Every offset printer is aware that environmental regulations have become more stringent in recent years. And with each new law, the pressure to reduce chemical usage in the prepress department grows stronger.
However, regulatory concerns are only the tip of the iceberg. Customers want to know that their printer is doing everything possible to minimize their environmental footprint. Employees are concerned about the long term effects of working with the chemicals required for traditional platemaking. Then there is the cost factor. The closer platemaking is to being chemistry free and/or processless, the lower the cost over the long haul. There are fewer chemicals to buy or dispose of and energy consumption is dramatically reduced when using processless plate technology.
This perfect storm has caused the near demise of the once standard print shop darkroom and given rise to the wider acceptance of computer-to-plate (CTP) technology.
Green Plate Special
Suzanne Bostic, senior product manager for Mitsubishi Imaging believes that the most significant trend in the field is simply the increased prevalence of CTP adoption. “From a technological standpoint, better software and workflow products continue to be introduced and make CTP even more efficient,” she points out. “Another significant development would be the move towards processless and/or reduced chemistry plates. Many printers wish to be more environmentally friendly, and reduced chemistry processing is one way to achieve this.”
“We see customers placing orders simply to be able to eradicate their chemistry,” adds Mark Baker-Homes, vice president, sales and marketing, Glunz & Jensen. “Customers are asking about it, or staff are now more reluctant to handle it; causing discussions about who will clean out the processors or such like. Owners, in these difficult times, are frustrated by having to pay to remove chemicals.”
Brian Wolfenden, director of marketing communications for Presstek, agrees. He cites “true chemistry free thermal CTP, which means no use of processing chemistry, gum, or fountain solutions to develop the plate,” as the most significant development in CTP technology in recent years. He enumerates the benefits of this greener approach to prepress: “Reduced chemical dependency, safer products for the user and environment, lower cost with no need to purchase or dispose of chemistry, and streamlined production—no intermittent processing steps and fewer variables in the process.”
As important and attractive as the eco-friendly nature of newer CTP systems might be, there are also other benefits.
“Developing an imaging technology that is stable, high quality, and delivers consistent on press results is the most significant CTP development during the recent years,” states Kuty Paperny, director, global product management, output devices, prepress solutions for Eastman Kodak. “Adding the automation and ease of use to the CTP system established this technology to be the de facto standard in the printing industry.”
Other developments have also increased adoption of CTP. “PDF has removed the problems with lost fonts, missing images, incorrectly linked files. It has enabled small printers to easily receive files from customers using Mac or PC-based systems and still produce print jobs,” observes Baker-Homes. “It created a simple transparency that the really small mum-and-pop stores, five years ago, struggled to achieve, and now take for granted. It makes it easier for these types of shops to adopt CTP too, as they are no longer worried about if they can accept the job.”
“The high quality, high throughput, fully automated CTP solution that delivers consistent results on press allows the small commercial printers to successfully compete in the short run, high quality, fast delivery segment market,” Paperny states. The ability to automate the workflow has given rise to a sea change that, while slow to develop, allows small commercial printers to compete on a larger stage.