylight-safe, uncoated aluminum plates. The company's iCtP technology eliminates chemicals and processing by implementing inkjet technology to “print” the image onto a blank plate. There is no coating to remove, thus no light sensitivity or processing. An integrated finishing unit dries and gums the plate, which then goes on press or can be stored.


Saved by chemistry-free CTP

“Ideally, I wanted to move to a chemistry-free platemaking process to improve productivity, reduce costs and run a more environmentally friendly operation,” says Chris Edwards, owner of Infinity Press, a general commercial printer in San Carlos, CA. The 8-employee operation runs a 20-inch and a 40-inch press, producing a wide range of printed products including plastics.

“With a film-based process, not only did it take longer to produce plates, but it consumed a lot of manpower in prepress, as well as at the press because of the constant adjustments required to get everything in register,” Edwards explains. He installed a Presstek (Hudson, NH) Dimension 200 Excel platemaker to image chemistry-free Anthem plates, choosing the 2-up format because he anticipated selling his 40-inch press.

A one-man department

With the new system in place, Edwards reduced his prepress staff from three to one. “Our prepress employee is unbelievably productive now,” he says. “He preps files, generates internal proofs and makes digital proofs for clients. While all that is happening, he is also sending plates to the Dimension. I can't believe how much work we are running through the prepress department now with only one operator. He keeps up with two presses without any difficulty at all.”

Ultimately, Edwards kept his 40-inch press and upgraded to the 8-up Dimension 800 platesetter. He says, “I was committed to running a chemistry-free operation and it has made a big difference for my company. Had I not moved to Presstek's Dimension 800 CTP with chemistry-free Anthem Pro thermal plates, I don't believe I would still be in business today.”

In 2008, Presstek introduced its next-generation Dimension Pro 800 semi-automatic platesetter. It images at 200 lpi on up to 45 × 33-inch plates, producing 11 Anthem Pro or 15 Aurora Pro plates/hr.

Presstek's grained anodized aluminum chemistry-free plates are daylight safe and can be read after imaging, enabling full inspection prior to mounting on press. Presstek plates do not require baking or other processing after imaging — just a water wash before mounting on press. They reportedly have a stronger resistance to UV inks and solvents than conventional offset plates.

Shown for the first time in 2008, Presstek's Aurora Pro chemistry-free plate can be imaged on a range of thermal platesetters including Presstek's new Compass Series and Dimension Pro 800 platesetters, and several models distributed by Screen and Kodak. Aurora Pro plates can be imaged at 200 lpi AM and stochastic. Aurora Pro supports run lengths up to 25,000 impressions.

Anthem Pro plates deliver a chemistry-free platemaking solution for Dimension Series platesetters and support run lengths up to 100,000 impressions.


Denise Kapel is managing editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Know your plate's impact

Independent consultant John Zarwan (Charlottetown, PEI, Canada) has released the results of a study, supported by Fujifilm and Kodak, on plates and their environmental impact. It analyzes four main areas: chemistry, energy, water and waste, comparing plate types and the resources they use. Plates included in the study:


  • Agfa (Energy Elite)
  • Fujifilm (Brillia HD LH-PJ/PL)
  • Kodak (Sword Excel and Electra)
  • Agfa Lithostar Ultra LAP-V violet plate

Reduced chemistry

“There are a number of optionsfor chemistry reductions, including the use of ‘intelligent processors’ such as the Fujifilm FLH-Z ‘ZAC’ processor with the Brillia HD LH-PJ/PL plate, or a reduced chemistry plate, such as the Agfa :Amigo,” says Zarwan.


  • Agfa :Azura thermal plate
  • Fujifilm Brillia HD Ecomaxx-V (PRO-V) violet plate


  • Fujifilm Brillia HD Ecomaxx-T (PRO-T)
  • Kodak Thermal Direct

The report, “Environmental Impact of a Printing Plate,” is available as a free download at

The clean plate club


No processing required; plate is finished on press during makeready.


