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DRUPA 04 REPORT PREPRESS & PREMEDIA -- Preparing Data, Not Dot

June 2004
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

The front end of the printing process, or what happens "pre" the press, used to be a fairly contained, well-defined set of steps. Then the digital age dawned and, ever since, the changes have kept on coming. Another whole step, premedia, has even been added to the process.

At Drupa 2004, computer-to-plate (CTP) production, digital proofing (remote and hardcopy), screening alternatives and, of course, the all-encompassing workflow and CIM concepts were the primary areas of focus in new product development.

JDF support was pervasive, but came across more like a background buzz than a force destined to reshape the industry. That the sum of such developments would be under-whelming was all but inevitable once the event was crowned the "JDF Drupa."

In the end, the JDF Parc functioned more as a venue for one-on-one demos of individual solutions rather than a showcase for selling the concept to the masses. Print-City did a better job of physically displaying the end-to-end, integrated workflow concept, but there was a risk of the message getting lost amid all of the equipment required to build five multi-supplier "production factories" that represented different print specialties. Across the way, the physical proximity and designs of the Creo and NGP Partners booths worked against positioning of the latter as an independent, open organization working toward process integration.

One did get a sense that JDF is real and progress is being made toward the goal of enabling a data-driven print manufacturing process. By CIP4's accounting, there were 75 companies showing JDF-enabled products at Drupa. In the JDF Parc, the 21 participating companies reportedly showed 90 connectivity pairs—combinations of two products with proven JDF interchange capabilities. NGP Partners said its members were presenting more than "80 pair integrations that are installed, in testing or in development."

Perhaps of more significance were the hopeful signs that some of the confusing aspects of this industry effort may be resolved. For one, NGP Partners and PrintCity both have become CIP4 members, on top of memberships held by the individual companies that form these groups. NGP Partners also has committed to bringing its results back to CIP4 and working toward establishment of a single version of each Interoperability Conformance Specification (ICS) being developed for the industry at large. These developments should help address any concerns about groups within the industry working at cross purposes.

Doing a Job on Spec

The ICS concept was one of the primary advances introduced in version 1.2 of the JDF specification, which was released during Drupa. It provides a mechanism for establishing a minimum standard implementation of the specification within individual classes of devices. According to CIP4, the other big change is a complete overhaul of the preflighting description to enable standardized preflight profiles and reports.

JDF support dominated the list of capability upgrades featured in the new versions vendors rolled out across their workflow product lines. Other enhancements built on existing capabilities, such as support for the latest version of PDF, new screening options and tools to improve the client interface.

Continued expansion of the workflow concept could be seen in the upgrades to Heidelberg Prinect, Creo Network Graphic Production, the Agfa ApogeeX and Delano combination, Screen (USA) Trueflownet, EFI OneFlow and DALiM's TWiST, MiSTRAL and PRiNTEMPO workflow solutions. Kodak Polychrome Graphics joined the ranks of system developers with the introduction of its first branded workflow solution, the KPG DirectWorks Suite, which incorporates the company's proprietary color management into standard workflow tools.

Along with enhancing the components, Esko-Graphics unveiled a new workflow environment—called Scope—as an umbrella for modular and extensible software tools ranging from desktop software extensions to specialized workstations. Similarly, Global Graphics made its Harlequin RIP JDF-enabled, but also introduced a new "Cortex" development platform that it says will enable OEMs and system integrators to add value by integrating "best-of-breed" technology to a core layer of workflow functions.

Adobe didn't have a booth of its own, but was still able to preview an advance in JDF integration by participating in the JDF Parc and through technology demonstrations at nine other booths. It introduced a "concept" for capturing product specifications at the creative/design desktop using JDF plug-ins for InDesign and Acrobat. No timetable was given for release of a commercial product.

In the computer-to-plate arena, processless technologies were the primary focus of developments among the digital plate vendors.

Agfa says it has taken a significant step toward that goal with the commercialization of Azura, a chemistry-free, non-ablative thermal plate based on its Thermolite technology. The material reportedly requires a cleaning or gumming step in non-image areas only and supports run lengths of up to 100,000 impressions.

Agfa's announced acquisition of Lastra is still pending approval, but its stated intent is to keep the plate maker's products as an independent brand. For its part, Lastra says it is beta testing a no-process thermal plate called Cosmic, which is based on switchable-polymer technology, supports runs of up to 100,000 impressions and should be available in early 2005.

The KPG Thermal Direct no-process plate is designed for use by small- to medium-size printers and supports up to 75,000 impressions. It is said to be compatible with existing platesetters.

Creo characterized its Clarus PL "true processless" plate as a technology demonstration only. The switchable-polymer product is expected to support runs of up to 50,000 impressions upon its commercialization—further details of which are expected to be released before the end of this year.

Stepping Up to the Plate

Fujifilm says it is working toward a processless plate based on multi-layer photopolymer technology with current working specifications that include handling 50,000 impressions and use of on-press development. It didn't give a timeframe for commercialization.

Konica Minolta introduced a processless system, including the TF-200 thermal plate and SR-830 platesetter. The plate employs a thermal sensitive layer with unexposed areas removed by the action of fountain solution and ink.

