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DIGITAL PLATESETTERS -- The Write One

October 2001
BY MARK SMITH


A first-time buyer recently posted a message on the CTP Production forum seeking recommendations for "CTP systems" to investigate. The quote marks are important because the term itself sparked a divergent thread in which the question of what CTP means was explored.

This discussion started with a response suggesting the buyer consider the Rampage solution, since it produces plate-ready files. A rebuff quickly followed, asserting that Rampage was not a "system," meaning a piece of hardware capable of writing an image to a digital plate. That, in turn, led to a series of exchanges about whether CTP refers to any or all of digital plates, platesetters and front ends. Or, is the term even broader than that and pertain to the all-digital workflow, which can extend into the pressroom and through the bindery with CIP4/JDF?

To be fair, the original post did contain a preliminary list of hardware manufacturers the buyer was planning to evaluate. This set an expectation that the discussion was to be about platesetters. What the message threads revealed, though, is the extent to which the CTP buying decision really is about a system (digital plate, platesetter, front end and possibly a processor or even ovens) and an underlying imaging technology (thermal vs. violet, primarily). Since the components are so interdependent, this article really should be considered the second part to the story on digital plates that was published (on page 48) in the August issue of Printing Impressions.

CTP system manufacturers are becoming more polarized on the issue of which is the preferred imaging technology—violet or thermal. Violet technology either makes it possible to lower the price point for CTP, or represents a step backward in capabilities, depending on which side is doing the assessment.

CreoScitex and Agfa have been portrayed as being at the opposite ends of the spectrum in the thermal vs. violet debate. The characterization of CreoScitex as strongly pro-thermal is fair. Agfa's position is not as clear-cut, though. The company has been one of the strongest advocates of violet, but it supports both imaging technologies in its plate and platesetter product lines. Presstek is another decidedly pro-thermal company, in both its plate and platesetter product lines. A number of other manufacturers fall somewhere in the middle, offering both visible light and thermal products.

Complicated Debate
Potential buyers seeking to compare violet vs. thermal imaging can quickly get bogged down in a morass of claims and counterclaims. The debate is complicated by the current state of development in violet plates and platesetters. The technology itself is at crossroad, with the pending introduction of 30mW laser diodes holding the promise of imaging photopolymer plates.

 

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