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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Polyester’s checkered past gives way to bright future

Jul 13, 2001 12:00 AM

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Accepted by smaller printers but originally rejected by other commercial printers, polyester plates, observes Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) prepress marketing director Ray Cassino, "have a checkered past."

Polyester plates are ideal for run lengths of about 20,000 to 25,000 impressions, and according to Cassino, are good for short-run color work at about 150 to 175 line screens. Dean Meyer, product manager, output systems, at Heidelberg Prepress, says the biggest base of polyester installation is found in the duplicator market, where quality is reportedly acceptable and the investment of going from film-imaging to polyester-plate imaging, easy.

"Customers don’t always want to take the plunge into CTP," Meyer relates. "If they buy an imagesetter that images to both film and polyester plates--in most cases, you just change the processor, and that’s it--it’s not a major investment for them."

Because the film market has matured, the product manager says Heidelberg is now positioning its imagesetters as computer-to-polyester-plate devices "that still do film." He adds that Heidelberg has enjoyed some success selling a combiprocessor that includes chemistry for processing both film and polyester plates, with a crossover section that directs the material into the correct processor. "Customers have said it’s like being half-in and half-out of CTP, and it’s a great solution for them," he says.

Larger sheetfed printers, on the other hand, apparently have a harder time accepting polyester plates. Results on press tended to be unstable with the first-generation products, and operators had to contend with stretch and other issues.

According to Jeff Troll, director of marketing at Mitsubishi Imaging (MPM) Inc. (Rye, NY), a supplier of analog and digital polyester and paper-based plates, Mitsubishi Imaging originally introduced its older-technology Silver Master analog polyester plate through in-plant and quick printers "that weren’t doing long-run, four-color work but still needed something a little higher quality than what they previously had." He says Silver Master was a perfect fit--but as a result, polyester plates got the reputation for only being appropriate for basic, text linework jobs.

Troll says the company’s biggest challenge still is countering press operator bias against polyester plates. Though quality has improved over the years, "they don’t believe that polyester can do what we say it can," he says.

Unfortunately, says Meyer, that’s where the polyester buy-in must happen: at the operator level. "An owner can buy polyester plates with ROI in mind," he says, "but if the press operators don’t want polyester to run on their presses, they’ll make sure it won’t."

As polyester plates are now in their third generation, however, Meyer says it pays for printers to look at them now. Cassino quips, "This isn’t the Buick your father drove."

Heidelberg offers the Cristala Quick Silver digital polyester plates as part of its consumables solutions. The plates are manufactured to Heidelberg’s specifications by a Japanese manufacturer. They are available in a new 12-mil thickness--most polyester plates are 8 mil, which Meyer says has caused mounting problems on press.

"It was hard for printers with larger-size presses to switch from 12-mil metal plates for some jobs to an 8-mil poly plate for others," Meyer relates. "Now with the 12-mil polyester plate, there are no ink changes between the polyester and metal plates being used on press. And because the plates are thicker, there’s more dimensional stability. It’s a big thing that will help change the market."

While polyester CTP has been most popular with small-format press operations, look for more options for the four- and eight-up markets. Last year, for example, Heidelberg introduced its Primesetter, which images 12-mil polyester plates for 28- and 40-inch presses.

Heidelberg turns around printers still hostile to polyester through demos and print samples. Mitsubishi Imaging does the same, through live demos using polyester plates on press for four-color work, and open houses and trade shows.

"You can’t just tell them that polyester has improved; you have to show them," attests Troll. "Once press operators see how our polyester plates work on press, most are amazed. It’s not just the simple, down-and-dirty stuff that polyester plates have a reputation for."

Acceptance does seem to be increasing. "Three years ago, 20 percent to 25 percent of our Quickmaster 46s were being used with some type of polyester plate," Meyer recalls. "Today, more than 50 percent of our Quickmaster 46s are using some type of polyester."

For more on polyester plates, see "Imagesetters & beyond: CTP options for quick printers," January 2001, p. 50.