PRINT 05 PREPRESS WORKFLOW & CTP -- Streamlining the Prepress Process
BY MARK SMITH
Industry vendors continue to weave a convoluted web of interconnecting technologies and business relationships. Imagine, for a moment, if all of such connections between exhibitors at PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05 had been represented physically by running strings between their booths. The result likely would have rivaled the work of even the most industrious spider.
Quiet a few new strands would have been added just at the show, particularly in the areas of interfacing offset and digital workflows and marketing of new plate technologies.
Though not expressly sold as JDF (Job Definition Format) solutions, that technology generally underlies the new mechanisms for connecting offset and digital workflows. Vendors chose to focus on specific functionality, rather than any grand vision of CIM (computer-integrated manufacturing) enabled by JDF. In fact, the term CIM is noticeably absent from show materials.
Kodak's Graphic Communications Group has adopted an alternative name for the concept of integrating offset and digital production, calling it the "Unified Workflow" vision. Part of this vision, naturally, encompasses interfacing its (formerly Creo) workflow solutions to the Kodak Nexpress and DirectPress DI digital presses. The company says it is also open to working with other vendors, noting that connectivity to Heidelberg's Prinect workflow system already was possible.
Xerox also demonstrated an example of digital and offset printing integration by linking to the Prinect system, in this case via the Xerox FreeFlow software suite. The company continues to work with EFI, as well, including integrating the new Fiery System 7 software into its copier/printer line.
In cooperation with HP, Agfa has developed a new ApogeeX Integration Pack that optimizes its workflow system for driving HP Indigo color presses. Similar connectivity was demonstrated between the HP Indigo presses and Heidelberg's Prinect system.
Separately, HP and the Creo Print On-Demand Solutions group (a unit of Kodak Graphic Communications Group) announced that they are pursuing an OEM relationship "for the creation of a product intended to enable users of Prinergy, Brisque and Synapse front-end solutions to integrate with HP Indigo digital presses." This relationship goes a step further because HP says it expects to begin selling the resulting HP Indigo Production Stream Server workflow solution in the spring of 2006.
Enovation Graphic Systems has teamed up with Screen (USA), in this case to add Fujifilm technology to a version of the Trueflow3 PDF-based workflow system that the distributor will sell. It also will continue to offer the Rampage workflow system, which can now incorporate the Xerox FreeFlow Print Manager system component for connectivity to the full range of DocuColor digital production presses.
On the hardware side, Presstek Inc. and Screen (USA) announced a strategic alliance under which the companies "will cooperate in the placement of Screen PlateRite CTP systems with Presstek's new chemistry-free Aurora thermal plates." Presstek reportedly will now be a reseller of PlateRite platesetters, primarily the eight-up models, but will remain the sole source for the plates.
Aurora is described as a non-proprietary, next generation of the manufacturer's chemistry-free thermal plate technology. The plate was designed for use in Creo Trendsetter CTP systems, as well as PlateRite platesetters. Presstek announced "controlled availability" of the plates at the show and said it initially will market the product directly to larger shops in the United States.
All of the leading plates suppliers displayed chemistry-free or processless/non-process products in their booths, but versions also turned up in a few unexpected places. Each is touted as reducing the variability, costs and equipment footprint associated with CTP systems by eliminating the need for a processor. Exhibitors made a point to be specific about the type of technology they're offering, but less was made of any post-exposure treatments required with chemistry-free variations.
Instead, the key points of differentiation have become whether there is any throughput penalty associated with using a plate and is it a drop-in product in prepress and on-press. Depending on plate sensitivity and the level of energy delivered by the platesetter, there is at least the potential for chemistry-free or processless plates to have a negative impact on throughput. It's worth it for shops considering switching to any of these products to ask the question, even though the answer may well be no impact at all.
All of the new plate technologies are characterized as non-ablative, but that doesn't mean absolutely no "debris" is released during exposure. The majority of platesetters in use were designed to handle a level of debris, but this can be an issue for earlier generation devices.
In some cases, whether or not the product really is widely available for commercial use still can be an issue.
Agfa announced that its Azura chemistry-free thermal plate system is already in use at more than 300 printing and prepress sites around the world. Along with the manufacturer's own platesetters, the list of devices imaging the plate is said to include the Screen PlateRite, Creo Trendsetter and Lotem, and Heidelberg Topsetter and Suprasetter. There can be some productivity hit compared to conventional digital plates, and a "clean out" step is required after exposure.
