Digital Imaging Versus Computer-to-Plate

Business requirements and customer demand dictate purchasing decisions

For printers who need to protect the future of their businesses, direct digital output is the only option. That much is clear, but what is less clear is whether to choose computer-to-plate (CTP) technology or to invest in a Direct Imaging (DI) press, where the platesetter is built into an A3+ or B3 format press. The decision is not just a question of whether to buy a press with the platesetter built in, versus having a standalone CTP device. Now, more than ever, it is the applications that dictate investment preferences.

Business requirements drive decision-making

Talk to any of the numerous manufacturers of CTP systems and the view is that a digital platesetter is absolutely the only way to go, primarily because there are no format constraints. For Presstek and Screen, the only two manufacturers of both CTP and DI devices, the picture is less clear-cut because it depends on the business requirements. Although CTP tends to outstrip DI, both companies seeing steady sales in DI as well as CTP. According to Digital Dots research, there are slightly more than 5200 DI presses and nearly 20,000 digital platesetters in production worldwide. Most commercial printers preferring to go with DI have done so to meet very specific business applications, such as support for longer run lengths than a variable data digital press would be used for. For the most part such printers invest in DI to provide additional capacity, complementing a variable data digital press, and for medium run lengths up to 10,000 copies. On the other hand, printers invest in CTP to streamline their workflows, save time and cut consumables costs and do not make the decision based on run lengths.

According to Tim Taylor, marketing director at Screen, “the one market that shows a preference for DI is the digital printer who has started with an Indigo [variable data digital press] or similar. He therefore does not have a CTP device and has found that his digital press is just not competitive on longer runs despite any reports to the contrary!” Regarding CTP, Taylor says that it “has continued to grow, we sold more machines last year than any other year and that applies to Europe. The rest of the world [we have] around 36% market share [and] the split would be very roughly 25% Europe, 25% US and 50% Asia, including Japan, China, India. We still have not seen the predicted drop in sales.”

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