Showing the Digital Way–Alex Hamilton

Having just returned from Chicago, home of the Graph Expo trade show, I must now return to the drudgery of daily work. And right now, that means forecasting the future of the prepress industry.

If only prognosticating were easy.

Frankly, it’s anything but. The data are clearly contradictory. On the one hand, sales are rising (although profits are not) and all the leading researchers seem to agree that this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, there looms the impact of the Web, which most pundits predict will severely impact commercial printing’s future.

Yet, if navigating one’s way through the crowds tromping around McCormick Hall is the yardstick by which to measure the printers’ optimism for smearing ink on smashed trees, these folks don’t seem too worried. Attendance was strong and many of the major vendors reported selling lots of gear.

Of course, exhibitors showing “direct-to” technologies (direct-to-plate and direct-to-press) were among the busiest booths on the show floor. Interestingly, however, these technologies are still in their infancy, at least in terms of the number of installations and revenues generated.

CTP has now been around for about five years—at least as a viable technology. And while a quick read of this or any other trade journal would suggest that just about every printer on earth has given up on film, that is just not true. According to data presented at the Executive Outlook session just prior to Graph Expo, digitally imaged plates are projected to account for 9 percent of all plates this year, up from 7 percent in 1999. And, while they are on an upward trend, plates imaged on CTP systems are expected to account for less than one-fifth of all plates in 2004.

Although there is a current bottleneck in plate availability, this is not likely to last too long; it just takes manufacturers such as Agfa, Fuji, Kodak Polychrome Graphics, PDI, Presstek and others a while to crank up plate volume.

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