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CTP vs. CTF -- The Debate Rages On

June 2000
Of all the issues, and they are many, facing the graphic arts and printing industry today, none can ignite a heated debate more quickly than the issue of computer-to-plate (CTP) vs. computer-to-film (CTF) among their respective ardent supporters. In the past few years, as CTP became a reality with efficient, dependable and cost-effective equipment, increasing numbers of companies replaced aging imagesetters with platesetting devices.

Why? Because many printers saw the new breed of CTP devices as an opportunity to springboard to a shorter production workflow without the added consumables and chemicals of film processing. Also, the new digital, CTP plates are more uniform, longer-wearing and pressroom staffs across the country continue to sing the praises of this rapidly growing technology. Especially telling is the frequent observation of "plates that always fit vs. CTF then burned plates that must be tweaked to achieve nearly the same results."

Recent CTP Successes
One such company is Typecraft Inc. in Pasadena, CA. Typecraft is a smaller printer dedicated to continually innovating for its customers with the very best-of-breed technology. In 1998, Typecraft became a 100-percent CTP shop, when it bought a Heidelberg/Creo Trendsetter 3244 and a Trendsetter Spectrum 3244 to produce digital plates and proofs.

Since adopting CTP, Typecraft's press operators have seen distinct differences with the CTP plates and presswork. Most of their jobs arrive in digital format; however, they do still occasionally receive film or a combination of disks and transparencies. "When a job comes through where plates have been produced using traditional prepress, our press operators know immediately that the plates aren't CTP because they're not as sharp and the 'fit' is not as good," explains Tim Silverlake, electronic prepress supervisor at Typecraft. "Our press-men are pleased by the near-perfect register and fit of the CTP-imaged plates. Heidelberg's accompanying CPC32 technology allows them to accurately preset the ink fountains to precisely the right positions."

Another company that began recognizing an immediate time and energy savings with its CTP acquisition is Derry, NH-based Eastern Rainbow, which was founded in 1976 as a prepress trade shop. Eastern Rainbow merged with Souhegan Color, a commercial sheetfed printer located in nearby Nashua, NH, in 1999. Together, the companies became Eastern Rainbow and Souhegan Color, a division of Eastern Rainbow; reported revenues for the combined effort are in the area of $15 million.

With the merger, the new company evolved into a full-service graphic communications company providing graphic design and production, digital photography, digital and traditional prepress, and printing services. Customers of note include Putnam Investments, Timberland, McGraw-Hill, Bass Shoe, T.J. Maxx and Hasbro. With such a diverse client base, the company began looking to the future and installed an Agfa Galileo VS platesetter in February, 1999.

The new Galileo VS is a visible light, computer-to-plate system designed to raise the productivity of high-volume printing operations by employing a reliable, violet laser diode operating at 410nm. The shorter wavelength reportedly enables the fastest imaging speeds in the industry, thereby increasing throughput, and raises Rainbow's productivity to new levels.

"The Galileo VS will improve our quality and, in combination with our new 40˝ press, enable us to be more competitive in our fiercely competitive market," contends Bob Stuart Jr., president of Eastern Rainbow. "The Galileo VS will make us a much more profitable company."

Film Still Has Proponents
Aside from the manufacturers' litany of CTP benefits, commercial printers have been putting the equipment through real-life paces for two or three years and proclaim they "never want to go back to burning plates from film."

On the flip side, though, are companies like K&H Integrated Print Solutions in Everett, WA. Jay Ackley, co-founder, executive vice president and general manager, still believes in the merits of a conventional, film-based workflow. "Conventional offset will never go away given the low cost of most offset jobs compared to jobs produced using other technology, specifically CTP. In addition, film is much easier to archive, then re-strip for a reprint as needed."

Old Favorites
In addition to the Heidelberg/ Creo and CreoScitex Trendsetter family, ECRM, Purup-Eskofot and Screen (USA), among others, all offer CTP devices for a diverse market.

ECRM, which purchased Optronics in 1999, has two platesetters in its stable of products. The Tigercat is optimized for commercial prepress and printing businesses that specialize in brochures, forms, annual reports and other demand-ing print jobs. Tigercat produces plates at resolutions up to 3,556 dpi and can output 50 full-size (24x29.5˝), four-up plates per hour at 1,270 dpi, and 20 plates per hour at 3,556 dpi.

Tigercat's sibling, the Wildcat, is aimed at publishing applications and boasts throughput of more than 120 single-broadsheet plates per hour at 1,000 dpi. Wildcat can also produce plates with a resolution up to 2,540 dpi and a screen resolution of up to 150 lines.

Both machines use a multi-facet halogen laser and can be ordered with a red laser for imaging directly on red-sensitive, silver-halide metal plates, or with an optional green laser for imaging on green-sensitive, silver-halide or photopolymer plates.

Purup-Eskofot's ImageMaker series provides devices for both computer-to-film and computer-to-plate workflows. This device line includes the ImageMaker B1 CTF, ImageMaker B1 CTP, and ImageMaker B1 CTP Thermal, as well as the ImageMaker B2 CTF, ImageMaker B2 CTP and ImageMaker B2 CTP Thermal.

Screen (USA)'s PlateRite 8000 has found a fan in Tom Coker, electronic prepress manager at Communicorp, the printing division of insurance giant AFLAC, located in Columbus, GA. Coker says, "We spent two years researching the thermal platesetting market. Within the first 30 days of installation, the PlateRite 8000 has already exceeded our first six months' projections."

The PlateRite 8000—and it's 4-up cousin the PlateRite 4000—boasts a speed of 12 plates per hour at 2,400 dpi, and achievable resolutions up to 4,000 dpi with true, round dots. The non pre-bake thermal plates can range in size from 21.6x25.6˝ up to 37x45.6˝.

So, there you have it. From CTP converts to a CTF diehard, the debate continues. And with the new, more fully featured and robust devices that were launched at DRUPA last month, the debate is sure to escalate. Will CTP win? Or, will CTF stay around for the long haul? Only time will tell.


New At DRUPA 2000

Agfa's new Galileo VS, available in four- and eight-up models, can output 17 40.5˝ (1,030mm) plates per hour at resolutions up to 2,400 dpi. In developing the Galileo, Agfa partnered with leaders in violet laser technology to develop the new line of computer-to-plate systems. In leveraging this technology for use in the graphic arts, Agfa has tapped into the extremely reliable, long-life diode model that is similar to those used in electronic components such as DVD players.

CreoScitex debuted the new of four- and eight-page Trendsetters: the Trendsetter 400, Trendsetter 3230+ and Trendsetter 3244+. The Trendsetter 400 is designed for the specific needs of the four-page market, while the new Trendsetter 3230+ and 3244+ have been re-engineered to better integrate features such as the new 40W SQUAREspot thermal-imaging head, laser-cooling system and debris-collection components (for ablative processless media).

FujiFilm introduced the new Dart Luxel T6000 CTP thermal platesetter that is capable of producing plates up to 21.5x32.25˝. With a compact footprint, high speed and consistent plate quality, the Dart Luxel sports other features including high productivity, with rotation up to 1,000 rpm. In conjunction with the 32-channel, multi-exposure system, it enables output of 16 thermal plates per hour at 2,400 dpi.

Also introduced were the FujiFilm PictroProof, a digital color proofer designed to meet the needs of CTP prepress work, and the three-beam version of the Sumo Luxel F-9000 imagesetter with output at speeds up to 58 eight-up flats per hour. In addition, Fujifilm's line of Brillia CTP plates, including Brillia LH-NI and Brillia LH-PI thermal plates also debuted.
 

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