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DIGITAL digest 6-01

June 2001
Exploring Digital Options

BARCELONA, SPAIN—As part of its ongoing efforts to provide educational resources to the graphic arts community, Agfa-Gevaert N.V. hosted an international press forum here recently on digital technology options. Digital proofing and computer-to-film (CTF) or -plate (CTP) workflows were the primary topics of discussion.

Digital color proofing is one of the hottest areas of interest among Agfa customers, reports Willy Van Dromme, international marketing manager for digital proofing. It's still seen as the missing link in the all-digital workflow, he says, and there is considerable confusion about the technologies and their applications.

The halftone dot/no-dot debate is one source of confusion, Van Dromme explains. He notes that the acceptance of no-dot proofs for contract proofing applications is increasing, due to improvements in ink-jet systems and a growing comfort level with the process that stems from its increased use. However, Van Dromme believes this will become a moot point in the near future—as the resolution of piezo-electric ink-jet proofers increases to the point where they will be able to print the rosette structure.

Generically referring to the class of products as ink-jet proofers also has been the cause of some confusion, the marketing manager says. He points out that Agfa opted to go with drop-on-demand piezo technology after evaluating continuous ink-jet imaging methods. Agfa found the latter technology wanting, Van Dromme says, because of its resolution limitations and inferior consistency due to the variability in dot uniformity, especially as the head ages.

No matter which imaging technology is used, Van Dromme says it is essential to use color management in a digital proofing workflow. The proofer must also integrate seamlessly into the workflow, regardless of the product manufacturer, he adds.

Agfa recently upgraded is ColorTune Pro product to version 4.0, with a key new feature being the capability to edit profiles, according to Van Dromme. A number of tools for editing profiles are provided. The Curve Tool lets users edit individual RGB and CMYK channels. With the Gradation Tool, users can adjust the luminance to lighten or darken tonal areas without affecting the other colors outside that area.

A Neutrals Tool corrects neutral areas either by adjusting curve values or with a visual correction tool and only affects colors in those areas. The Paper Simulation Tool adjusts the paper's white simulation values to more accurately simulate the background of the final offset print.

ColorTune Pro is bundled with all AgfaJet Sherpa digital proofing systems and isn't sold separately.

The status report on developments in the CTF and CTP arenas was provided by Tony King, market development manager for offset plates. King's central point was that a range of viable solutions are available, affording customers the option to pick whichever digital output method best meets their individual needs.

Based on its market research, Agfa expects 30 percent of plates worldwide to be exposed digitally by the year 2005. The manufacturer expects to see continued use of all three plate technologies—silver, photopolymer and thermal, King says.

"All of the plate technologies have particular benefits, and no one technology can meet all needs," King adds. "The industry has used a range of conventional plates and film products, so why shouldn't the same hold true for digital plates?"

That's not to say there won't be some commonality for a given application or market. For example, King notes that nearly all of the visible-light Galileo platesetters Agfa has sold to date have used violet lasers. Imaging speed, laser reliability and near-daylight operation are the reasons, he claims.

While CTP may have captured the industry's collective imagination, film still is the dominant workflow and remains an important business for Agfa. The manufacturer continues to do research and development in this arena and expects to introduce new products for the foreseeable future, he reports. That being said, the impact of CTP on film use will be inevitable, the product manager concedes.

When it comes to CTF versus CTP, or the manufacturers' entire range of product offerings for that matter, customers will be the ultimate judge of the technologies, King concludes. That's why Agfa's management is stressing that the company be customer focused rather than engineering driven.

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