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Computer-to-plate and Thermal Advancements

January 1998
Be it expanding the performance of a conventional CTP site or capitalizing on thermal CTP, this sampling of digital prepress pioneers runs the gamut.

As technologies for improving computer-to-plate performance continue to test the mettle of the most ingenious of today's commercial printers, the question raised seems more a statement of logic than a much-pondered, genuine inquiry.

How good is CTP?

Whether the direction is a conventional CTP route, with investments in a team of platesetting devices and digital proofers, or a thermal CTP focus capitalizing on the proliferation of thermal plates and growing volume of thermal platesetting devices, one factor seems clear: CTP is working.

CTP is enhancing productivity, delivering quality turnaround and helping commercial printers forge new business opportunities. And while some industry insiders contend advancements in thermal plate development will eventually drive the overall CTP market, the worth of conventional CTP remains valid, and is being increasingly exploited by commercial printing operations.

Let's visit Anderson Lithograph, where a CTP focus relies on thermal imaging technologies from Creo Products, Kodak and Polaroid. Mark Tennant, director of digital imaging and new business development at the Los Angeles-based printer of annual reports, automotive brochures and high-end collateral, will be our tour guide.

Anderson Lithograph
Los Angeles, CA
A thermal CTP site for nearly one year, Anderson Lithograph was on the ground floor of the Creo/Kodak value-added thermal CTP punch that clocked the industry in 1996—still leaving a few industry jaws nursing a slight ache.

An investment in two SGI servers—400GB of on-line and 6.5 terabytes near-line storage running on an ATM backbone that connects to the Creo Trendsetter 3244—gives the throughput required to feed Anderson's six sheetfed and five web presses. This foundation teamed with thermal plate technologies from Kodak, and later the inclusion of Polaroid's DryTech, as well as digital proofing technologies from Kodak in the form of Approval gave life to what today can be tagged a thriving thermal CTP operation.

"We had a distinct concept in mind for establishing our thermal CTP operation," explains Tennant. "We started off conservative with the usage of our CTP devices, then, as we grew our network, we devoted a lot of time and energy to supporting our CTP abilities."

Today Anderson Lithograph is, on a daily basis, running six- and eight-color work utilizing thermal CTP. Writing plates on a CTP device is the easiest part of the equation, Tennant reports, while managing the digital data, picking the correct network architecture and training personnel is where the rubber meets the road.

"Moving huge amounts of data through a network—that poses the greatest area of challenge," Tennant assesses.

A recent Anderson Lithograph CTP job proved to be a prime example—manipulating a series of digital photograph images, provided to the company in the form of PDF files, and delivering a high-quality, eight-color magazine insert. Well- known digital photographer Gerry Bybee came to Anderson Lithograph with the images and a concept that he wanted to feature in the Advertising Annual of Communication Arts. Michael Cronan of Cronan Design took charge of design for the project, and within three days of Anderson Lithograph's first conference with Bybee, the company was moving PDF files among the three sites.

"We extracted the files, created metallics and multiple bump colors to enhance each image, did preliminary proofing on the Kodak Approval, and ran a second generation of proofs on the Creo Trendsetter using Polaroid's DryTech film and Matchprints in order to better simulate the metallics and bump colors," Tennant explains. "The job literally came in on a Wednesday and was printing on our Komori Lithrone eight-color press by Friday."

What about touring CTP activities at other locations, not just the thermal activities at one particular site? A hit-and-run visit to both conventional and thermal CTP shops shows a clear enthusiasm for the technology—as if the CTP wares cluttering trade show floors and industry conferences weren't proof positive that CTP has the industry in a well-executed stranglehold.

To share with the industry a sampling of select CTP activities—and opinions—Printing Impressions encourages this tour of conventional and thermal CTP operations.

New Bedford, MA
Peter DeWalt, president of Reynolds-DeWalt Printing, contends that his printing facility, a conventional CTP site since February 1996, does more than 97 percent of its work CTP. The facility specializes in multicolor work, primarily product brochures of 16 to 32 pages.

At Reynolds-DeWalt, the move to a conventional CTP workflow was, for all intents and purposes, surprisingly flawless, as DeWalt explains.

"The first six months we ran primarily fully imposed, plate-ready film, then we started choosing particular customers with files we were highly comfortable with and converted those customers to CTP," DeWalt reports. "For us, CTP was much easier than we expected—once we started, we made the transition very quickly into a CTP mindset and now are totally committed to CTP."

An Optronics Aurora external-drum platesetter capable of imaging PostScript files directly onto large-format color aluminum plates and film with screen rulings up to 300 lines per inch is the cornerstone of the $8 million printer's CTP site.

Reynolds-DeWalt also relies on DuPont Silverlith SDB plate technology and ScenicSoft Preps imposition software to maximize its CTP workflow, as well as the Optronics ColorSetter 4000 film imagesetter, which is used as a node on Optronics Color Production System (CPS) architecture for digital workflows.

A CalComp printer for black-and-white imposition proofing and a Silicon Graphics file server plus a DALiM Bolero trapping workstation also play key roles in Reynolds-DeWalt's workflow. Color proofs are output on the shops two Iris digital color proofers.

"We expected that once we started CTP, the conversion would be quick, but we never imagined that—within the first six months—50 percent of our business would be CTP," DeWalt recalls. "We feel we have tied our CTP production together in a strong digital workflow, which we plan to expand."

Currently, approximately half of the company's color work is stochastic screening, which produces outstanding results. Reynolds-DeWalt hopes to use this screening in hi-fi color applications.

