Invest in the right printing plate

medium_laurel2015.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

It’s amazing how long it took for computer-to-plate (CtP) technology to become widespread. CtP in prepress has made a huge contribution to improving print’s environmental impact. Going direct to plate and bypassing the film imaging and contacting stages removes processes in printing plate production. CtP had been around since the 1980s, but its key goals proved elusive. That all changed in 1995.

The CtP breakthrough came at drupa 1995 when developers finally cracked the problem. They had been searching for that elusive combination of coating and processing chemistries. Their goal was to have short imaging time and long run lengths on press, with cost effective imaging layers and processing chemistries. In 1995 Kodak and Creo (which Kodak subsequently acquired) introduced thermal imaging CtP, completely upstaging introductions from competitors which presented various CtP devices based on green (YAG) lasers. At drupa 1995 there were over fifty CtP systems from companies who have mostly fallen by the wayside or been acquired including Autologic, Cymbolic Sciences, Purup, Barco and Creo.

This sudden outpouring of options followed the introduction in 1993 of the first real CtP plate, Agfa’s LithoStar rapidly followed by Fujifilm with Brillia and Kodak’s Electra plates. The net result is that today there are very few film imaging systems sold or implemented, at least in developed markets. Kodak still sells a lot of film in some geographies but gradually CtP and the associated plates are replacing ageing film systems.

CtP has become the norm for most workflows and this technology continues to drive down the environmental impact of print as companies improve their plate offerings. Processless plate technologies keep getting better and developers have come up with interesting innovations for how they are sold. Agfa for instance offers customers the option to buy just the imaging layers, so they effectively rent the plate’s aluminium, which Agfa then collects for recycling as part of the deal.

More recently we have seen customers moving to processless plates, which do not have the durability of competing options, however this is not a problem as print run lengths fall. Kodak reports rising sales for its Sonora processless plate in all geographies.

CtP has also influenced other parts of print media production workflows, helping to improve print’s sustainability. It drives improved processing, data accuracy, energy requirements and overall production speed. CtP has helped create an environment in which many new companies can thrive, developing software that helps to make sure that prepress errors are dealt with early in the workflow and electronically. CtP has also boosted the importance of accurate digital data processing: errors on plate and press are expensive to fix. Fortunately advances in prepress have meant that such disasters are increasingly rare. Fewer remakes also means less waste and another boost to print’s environmental impact.

– Laurel Brunner

This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, HP, Kodak, Kornit, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.

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