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Thermal Plates -- The Heat is On

October 2000
BY MOLLY W. JOSS


When computer-to-plate (CTP) technology expanded from the single choice of conventional platesetters to the dual choice of conventional or thermal, commercial printers were faced with twice the choices. If you wanted CTP, you bought conventional or thermal and you bought plates that the system vendor said matched the platesetter.

Things got more complicated earlier this year as plate manufacturers started their pre-DRUPA announcements and as DRUPA unwound in May. Many of the major plate vendors announced new plates; some introduced three, four or more new offerings. Some announced thermal plates that reduce, or remove, the processing steps.

What's more, a few new vendors have entered the thermal plate arena this year. These companies will be making the rounds trying to get printers to test their products. They are looking to capture a share of the strong and growing thermal plate market. To do so, they will have to persuade printers to take the time to test their products.

The upside for printers is a wider range of plate choices than ever before; the downside is the need to take the time to learn more about the new choices and test some in-house. However, the upside may outweigh the downside for printers. Depending upon your situation, including how satisfied you are with your current plate supplier, making the switch to a new plate vendor could make good financial and production sense.

Early Days of CTP
In the beginning, CTP was conventional, meaning plates were imaged by visible-light technology. Then, CTP vendors began to offer thermal units that imaged plates using heat rather than light, and plate manufacturers started manufacturing thermal plates to go with these systems. If you wanted CTP, you had to decide if you wanted conventional or thermal.

Thermal CTP has been a big hit in the United States and is catching on in the rest of the world. CreoScitex recently announced that it has sold more than 1,000 Trendsetter thermal CTP systems. Thermal CTP also had a starring role at DRUPA with all of the major CTP vendors announcing at least one—or some, more than one—thermal-related products.

Thermal offered some attractive advantages over conventional CTP, including daylight processing of plates, better print quality through improved edge definition and improved print consistency across the length of a run and repeat runs. What you didn't get with thermal when it first debuted was print runs in the hundreds of thousands or millions—unless you used a thermal plate that you can pre- or post-bake to extend the run length.

 

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