A similar plate technology was unveiled by Heidelberg at PRINT 05, which it expected to start selling this month. The Saphira Chemfree thermal plate is targeted for use in Heidelberg Suprasetters, Topsetters and Trendsetters. It is a traditional aluminum-grained printing plate and requires a gumming step after exposure.
Kodak says its Thermal Direct no-process plate is now available worldwide. It reportedly is compatible with all "popular" thermal imagers and features a traditional grained and anodized aluminum substrate, so it is a true "drop in" product. Plates are made ready to print by the action of the fountain solution on-press.
Enovation showed a thermal processless plate, provisionally called the Fujifilm Brillia HD PRO-T, that it says maintains production speeds because it only requires an imaging power similar to existing Fujifilm thermal CTP plates. The product is projected to be available in the first quarter of 2006.
Fujifilm was one of two platemakers to talk about a version of this technology for violet imaging applications. As a technology demonstration, it showed the chemistry-free Brillia HD PRO-V (provisional name) violet photopolymer plate. The company says further product development is dependent on commercial availability of high-power violet laser technology, and it is targeting 2007 for a roll out.
Prior to the show, Citiplate Imaging Technologies announced it had developed a family of photopolymer formulations that enable production of no-process (on-press development) thermal and violet digital plates, as well as conventionally imaged plates. Plates are to be sold under co-branding arrangements, with the thermal technology said to already be in controlled sales and the violet plate scheduled for release in late 2005 or early 2006.
At the show, ECRM announced it had entered into a custom plate manufacturing agreement with Citiplate to offer violet plates for its Mako CTP series. A conventional photopolymer version was due to be released and the companies expected to begin offering a process-free violet plate in late 2006.
RIPit Computer Corp. has also reportedly signed a similar agreement with Citiplate. It will market the RIPit SpeedSetter VM-series of violet metal platesetters together with RIPit brand plates, initially based on Citiplate violet photopolymer technology matched to a 60mW violet laser. A "no-process" version is planned for 2006.
Since new platesetter offerings destined for the show were previewed in the September issue of Printing Impressions ("Generation Gap in CTP" available in the article archive at www.piworld.com), they will not be covered here. ECRM, however, signed up late as an exhibitor, so its new Mako System4 and Mako System4x are included in the show product coverage that begins on page 50. Printware's new two-up photopolymer and violet metal platesetters are also new additions.
Taking a Low Profile
JDF's lower profile around the show floor actually extended to the activities of the CIP4 organization, which is spearheading its development. Rather than hosting a centralized JDF theater to showcase the latest developments as it had been doing, the group only published a master schedule of presentations to be held in member booths.
It also produced a fold-out "JDF Roadmap" that detailed "JDF Interoperability Trails" for specific operational areas—MIS, Front End/Prepress, Pressroom/Production and Postpress/Bindery. These trails identified multiple CIP4 members that were demonstrating JDF-enabled solutions in concert, by way of interconnectivity demonstrations between participating booths.
The Ghent PDF Workgroup (GWG) released Version 3 of its specifications for best practices in delivering print-ready PDF files, which incorporate suggestions from field testing and address the new versions of Adobe Creative Suite and Acrobat. The group has also released new 2005 specifications for packaging, ICC color-managed workflows (in PDF/X-3 workflows), and Job Tickets for advertisement and page-based workflows. All of the specifications are available for free at the organization's new Web address: www.gwg.org.
In-depth coverage of new workflow solutions will be included in the November issue of Printing Impressions. PRINT 05 brought the rise of what may be a new class of workflow middleware that sits between the print customer and the printer's production workflow system. Examples include Markzware's FlightCheck Workflow v2.0, Gradual Software's CaslonFlow and Enfocus PitStop Automate, all geared to automating initial processing of PDF files.
Another major trend was growth in the number of interfaces between workflow solutions and MIS applications. Also, hybrid/ enhanced screening solutions were on display in most all workflow vendor booths, but they are becoming more of a check-list item than a unique selling proposition for one system over another.
A final development worth noting was the announcement of an agreement that transfers ownership of all packaging related activities of Esko-Graphics to Axcel, a Danish private equity company. The Scope workflow system is among the assets transferred, but will continue to be offered as a solution for commercial printing environments.
Kirkbi A/S retained ownership of the Esko-Graphics small-format offset activities and says it is actively looking for an industry partner to further develop this business, in cooperation with the current OEM and distribution partners.