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Thermal CTP--Making Life. . .and Plates. . .Easier

August 1999

The ThermoStar 971 plates are more apt to crack than they are to wear out, according to Wexler. Upon completing a 1.2 million impression run recently, Wexler's press operators removed the plates and found them to be in excellent condition.

Lasting Impressions
"With conventional plates, we'd probably change plates at least once, maybe twice," Wexler points out. "Our pressmen are seeing a difference; the quality is just so much better. We've ran as much as 1.4 million impressions on some plates at our plant in Florida. Agfa told us we'd probably get about 1 million impressions out of these plates. But I don't think they even realize just how many impressions you can really achieve.

"My feeling is we could probably get 2 million impressions out of a set of ThermoStar plates," he adds. "There's more of a problem with the plate cracking than the plate wearing, because of the way they're clamped to the press."

Looking back, the only improvement Wexler would make on his implementation experience would have been a more intensive training program.

"If I had it to do over again, I would pre-train a little bit more," Wexler concludes. "I would have trained on different imposition programs that I was working on up front, which was something we didn't do."

Sometimes, it only takes a demonstration for a client to see the benefits of going digital. Just ask Janine Maxwell, prepress manager for Lithocraft Inc., based in Santa Rosa, CA, which installed its Scitex Lotem 800V platesetter just last November.

Maxwell encountered one customer—a large corporation—that was loathe to change and, not surprisingly, resisted the conversion to computer-to-plate. The client insisted on using film, but an image had vignettes and it was banding. The prepress department did as much as it could to smooth out the banding, but it was still apparent.

Just Do it
"Our experience has been that when we go direct-to-plate, it smooths out vignettes even more," Maxwell points out. "We told the customer we'd reached our limits as to what we could do to the file, and the only thing we could do is go CTP. They said, 'Do it,' and we smoothed it out. They were extremely happy."

As a result of the Lotem implementation, Maxwell has noticed an improvement in scheduling, and how it's evened out Lithocraft's production.

"Correction times are a lot faster, as well," Maxwell remarks. "If we're on-press and the customer sees something wrong and wants to make a change, instead of hours of down press time, we can make another plate and be on-press within a half hour, depending on the change. We ran an annual report not long ago, a job that always requires alterations. The customer couldn't believe how fast the changes were made."

For all the things CTP has done for Lithocraft—eliminating film, saving time and eradicating registration problems—a return on investment was not the motivating factor in purchasing the Scitex Lotem.

"We didn't even look at return on investment. For us, it was more of a quality decision," Maxwell points out. "We knew that the quality of the plates and the printed product were going to be so much more superior to film.

"Speed was also a consideration. Customers want their jobs faster and faster. They get it to us later and they still want it on time," she adds with a chuckle. "Ultimately, we opted for computer-to-plate

because it was going to improve our workflow and allow us to present a better quality product to our customers. "

Before the Box

Bruce Wexler didn't want to get caught up in a battle of dots when it came time to acquire computer-to-plate technology. The executive vice president of Earth Color Group decided he would let the workflow, not the quality of dot, be his guide.

"My advice is not to look at the platesetting devices, but look at the workflow that goes into the machine," Wexler says. "There are a lot of good machines out there that can image digital plates, but it's the workflow to the platesetter that makes the difference, and it's what drove us to Agfa."

Wexler likened the task to purchasing a stereo. Manufacturers try to outduel one another with graphic equalizers, pre-amps, sub-wolfers and the like, but even the most ardent music lovers have a hard time distinguishing unique traits when they tune their ears toward the speakers.

Likewise, Wexler can't see a difference between most plates, dot-wise.

"People say, 'Well, our dot is better than your dot,' but I don't see enough of a difference that the human eye, or your client, will ever pick up," Wexler remarks. "It gets to the point of overkill, like having the most amazing stereo system, but your ears can only hear so much.

"To me, the Apogee workflow really just amazed us; it's got a lot of great features to it. It allows us to make our digital proofs off the same RIP file. I don't worry that what's not on my plate is not on my proof. We use the same RIP file to make that plate. If your digital proof doesn't represent what's on that plate—your client sees something different because it's RIPed differently—that's a big problem. If something goes wrong in the RIPing—there's a line of copy that's on the proof that's not on the plate—well, now you're on-press. If someone misses it, it could be a major, major problem."


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