DIGITAL PLATES -- Covering the Spectrum
In the usual game of high-tech one-upmanship, diode manufacturers now have started announcing 100mW units. As impressive as a 10-fold increase may seem, these diodes likely will have their greatest impact on the speed of platesetters, not the range of materials they can image. The energy output would have to be increased by several orders of magnitude to image conventional ("analog") plates, for example. One exception may be high-speed UV (ultraviolet) plates, since 100mW violet laser diodes may be sufficient to image these plates, if they can support the slightly higher imaging frequency.
High-speed UV systems have been somewhat of a special case to date. Platesetter manufacturer basysPrint and plate supplier Citiplate more or less teamed up to pioneer the concept of CTcP (computer-to-conventional plate) using this technology. In this system, a digital UV exposure unit is used to image high-performance UV plates.
The relationship between the two companies was fundamentally changed by Citiplate's announcement that it planned to market its own UV platesetter line, reportedly due out later this year. In response, basysPrint has been playing up the fact that its UV-Setters can image a range of alternative plates.
Turning back to true violet systems, their main advantage is the relatively lower cost of the laser diodes, which proponents say should translate into cheaper platesetters. The imaging unit only represents a fraction of a platesetter's cost, however, which is why violet imaging is often touted for the smaller format (four-up or less) market. The smaller the platesetter and the fewer automation features added, the greater the percentage of cost attributable to the imaging unit—thereby maximizing violet's advantage.
Manufacturers of competing technologies counter this argument by stressing the importance of considering the total cost of ownership—platesetter, plates, processing, maintenance, etc. They also point out that other attributes of a technology should be factored in, as well, including run length and resolution.