Thermal Plates -- The Heat is On
Steve Musselman, senior worldwide marketing manager, commercial printing segment, at Agfa, explains his company's thinking on thermal versus visible light. "As Agfa sees the market, the demand for thermal platesetters and plates versus visible-light solutions will be roughly 50/50 within the next two years. Putting this in perspective, these solutions combined represent about 10 percent of today's total plate volume relative to conventional plates."
So, the question arises, according to Musselman, over where each solution has its best fit. "Many factors influence the decision, but one differential factor is run length. Taking the U.S. market as an example, only 1 percent of press runs are for more than 250,000 impressions, and only 9 percent of the sites ever need a plate that runs more than 200,000 impressions." For these extra long-run requirements, he agrees that thermal is a good fit, since with baking, most thermal plates can run more than 1 million impressions.
"Since DRUPA, we have been seeing more alternatives to thermal—as in high-quality, long run-length thermal ablative plates such as Agfa's Mistral. Agfa has also previewed its ThermoLite plate, which is non-ablative, and activates on-press," he adds. At Graph Expo, Agfa showed its spray-on emulsion called LiteSpeed—a derivative of ThermoLite. LiteSpeed was shown as part of a technology demonstration on the Creo-Scitex SP process. LiteSpeed is Agfa's spray-on, instant-drying, fusible thermoplastic that, according to Musselman, has wide lithographic characteristics.
"So, as one evaluates visible light versus thermal, it seems that thermal is finding applications at both ends of the printer's requirements, whereas visible light is a good fit for the more than 90 percent of the requirements of the general commercial printer, without some of the thermal technology and processing overhead," he concludes.
Leigh Kimmelman, product manager at CreoScitex, says thermal has significant advantages over conventional CTP, including better print quality and greater consistency across the length of a print run. He also likes the fact that thermal is moving processless—meaning no chemical waste and no instability in processing due to the use of chemicals. Eliminating processing steps allows the user to create a plate in under five minutes.