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DIGITAL PLATES & PLATESETTERS -- Two Steps Forward

August 2002
BY MARK SMITH


Advancing the capabilities of computer-to-plate (CTP) systems requires plate and platesetter manufacturers to perform a tricky little digital two-step. The pair's timing has to be just right since each half of the CTP solution is useless without the other. While the platesetter may represent a much larger initial investment, the plate really does the leading because of its broader impact on the success of a CTP implementation.

As a whole, the printing industry hasn't been content to just dance with the ones (technologies) that brought it to the party. Thermal imaging barely had its coming out before people were looking ahead to processless plates—first ablative and now onto "debris-free" technologies. With violet imaging, the potential to change plate partners from silver halide to photopolymer has been promoted from the start to blunt some criticism of the technology.

Looking ahead to developments in the pipeline does have its place, so long as this doesn't blind potential adopters to the opportunities afforded by today's solutions. The current generation of no-bake thermal plates already has greatly simplified that CTP workflow, and the industry is well practiced in dealing with silver-based processes like the existing violet CTP systems.

The highly competitive nature of the market does demand that shops also plan for the future, however. Even if lease terms for prepress equipment often are as short as 36 months, that's still a long time to be a wallflower looking on as new technology partners start calling the tune. Of course, a new technology has to actually make it to market for that to occur eventually. That's just part of why trying to figure out what's reasonable to expect often comes down to making a best guess.

Great Expectations

Product development cycles are notoriously difficult to project even for those doing the work, and there can be varying levels of availability. In the case of plates, a product announcement may precede or coincide with beta testing, which typically is followed by a period of controlled sales before full commercialization. It's not uncommon for issues to arise as manufacturing is scaled up from pilot production to a full-speed, high-volume plate line, which can impact availability.

Past articles in Printing Impressions have covered commercially available plates and platesetters, so the focus of this one is on the latest information about the other announced CTP products or technologies.

As was noted earlier, the current generation of violet systems require use of a faster, silver halide-based emulsion because of the relatively low level of power delivered to the plate by 5mW laser diodes. Violet-sensitive photopolymer plates hold the promise of eliminating silver from the process, along with other benefits. However, the slower emulsion requires the use of a 30mW diode for the process to be practical.
 

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