Computer to Plate ( CTP ) – What It Is And Why You Should Seriously Consider It

The steady advancement of technology affects every industry, but none more so than the printing industry. Since the Printing Press was invented there has been a constant effort to improve productivity and efficiency. Because of this demand, the printing industry has always been on the leading edge of the technology curve.

The latest advancement to our industry is Computer to Plate technology, affectionately known as CTP. While CTP is easy to understand in theory, the subtle nuances to the different manufacturer’s technologies and the plethora of information by others about how to install and configure your new machine makes printers hesitant to take the plunge into this new technology. In actuality, CTP is easy to use and efficient. It saves money and time because it skips an entire step when compared to the old CTF (computer to film) process.

In order to make a wise decision, what printers really need to know is: what is CTP?, What’s the difference in the technologies?, and Which technology should I choose? Once you see the benefit that CTP can bring to your business, you will be more than ready to jump on board and implement CTP yourself. And why not really? Who doesn’t want to skip steps, while maintaining the same high quality product and saving money?

What is CTP?
CTP (Computer to Plate) is a streamlined process of print production. Streamlined in that takes a finalized file from a computer and outputs it directly to a plate. The plates are made from a variety of materials ranging from aluminum to polyester. Once the plate is imaged, it can be used on the press. In the old CTF process the file was sent from the computer to a film processor, then the film image was transferred to the photographic plate so the plate could be used on the press. In the CTP process, the film step and its associated chemicals and bio hazard are completely eliminated.

When you remove the film step and the associated chemicals, you are saving on film and chemical costs, the chemical smell is greatly reduced, and you are producing high quality plates at a faster rate. Since we all know that time = money, what this means is that with each plate you produce, you are saving on the equipment, labor and supply costs that your company has when it produces a print piece for a client.

Because CTP is a new and straightforward technology, it stands to reason that there would be a variety of ways to implement it. This variety has emerged in the multiple technologies available for CTP, which are Violet, Thermal, Ink Jet and Poly Plate.

What’s the difference in the technologies?
Since violet and thermal are currently the major players in the CTP market I will focus primarily on them. Both Violet and Thermal use laser diodes to transfer the image onto the plate. The difference in the two types of lasers are the color of the laser and the wavelength of the light they emit. Violet has less lasers than a thermal machine and because of this has a lower acquisition cost. If you compare the quality of a violet and a thermal system, you would see that the thermal system can produce better quality than a violet system can. A thermal system can produce line screens exceeding 300lpi, whereas a violet system maxes out at 300lpi. That said, anything over 300lpi is actually overkill on the vast majority of projects.

Due to the fewer number of lasers in the machine, violet plates are light sensitive. This requires either a safelight environment (typically a yellow light) or the auto-load option that most manufacturers have can be used. Conversely, thermal plates can be used in normal daylight conditions.

As to speed of production, violet produces plates faster, but thermal machine manufacturers are trying to cut the time gap with their newer technology. It seems odd though that speed would be a major factor here because compared to the old CTF process, thermal is still much faster.

On the press, a violet plate run length is over 100,000 impressions. Thermal plates have a higher run rate which approaches 200,000 to 400,000. You can optionally increase the run length of a thermal plate by baking it. This option is for those times when you want to increase the run length to 1 million or more impressions.

If you are concerned about the maintenance cost of the equipment, a violet platesetter costs less to maintain than thermal a platesetter.

The alternatives to violet and thermal laser technology are inkjet and poly plate.

Ink Jet systems have the lowest acquisition cost and a lower maintenance cost. These simple systems use ink jet technology, just like your desktop computer’s printer, to produce a plate. The plates have a quality similar to violet and a run length exceeding 50,000. The plates are simple aluminum plates that can be used in normal daylight conditions.

The poly plate systems also use lasers to transfer the image onto the plates, except these lasers are the exact same visible red lasers that are in an imagesetter. Because of this, the poly plate system can produce both CTF (film) and CTP (direct to plate) output. To say it another way, the polyplate system can run poly plates and imagesetting film on the same system. Poly plate systems can use rolls of light sensitive plate material that can be cut-to-size by the machine and with an integrated punch, the plates can be ready for the press and further streamline your workflow.

As for speed of production on ink jet and poly plate systems, it depends. Actually if we were to include violet and thermal into the mix, you could say that any of them could produce 20 – 120 plates per hour depending upon the manufacturer of the equipment, the strength of the laser, and the plate being used.

Which technology should I choose?
The technology depends upon several factors such as, what are your needs? What type of work does your business specialize in? and what is your budget?

As a business owner, these questions are really all you have time to answer.

Others would suggest that you identify what type of machine you would want and then do cost comparison analysis of maintenance and supplies costs. However, in order to estimate these costs, the specific supplies should first be identified and tested using different laser strengths and then once you decide on a machine and purchase it, after you install it yourself, you will need to calibrate the machine to a variety of plate material and do test runs with each type of material and laser strength so you can identify the best set-up for your machine and needs.

This is ridiculous!

This is why you need DEI Systems. We have installed hundreds of machines using every type of set-up for every type of purpose imaginable. We know what type of equipment would be right for your needs. We have done the tests and refined the techniques with each machine to identify the exact plate material and laser strength you should use.

Where others would have you reading a 250 page installation and calibration manual to install your new machine yourself, DEI Systems makes it easy for you by professionally installing and calibrating your machine for you. This saves you time and money because you have a business to run. You cannot shut your business down for a week or longer to install the equipment and then train your employees on how to use it yourself.

My intent is not to create an advertisement for DEI Systems, actually I’ve been wondering why more printers are not moving to CTP. The technology is viable and perfected, it’s been out for almost a decade, yet 60% of printers have not made the move to CTP. I can’t help but think that the reason for the complacency is due to the misinformation about the complexities of calibration and installation. Is it easy to do? No, absolutely not. But that is why you shouldn’t attempt to do it yourself.

We know what works – which plate material to use and how to calibrate machines for the best quality possible. Our technicians are second to none! Each have over 15 years experience installing and calibrating equipment in the field at client locations just like yours. Then, we train a stakeholder in your organization on how to run the equipment.

The benefits of CTP are incredible. Not only can you decrease your workload and streamline your process, you can produce the same quality product at a reduced cost. The money you save in film, chemical costs and labor is significant. Your business will be more profitable and more competitive as a result.

The time to migrate to a CTP workflow is now. The benefits are too great to ignore.

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