CTP Systems -- Violet Support Isn't Shrinking
by MaRK SMITH
Weak strains of the great violet vs. thermal CTP debate cropped up in some post-Drupa reports, and then were echoed in postings on the PrintPlanet.com "Computer to Plate Pressroom, CTP Technologies" eCommunity and other industry forums. These discussions largely have covered old ground, but two pending developments are seen as having the potential to change the competitive picture.
Heidelberg announced a new option in its Prosetter violet platesetter line prior to Drupa, which should have been included in the printed version of this story.
With the new Multi Cassette Loader (MCL), any Prosetter can now image up to four different plate formats without changing cassettes. The automated system combines the company's existing Single Cassette Loader (SCL) with a Multi Cassette Container that can hold as many as four cassettes. Each cassette stores up to 150 plates, for a total of up to 600 printing plates ready for fully automated plate production. A software-controlled elevator system in the Multi Cassette Container automatically loads the appropriate cassette for the required plate format into the SCL.
The MCL reportedly can be retrofitted in the field to existing Prosetter systems in just a few hours. It provides light-safe operation, enabling the CTP system to be used in daylight conditions.
While not limited to its violet systems, Heidelberg also introduced a new "Plate On Demand" function that integrates the Prosetter directly into the pressroom. At the Prinect CP2000 Center, the press operator simply selects the required job on the touchscreen, then with the press of a button can start plate imaging for the required color separation or the entire job directly via the CTP device.
This function reportedly will be available at the end of the year. Users must have Prinect MetaDimension Version 5.0 and enable the Preset Link option in the Prinect CP2000 Center Version 41 or Prinect Print Center.
One is the belief that Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) is on the verge of adding a violet-sensitive product to its current thermal digital plate lineup. Some industry pundits have suggested it's a question of when, not if, but this is still just speculation unless and until there is a formal announcement from KPG.
For its part, the plate manufacturer would only say on the record that, "KPG has had a strong commitment to thermal, while continually listening to our customers and monitoring other technologies such as violet. As small- to medium-size customers transition to digital, their needs may dictate a change in market requirements."
The potential for violet imaging to support processless plate production is the other future development that has gotten attention of late. Thermal had staked a sole claim to processless technology, even though commercialization of plates has lagged.
Among violet CTP system vendors, opinions vary on the outlook for development of processless solutions.
"Processless violet would be a logical next step as laser power increases, combined with advances in violet plate emulsions," observes David Furman, Agfa's senior marketing manager, CTP Systems.
This development should follow a natural progressions of steps, adds Peter Vanderlaan, group manager of EI Output Products at Enovation Graphic Systems, a Fujifilm company. To date, violet has progressed from 5mW to 30mW and now 60mW lasers, he explains.
"By year-end, a 100mW violet laser could be available, but we don't anticipate development to stop there. Once violet lasers reach the 200mW level, processless violet plates could become a reality," Vanderlaan says.
Christian Erikstrup, Esko-Graphics' product manager, Offset CTP, offers a more conservative forecast. "Although some manufacturers have talked about it, processless violet technology is still a theory," he notes. "One has to remember that processless plates (in general) still need some time to mature until the technology fits the market. Its application currently is limited to smaller printers, short runs and non-UV printing."
Violet CTP technology is said to benefit from the laser diode's use in broader applications, such as DVD systems. However, the comparatively small volume demands of the printing industry limits its influence on product development.
CTP system vendors acknowledge that the move up to 60mW lasers is mainly about using what's currently available, rather than enhancing platesetter capabilities. The previous generation of 30mW diodes already passed the power threshold required to enable use of photopolymer emulsions on plates, which was a crucial advance toward matching thermal plates.
"Our N91V violet photopolymer plate can achieve maximum throughput with a 30mW system," points out Agfa's Furman. "Consequently, the additional energy from a 60mW laser does not add any throughput value."
Esko-Graphics' Erikstrup reports similar findings from its testing. "Our PlateDrivers used to operate at 30mW in standard configuration and 42mW in the high-speed configuration," he explains. "Our FreeBeam laser now uses a 60mW laser diode, but we hardly use more than 42mW to expose violet polymer plates. We have experimented with certain plates at 60mW, but have deemed that power unnecessary."
Costs have been a been a hot topic in the great violet/thermal debate, with both sides stressing the need to look at TCO (total cost of ownership). Enabling the use of photopolymer plates addressed the cost—as well as processing and disposal—issues associated with earlier silver halide-based solutions.
On the performance side, violet photopolymer plates typically are rated for run lengths of 100,000 to 250,000 impressions. Baking can jump their performance up to one million impressions or more and provide support for UV ink use. This puts them on a par with thermal products. Violet photopolymer plates can be processed in conventional aqueous chemistry and will tolerate a yellow safelight production environment.