"These new techniques would not be possible without CTP—these are clear benefits to Reynolds-DeWalt and to our customers, which also benefit from faster turnaround times and fewer proof correction cycles," DeWalt contends.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about CTP is that it forces a printer to fine-tune its workflow to eliminate plate re-makes—Reynolds-DeWalt being no exception.

What is DeWalt's CTP forecast? The term sunny skies paints a pretty accurate picture of DeWalt's expectations for conventional CTP.

"CTP is just one piece of the electronic puzzle—we've got a good-sized file server, we've adopted OPI for using low-res images," he details. "For us, CTP is just a stepping stone to going computer-to-press, which is our ultimate future."

Daniels Printing
Everett, MA
Daniels, a fourth-generation family- owned full-service graphic communications company, has been using CTP in production for approximately one year. As one of the country's largest financial printing companies, Daniels holds a client list that includes some of the biggest names in the financial services industry.

When Daniels made its decision to integrate CTP technology, it insisted that not only the plate technology perform, but that the digital color proofing issues with imposed press signatures were addressed at the same time.

In 1995, Daniels approached Gerber Systems and expressed concerns over what the printer considered to be CTP's major stumbling block. Within just one year, the printing operation was asked to serve as a beta site for a prototype of Gerber Systems' now-released IMPRESS double-sided digital color proofing system.

Today, Daniels Printing—a robust $71 million operation—considers itself a CTP success story, with a Crescent 42 automated platesetting system and second IMPRESS proofer in place. The company plans to purchase a third IMPRESS this year.

The company currently has two Gerber Crescent 42 automated platesetters and a third unit in a controlled beta environment running thermal plate technology. Daniels is looking forward to the day when it is able to use the Gerber devices as "anysetters" and include the proofing of high-resolution, four-color materials in addition to plate materials.

"In the infancy of CTP, no one had a proofing system that could back up the sheet—that's extremely important when you're building press forms," reports Kevin Ruttan, chief technology officer, who works closely with Ed Linsky, manager of CTP, to oversee the company's CTP effort.

The financial printing component of Daniels is about 60 percent of the printer's work—of that, 80 to 90 percent is CTP. Ruttan sees a tremendous future ahead for CTP at Daniels Printing, which, eventually, may include thermal technologies.

"Any technologies that can allow you to work more efficiently place you way ahead of the game," Ruttan states. "If you want to win the game, that's the position you want."

First Impression
Pittsburgh, PA
In less than eight months, First Impression, a medium-sized sheetfed printer situated virtually in the shadow of Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, took the big splash into the waters of filmless workflow.

Acting as its life preserver for CTP was technology from Screen, including the TaigaSPACE workflow, PlateRite platesetter, TruRite digital proofing device and 1065 Screen imagesetter.

The management team's mission four years ago was to bring the then-conventional prepress department up to the technological speed the company had already accomplished with its pressroom. At First Impression, CTP was implemented in two stages, under the direction of Mike Minyon, plant manager, who came to First Impression four years ago after working at a prepress house. Minyon's mission from day one at First Impression was to bring the printing company up to speed, from a digital prepress standpoint.

"We really did our homework before we made the big jump into electronic workflow in 1994, which was step one of our walk into CTP," Minyon reports. With workflow in place, Minyon guided the half-sheet printer of marketing literature to platesetting and digital proofing.

At present, 65 to 70 percent of First Impression's work is CTP. "Our direct-to-plate throughput is really only limited by our customer's ability to provide us with their jobs electronically—it's just a matter of time before our entire client base works electronically," Minyon estimates.

On thermal technology, First Impression feels it's a bit immature. For now, the company's silver halide plate delivers predictable results and accommodates its run length. "Thermal might be the future, but we believe it's really not so special right now," Minyon reports. "For today, we're making great progress with our CTP effort, and we feel there are no limitations to what we can achieve."

Mahaffey Quality Printing
Jackson, MS
Mahaffey Quality Printing is a $7 million general commercial printer located in downtown Jackson. Family-owned since being founded in 1951, it now employs 45 people and specializes in high-quality, short-run color as well as narrow-web flexo work.

"We're the only CTP-equipped printing company in Mississippi," boasts Jeff Wall, production manager. "We keep 17 presses running daily and average about 800 print jobs per month."

Mahaffey's CTP device, a Presstek Pearlsetter 74, feeds two midsize Heidelberg MO presses.

"We beefed up prepress this year as well with the addition of a 533MHz DEC Alpha file server and OPI spooler along 100 base-T network switch and DLT backup system," he continues. "We archive more than 150GB per month to tape and were using 4mm DAT."

Digital workflow is the most important part of the equation, he contends. "We have been outputting to fully imposed and punched film since late 1993 using a Linotype-Hell (now Heidelberg Prepress) Herkules imagesetter—we were ready for CTP before it was ready for us."

Robert Mahaffey, president of the company, and Wall went to DRUPA in May 1995 with the intention of selecting a CTP device.

What were their impressions?

Well, while there were many on display, almost every one was targeted at the 40˝ market and priced at $500,000 and up.

"We saw the Presstek device and considered it the only logical candidate based on size and price, but opted to wait for the technology to move downstream to the midsize market," Wall says.

"The thermal part of the CTP in use here has enabled us to eliminate processing and chemistry from the platemaking process, saving labor and reducing consumables. We have cut more than $100,000 in consumables from prepress this year by converting to CTP—that is by far no small number for a printer our size—plus the quality of image detail and contrast is better with thermal CTP as well as faster and more efficient."

—Marie Ranoia Alonso

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