DIGITAL PLATES -- Covering the Spectrum
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New plates usually go through a period of limited sales because initial production is done as a pilot project. Ramping up to full production of any new technology presents technological and marketing challenges, which can result in supply disruptions. A manufacturer may simply underestimate demand, or it may hit an unforeseen glitch that has no reflection on the soundness of the underlying technology.
Digital plate shortages are beginning to have the feel of an urban myth or FOAF (friend of a friend) report as they crop up from time to time. Everyone seems to have heard about someone else running into plate shortages, but CTP users typically report encountering no significant supply disruptions in their operations. Such information is notorious for being out of date.
That's not to say that all digital plates will always be readily available. Having a supply clause written into the contract can provide some protection, although a printer must be able to fairly accurately predict its plate needs. Another common tactic used by early adopters is to keep extra plate inventory on hand. This adds to the cost of using the process, but is small potatoes compared to losing a customer because the work doesn't get out.
A couple other points are worth considering to help clarify the great digital plate debate. The industry seems to be standardizing on the term "processless" to designate the class of plates that do not require a traditional processing step. What this typically means is that no chemicals are required to prep exposed plates before they are put on press.
However, some form of physical preparation step still is required. This may simply involve wiping or washing the plates with water prior to installation on the press. Or, plates may be "processed" on-press by the action of the ink, water and blanket during makeready.