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CTP--Still Testing the Waters

February 1999
As computer-to-plate grows in popularity and application, prepress officials and technology providers trade outlooks on CTP's hottest issues—especially the true commercial availability of thermal plates. What's better—thermal or non-thermal? Warning: They tell it like it is.


Is the jury still out on the long-term merits of thermal imaging—and the consumables considerations any reasonable prepress director must labor over when deliberating which output device to recommend, thermal or non-thermal?

For one, Maureen Richards, prepress technical director at United Lithograph, now a Mail-Well company, has her thermal reservations.

"The current thermal technology is not 'utopia,' but I am perhaps biased by the success of our non-

thermal Galileo CTP workflow," Richards reports, noting that United's Agfa Galileo platesetter, working in tandem with a Polaroid digital halftone proofer, has boosted prepress productivity at the Somerville, MA, printer. "We do not think that the thermal solutions available today offer a significant enough advantage for our business."

Yes, United's Richards concedes, thermal technology allows longer press runs, up to a "gazillion impressions," she quips. "But the fact is, we are a commercial sheetfed operation with average run lengths between 20,000 and 40,000 impressions."

"The thermal process images much more precisely. I won't argue that under a 10,000X microscope the edges on a thermal-imaged plate are better defined than our double-YAG green plate, but let's be real. First of all, how much of this is negated by the whole process of putting a petroleum by-product on a substrate? After all, that's what printing is," Richards argues. "Secondly, our customers do not come in for their press OKs with a microscope in hand, but rather rely on a BetaView 12 to check the registration and overall quality of their jobs. To date, they're very pleased with the results we achieve with our Galileo."

Is Richards just anti-thermal? Not really. Just pro-caution. "I believe that the real benefits of thermal are yet to be realized," she states. "We would like to see a processless plate, better quality control tools at the RIP and some robust editing tools at the computer that drive the proof and plate."

What's holding thermal back? All together now: Consumables.

"The true availability of thermal printing plates and the flexibility of plate manufacturers to provide these plates must improve considerably for thermal CTP to be fully optimized," contends Scitex's Stan Najmr, product marketing manager chiefly responsible for the roll-out of the Scitex Lotem 800V thermal platesetter. "Thermal plate technology is still not where it needs to be; the industry needs more than just one or two vendors to rely on for availability of plates for full production capacities, far beyond just the testing stage."



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