The highly evolved and standardized process of offset platemaking still leaves some room for improvement.
by Jessica Millward, Associate Editor
THE SOPHISTICATION OF existing offset platemaking processes has not encouraged complacency among equipment suppliers. On the contrary, rising competition from flexo, as well as increasing adoption of CTP and DI practices, have fostered a more innovative path to better plates and processing.
Science bests art
In offset platemaking's struggle with art versus science, it seems the latter won several years ago. And that is a good thing, contends Richard Butler, product development manager for Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. (Graphic Systems Division).
"Really, what was the purpose of the 'art' part of producing plates?" he wonders. "Wasn't it to compensate for results that were not consistent?" Butler insists having a firm shop standard produces a higher percentage of good plates, and also leads to easier correction of inconsistencies.
Presstek Product Line Marketing Manager, Off-press Products, Marc Johnson, agrees with the benefits of standardization, and counts them as a chief reason for the move to CTP. "One of the most important advantages of going to CTP is to reduce variability in multiple processes."
Creo, too, has recognized the significance of CTP's standardization capabilities. The company's SQUAREspot™ thermal imaging technology builds on inherent CTP reliability by improving image integrity. SQUAREspot employs a non-gaussian laser swath—meaning the laser energy exhibits virtually no variation across the width of the exposing laser spot. The result is an extremely steep energy profile that consistently maintains dot shape and size on plate, despite changes in the location of the exposure threshold. The technology is designed to deliver halftone dots that are virtually immune to normal process variations such as laser intensity, plate emulsion thickness, and processor chemistry strength.
This reliance on scientific consistency doesn't wholly exclude the element of art from platemaking, either. As Chris Estes, product marketer for Xanté Corp. attests, the tools for plate control are just slightly different. He notes, "Although the mechanical/analog methods are rapidly becoming digital, the ability to control the output is the same." Estes argues CTP devices, computers, and lasers are just a more controlled version of the light tables, red litho tape, and dark rooms of the analog process.