Thermal Plates — The Heat is On

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.

In addition to the need to bake some thermal plates to achieve longer runs, some printers were reluctant to use thermal CTP because of the cost of the plates themselves. Actual prices vary considerably depending upon the relationships printers have with plate suppliers, but some printers have cited substantial cost premiums over the cost of conventional CTP plates.

New Plates, Opportunities
It was at DRUPA 1995 that Eastman Kodak announced its first thermal plate, the Thermal Printing Plate/830—the same plate now distributed by Kodak Polychrome Graphics. Kodak Polychrome Graphics has a large share of the thermal plate market and intends to maintain its market share. To that end, the company announced continued dedication to thermal in pre-DRUPA announcements and demonstrated six different thermal plates at the trade show.

Today, though, it is not the only major printing equipment and supplies vendor with an interest in a share of the thermal plate market. Agfa, Fuji, Presstek and Printing Developments (PDI) are each continuing to expand their line of thermal plate offerings. Other companies such as Anacoil Corp. and Lastra America are also getting into the game.

The current visible versus thermal CTP debate is simply a continuation of the old internal versus external drum debate of four or five years ago, contends John O’Rourke, product manager, consumables, at Presstek. “Literally all of the proponents of visible light imaging for CTP are vendors that offer internal-drum CTP hardware exclusively. It’s clear that a format debate is vendor-driven. Since a CTP imaging system represents a substantial investment for most printers, any consideration of format should be based on features, benefits and value—not the interest of one vendor or another.”

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