Adoption of 60mW laser diodes has dominated recent violet CTP product announcements, but vendors have also expanded their violet product lines and/or enhanced existing models in other ways.
Agfa is now using 60mW violet diodes in its Palladio and Galileo platesetter product lines. Both systems had been shipping with 5mW lasers.
Galileo is an internal-drum system available in a four- or eight-up (44.5x32.29˝ maximum) format, with a choice of semi or fully automatic configurations. The platesetter is offered in standard and high-speed versions, for up to 22 (eight-up) plates per hour at 2,400 dpi, in the latter case.
Palladio is Agfa's four-up (B2) flatbed platesetter line. A new manual loading version, targeted to entry-level users, handles a maximum 21.6x25˝ plate size and outputs 17 plates per hour at 2,400 dpi. The original, fully automatic version images a maximum 25x29.9˝ plate format and exposes up to 20 plates per hour at 2,400 dpi. It supports a maximum resolution of 3,000 dpi.
ECRM Imaging Systems positions its new Mako 8 CTP as a cost-effective eight-page (45x32.4˝ maximum plate size) solution. It features a straight-through plate path for simple operation and output speed of up to 15 B1 plates per hour. An integrated register system uses the same registration notches as the press and can be changed in a few seconds.
Mako 4matic is a new automatic version of ECRM's four-page model that delivers in excess of 20 plates per hour at 2,540 dpi (maximum resolution is 3,556 dpi). The machine can accommodate plate sizes between 15.15x15.15˝ and 25x36.5˝, with plates stored in a light-tight cassette and automatically fed to the integrated pin registration system. Both the cassette and pinbar can be changed in minutes to accommodate different plate sizes and/or press registration systems.
Esko-Graphics has expanded its violet platesetter product line with PlateDriver 6 Auto and Semi versions, along with the entry-level PlateDriver Compact four-up (24.2x29.3˝ maximum plate size) machine. All models, including its other four- and eight-up machines, utilize a 60mW FreeBeam violet laser.
PlateDriver 6 Semi and Auto are designed to support four- and six-up sheetfed presses, plus a range of commercial webs, up to a plate size of 26.7x36.6˝. The platesetters offer a resolution range from 1,200 to 3,200 dpi and produce up to 25 plates per hour at 2,400 dpi or 33 plates with the high-speed (HS) version.
PlateDriver Compact is loaded manually like a conventional contact frame, in a yellow safelight environment. Unloading can be manual or automatic to an online plate processor. The platesetter has a fixed optical resolution of 2,540 dpi for screen rulings up to 200 lpi and outputs up to 20 plates per hour.
Fujifilm Luxel V-6 is a new dedicated B2 (30.01x27˝ maximum plate size) violet platesetter that features a modular design. It is available in manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic configurations, with the first two models being front loading to eliminate the need for a feed table and thereby reducing their footprint. The platesetter can also be equipped with an internal punching system.
The internal-drum machine provides eight imaging resolutions, from 1,200 to 3,657 dpi, with support for Fujifilm Taffeta20 (20 micron) FM and Co-Res enhanced screening. It uses a Fujifilm-designed laser pen with a 60mW violet laser to expose up to 20 B2 plates per hour at 2,400 dpi. The platesetter is capable of imaging plates in both landscape and portrait modes to produce plates for sheetfed and web presses.
Screen (USA) introduced two flatbed platesetters that use 60mW violet laser diodes.
PlateRite Micra is a compact-size, B3 (two-page) model that handles plates ranging in size from 9.8x13˝ up to 20.3x22.8˝. It offers selectable resolutions of 1,200 or 2,400 dpi and images up to 23 plates per hour at 2,400 dpi. The platesetter is available as a manual loading unit or in a fully automatic configuration with an in-line, 50-plate autoloader. Options include an in-line processor and choice of internal press punches.
Screen FlatRite 2055Vi is a new B2 violet platesetter with automated in-line punching. It produces up to 20 plates per hour.
Strobbe Graphics offers a violet laser version of its new PSA-33MV platesetter, an eight-up (33.46x41.34˝), flatbed machine. A distinguishing feature of the system is its automatic plate loading unit that can be configured with up to 10 cassettes, each capable of holding two plates sizes for a total of 20 different sizes online. It images 25 plates per hour at 2,400 dpi, but supports selectable resolutions from 1,200 to 2,540 dpi.
HighWater Designs is trying to gain ground in the U.S. with its new Python four-up (29.3x24.2˝ maximum), 60mW violet platesetter. The internal-drum machine is designed for manual operation, with the plate first mounted on a flat table using a three-pin touch-sensitive register system. The plate is then clamped automatically and transferred into the drum. The platesetter can output up to 20 B2 plates per hour at 2,540 dpi.