On the platesetter side, manufacturers typically announced upgrades to most or all of their existing product lines, usually involving higher speeds and greater automation. The key developments included higher powered lasers (up to 60mW) for violet imaging and growing use of grating light valve technology in thermal systems.

There were also a number of systems introduced that were said to be truly new:

Agfa launched Acento, a four-up thermal machine targeted to medium-sized printers, and an entry-level version of the Palladio flatbed, violet platesetter with manual loading.

Magnus from Creo is a thermal VLF (63x83˝) system that also supports portrait and dual plate loading of smaller sizes for greater throughput.

ECRM Imaging Systems introduced the MAKO 8 platesetter, which it bills as a cost-effective solution for the eight-page market. It combines violet imaging with a straight-through plate path.

Esko-Graphics extended its violet platesetter line with the PlateDriver 6 and Compact, an entry level four-up machine. It also previewed Espresso, a computer-to-UV-plate system for imaging conventional pre-sensitized plates, scheduled to be released in 2005.

Fujifilm added a new B2-format model to its violet platesetter line. The Luxel V-6 has a 60mW laser and is driven by a dedicated RIP.

Taking its fate back into its own hands, Heidelberg says it developed all of the parts—including a new laser system—that go into the new Suprasetter line of thermal platesetters. Four- and eight-page versions are available.

Also offering a new thermal laser imaging system is Presstek with its new ProFire Excel technology, which is designed to image the company's existing chemistry-free metal plates. The head produces a 16-micron spot size to support up to a 300 lpi resolution and FM screening. It is being incorporated into new Dimension Excel platesetters.

In addition, Presstek has introduced the SureFire laser imaging platform as a lower-cost solution. A.B.Dick has integrated the technology into its new Vector TX 52 CTP system, which also features "ThinDrum" technology to keep costs down. The platesetter is designed to image the Freedom thermal plate material introduced last year by A.B.Dick and Presstek.

KPG unveiled its version of an entry-level CTP system with the DirectSet 4101T, which is a four-page thermal platesetter based on Screen's PlateRite 4100 engine and driven by KPG's DirectWorks Suite workflow. Just prior to the show, the company announced a co-branding partnership with Screen (USA) that enables KPG to market, sell and support Screen's complete line of thermal CTP systems.

Screen, meanwhile, will continue to offer violet imaging solutions, as well. It launched 60mW versions of its B3-size PlateRite Micra and B2-size FlatRite 2055 Vi platesetters.

Preferring the term computer-to-conventional-plate (CTcP), basysPrint also introduced an entry-level digital UV platesetter, the UV-Setter 731e.

Strobbe unveiled a new eight-up, flatbed violet platesetter, the PSA-33MV, which features a plate loading system that can be configured with up to 10 cassettes, each capable of holding two plates sizes.

Offering a different approach is Glunz & Jensen with its ink-jet computer-to-plate (iCTP) system, the PlateWriter 4200. A "Liquid Dot" solution is deposited on a non-photosensitive aluminum plate. The system will ship in the fall.

Screening New Releases

Adoption of CTP-based production, regardless of laser type, has been seen as enabling use of alternative screening technology. At Drupa, Agfa and Creo reported strong interest in their advanced screening solutions (Sublima and Staccato, respectively) for commercial printing applications. They both also introduced spot color replacement systems (Agfa Alterno and Creo Spotless 4 and X) that combine color conversion science with advanced screening systems—plus additional ink colors, in some cases.

M.Y. PrinTech offers FMsix, which uses standard CMYK inks for images, but combines FM screening with two (of three) special colors to print spot colors.

New FM screening solutions introduced in Düsseldorf included Fujifilm's Taffeta 20 and Randot X from Screen (USA). Also available is Heidelberg Satin Screening. EFI introduced an AM/FM hybrid screening, aptly called OneFlow Hybrid Screening.

The digital revolution continues to impact how proofing is accomplished, but hasn't eliminated the critical role it plays in the production process—at least not yet.

With the acquisition of RealTimeImage's Graphic Arts division by KPG now finalized, the focus has shifted to integrating their proofing technologies. RealTimeProof capabilities are being incorporated into the KPG Matchprint Virtual proofing line, while the standalone application has been upgraded to version 5.0 with new "Multiple View" and "Compare" capabilities for reviewing multiple proofs simultaneously. The online proofing technology is also being incorporated into products from Heidelberg, EFI and Esko-Graphics.

GMG introduced a new pricing structure for its ColorProof software that it says dramatically cuts the cost. In addition, it introduced the ProofControl quality control system that employs color bars and a spectrophotometer.

CGS Publishing Technologies demonstrated technology for adding color-accurate, monitor-based proofing to its hardcopy proofing system. ORIS Color Tuner is used to generate a PDF containing a color-accurate bitmap, which can be viewed and annotated in Adobe Acrobat using a plug-in. The company also introduced a new AutoCal Wizard for Color Tuner.

KPG, Creo, Fujifilm, Agfa and EFI (Best) were among the ink-jet proofing vendors showing upgrades, such as support for new print engines and improved color management.

Further details on many of these product introductions can be found in the Drupa round-up in this issue, and all the announcements and more should be available on manufacturer Websites.
 

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