Requires a gumming and/or wash step, but not conventional chemical processing.

Reduced chemistry

Much less chemistry is used in processing this plate.

Here comes violet

Chemistry-free in HD

Fujifilm introduced the violet chemistry-free Brillia HD Ecomaxx-V plate at Graph Expo 08. (It debuted under the Brillia HD PRO-V brand name at drupa 2008.) All of Fujifilm's Brillia HD plates image at up to 200 lpi AM or 20 micron FM. The Brillia HD Ecomaxx-V is rated for up to 200,000 impressions and is compatible with current violet platesetters.

Extra, extra…

Agfa's :N92-VCF (violet chemistry-free) plate, which debuted at NEXPO 2008, appeared in ECRM's booth at Graphics of the Americas 2009. ECRM imaged the plate live on the MAKO NEWSmatic platesetter. See

Violet vs. thermal

“Since 1995, we've always said, ‘If you want to go processless or chem-free, you have to have thermal technology,’” says Heidelberg's Ray Cassino. Now, he cites cost as the main differentiator between the two technologies. “Violet technology generally is less expensive, and it produces equal image quality.”

According to Cassino, the Saphira Violet Chemfree plate technology Heidelberg first demonstrated in 2006 will become available in 2009.

The chem-free violet plates can be imaged at the same speed as conventional plates, says Cassino, “So there's no performance hit, there's no resolution hit, there's no quality hit.”

Stay tuned!

Sunny and certified

According to Screen (USA) (Rolling Meadows, IL), chemistry-free platemaking contributes to the measurable reduction in both the material costs and environmental impact of printing. Screen works closely with manufacturers to certify processless and chemistry-free plate media for the PlateRite series thermal CTP lineup. These plates meet the demands of most commercial printers and can be handled under daylight conditions. Where limited floor space is a concern, an existing PlateRite user can eliminate the processing step and run processless and chemistry-free plates without adding a new device.

The PlateRite family affords considerable flexibility in available plate formats, plate handling (with standard semi-automated plate loading or optional SA-L single-cassette and MA-L multiple-cassette autoloading) and plate punching. Numerous configurations are possible, from the 4-up PlateRite 4300 series to the newest PlateRite Ultima VLF models: PlateRite Ultima 40000 (40-up) and PlateRite Ultima 48000 (48-up).

Four- and 8-up PlateRite models that can be paired with processless and chemistry-free plates include the PlateRite 4300E and 4300S. Six-up models include the 6600E and 6600S. Many Screen 8-up and 16-up platesetters also are compatible.

The high-speed PlateRite 8800ZX and PlateRite Ultima 16000IIZ are two of Screen's newest CTP recorders for commercial applications.


Sights set on green

In 2008, Presstek introduced a new line, the Compass 4000 Series 4-up and the Compass 8000 Series 8-up platesetters. They range in production speed from 15 to 38 plates/hr. to suite a wide range of printing environments. Presstek Compass platesetters, imaging up to 250 lpi (100 l/cm), are paired with Presstek's Aurora Pro chemistry-free plates and also image a range of low energy (830 nm laser) third-party thermal plates.

Compass 4000 Series | The Compass 4015 and 4038 platesetters offer 4-up drum size and image plates up to 30 × 26.96 inches at up to 15 and 38 plates/hr., respectively.

Compass 8000 Series | The Compass 8022 and 8030 8-up platesetters image plates up to 45.7 × 37.4 inches. Compass 8022 and 8030 image up to 22 or 30 full-size plates/hr., respectively.

Presstek's Compass Series can be configured for highly automated platesetting. Standard Compass systems are semi-automatic and feature continuous plate loading. Users can add several options to increase automation, including multiple cassette autoloaders and inline punching.

Presstek Freedom Pro chemistry-free plates and the small-format Vector FL52 platesetter, also introduced in 2008, deliver affordable metal platemaking to small printers. Supporting run lengths up to 25,000 impressions, the Freedom Pro has a grained anodized surface.


Find it online

Read more about CTP at