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ON-PRESS IMAGING -- Firing on All Cylinders

April 2002
BY MARK SMITH


Taking steps out of a process has the potential to increase productivity, reduce process variability and lower production costs. That all sounds great, but these gains naturally must be weighed against the investment required to achieve them.

Doing such a cost/benefit analysis for the on-press imaging concept might at first seem to be a rather straightforward calculation.

The potential variables in the equation quickly prove otherwise, however. Issues related to integration with existing plant capabilities, markets served, type of press being considered, etc., can tip the balance in favor or against the technology and workflow. What makes sense for one operation may be a non-starter in a different shop.

Technological factors are only part of the reason why the first implementations of on-press imaging were on smaller-format machines. The value proposition of the concept has always centered around quick turnaround of shorter runs, which fits well with the capabilities of smaller presses. These entry-level presses also were well suited for prepress operations and quick printers adding their first real four-color presses, which became the primary target market.

Since computer-to-plate adoption for the most part started at the high end, this meant the first direct-to-press solutions were primarily being compared to film-based workflows. The associated labor savings and process efficiencies, combined with the lack of an existing printing infrastructure at most early adopters, made it easier to make a case for the technology.

With on-press imaging solutions now moving up in format and computer-to-plate (CTP) systems expanding down, the two workflows are becoming more directly competitive.

On-press vs. CTP Debate

As a result, perhaps the biggest question potential buyers now face is: Why spend the money to put imaging systems on every press unit, when a complete set of plates can be made in a single off-line CTP system that has a much lower capital cost? Most of the same benefits claimed by direct-to-press systems can also be achieved by adopting off-line CTP production, especially if the comparison is made to an automated platesetter and state-of-the-art press.

As manufacturers of standalone CTP systems and on-press imaging kits, Creo Inc. and Presstek Inc. are in a unique position to evaluate the relative merits of the two technologies. If anything, one might expect the manufacturers to be biased in favor of CTP machines, since they sell those devices, but do not market complete digital presses. However, the market experts at both firms believe a strong case can be made for on-press imaging, both in terms of cost/process advantages and marketing potential.
 

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