Stepping up to the Plate

Today's small businesses are looking for the most effective ways to reduce expenses and increase the bottom line. I've spent a lot of time talking to printing press-duplicators and small-to-medium-size printing press businesses, as they struggle to find a balance between cost and efficiency. Yet, the economy is also encouraging these shops to leave old solutions behind in favor of more efficient systems that bring added profits.

As I watch the CTP market mature, I see many small businesses on a quest to find cost-effective, chemical-free CTP solutions that bring consistent and high-quality results, labor and maintenance cost savings, reduced spoilage and remakes, and new revenue sources. A cost-saving measure to consider is switching to an ink jet-based computer-to-plate (CTP) system that produces true aluminum plates at a lower total cost of ownership than current polyester solutions.

Curing Print Shop Headaches

When I first spoke to our beta users about developing a small business CTP solution, I uncovered deficiencies at small printing shops that were causing a lot of headaches. For starters, the existing or older CTP systems often required special inks or nasty developing chemicals. What's more, shops had to settle for poor quality prints, high maintenance costs, poor reliability, and other tradeoffs. I personally felt we had no business developing a system unless we could alleviate many of these issues.

With that goal in mind, we started our beta process for the Epson Stylus® Pro 7900CTP. We tested our system and plate technology with a wide range of customers who use many different workflows and types of presses. We wanted to develop an especially cost-effective solution for smaller duplicator print shops that do mostly 2-color and sometimes 4-color printing.

The key to the CTP solution is Epson DirectPlate Aluminum technology, a unique high-resolution aluminum press plate that is chemically coated to work with standard Epson UltraChrome® ink technology. We believe that without the messy chemicals of other plate setting solutions, a water-based system is a much simpler, less costly system, both in dollars and in its impact on the environment.

After testing the system, we felt it would solve many problems of small business owners. Image quality results revealed better solids, cleaner halftones and sharper text than most polyester plates. Good value, high quality and ongoing efficiencies would help small businesses save on long-term costs. Without costly maintenance or service contracts or high electrical bills, the final cost per plate is less expensive than a comparable polyester platesetter. The system is chemical free and requires no other purchase than consumables like ink and plates.

New Revenue Source for Small Business

As we develop new products, it's always exciting to see customers come up with their own ideas. When I visited our beta testers, I found that many had started using the system for more than just CTP. Since the print engine is based on the Epson Stylus Pro 7900, a printer used in fine art, proofing and photography, print shops saw the opportunity and started using the system to sell additional products and services, including contract-quality proofs, signage, banners, fine art, photography or posters up to 24-inches wide. That's a great source of added income for a small business.

I believe the industry will be making press plates and proofing on paper long into the future. Our goal was a CTP system with final press quality beyond what small printing businesses are used to, bringing on board a consistent, reliable and economical true aluminum press plate workflow. If industry innovators help small businesses find cost-effective solutions in today's economy, we can reshape how the printing industry does business and help printing customers stay profitable.