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Two-up Metal Platesetters -- The CTP Periphery

January 2003
BY MARK SMITH


Printing is one of the few places where eight is a magic number. Even the once standard eight-hour day for many has become an artifact of a simpler time. Eight-page production, however, continues to be the standard of comparison for most facets of the printing process. For a time it seemed to be the de facto size for computer-to-plate (CTP) solutions.

Eight may indeed be enough, but it also can be too little or too much. Two-up platesetters actually helped pioneer the direct-to workflow and technology, albeit using paper and polyester plates. Small-format metal systems have been a more recent development. Very large format (VLF) platesetters, on the other hand, marked an early expansion of the metal CTP product category.

Printers at both ends of the spectrum are faced with basically the same arguments and ROI analysis as their eight-page brethren in considering a move to CTP-based production. There are a few size-dependent variables, however.

Starting with the entry-level systems seems like the natural choice. Direct-to systems for imaging paper and polyester plates often get overlooked in discussions of CTP. A variety of dedicated platesetters have been introduced, but polyester materials generally can be exposed by traditional imagesetters, as well.

Studying Poly Performance

The Graphic Arts Marketing Information Service (GAMIS) of Printing Industries of America undertook a major study of polyester plates in 2001. "The Market Potential for Polyester Printing Plates: 2001-2005" study was designed to gauge the performance of emerging "CTPoly" technology. It was prepared by William Lamparter, principal of PrintCom Consulting in Waxhaw, NC.

A central conclusion of the study was that polyester plates are suitable for a wide range of work in runs up to about 25,000 impressions, depending on the condition of the press and the quality requirements for a specific job. Lamparter reported finding numerous examples of printers producing quality process color work, tight register and heavy coverage products.

"These findings are significant in dispelling outdated stories about plate stretch, inability to register, plates flying off the press because they would not properly lockup and a variety of other performance-related problems," notes the study summary. "Many of the performance negatives about polyester plates may have been true at one time but, today, those stories are unfounded. These old tales have inhibited the penetration of polyester plates into the markets that could best use the technology."

And yet the technology remained behind the eight ball in the eyes of the majority of commercial printers, Lamparter acknowledges. "There really are two sides to the story," he says. "A huge number of printers do revolt when you say polyester, but there also is an installed base of dedicated computer-to-poly-plate systems that rivals—if not exceeds—the number for metal CTP systems."
 

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