The Sweet Lowdown
"If your press is 85 percent efficient and computer-to-plate (CTP) can give you another five percent boost," asks Marc Johnson, "Why wait?"
Johnson, the product line marketing manager for off-press imaging at Presstek (www.presstek.com), says CTP technology is the holy grail for printing. "We've gone through a shift," he acknowledges. "Film imagesetters are drying-up. In the largest-size shops, you almost reach saturation in the market."
Johnson attributes CTP's success to three simple improvements: better imaging, more affordable production costs and faster turnaround time.
"Once you've gone to a digital workflow," he says, "the big question is how do you proof digitally? And what do you do about dot proofing?" Ink-jet printers have supplemented film proofs. "The quality is a non-issue. We're seeing tools coming out that simulate dots, like Best Color (www.bestcolor.com), so you can see if a moray will happen," he notes.
"What a publisher wants—and can get—is a solution that, when given to the printer, makes it look how the final product will look."
He explains, "If USA Today wasn't printing directly to press, they wouldn't be able to work right up to deadline." This means that advertisers and editorial departments can make changes digitally, previously a prohibitively expensive proposition for film-based workflows.
In due time
Whereas CTP was once considered a costly transition, publishers such as McGraw-Hill (www.mcgraw-hill.com) are now reaping the benefits. Cheryl Horch, manager of new book production admits that during the first two years after converting to CTP, there was no real cost advantage. "But now," says Horch, "there's a huge savings this year."
She reports that registration is better and schedules have been improved. "Our printer is also more efficient with our files," explains Horch. "We have a set standard file format. We're in PDF workflow." In fact, McGraw-Hill's one- and two-color titles are now 100 percent CTP. And she says by the end of this year, four-color titles will also be produced digitally.
"PDF is key," notes Johnson. "CTP will pay itself off in spades. The whole workflow industry has moved to PDF to standardize one file throughout the food chain. By going towards a PDF standard, you'll see increased efficiency right down to designers and advertisers. They can go as far as make last minute changes over the phone."
No stupid questions
But for printers and publishers who are unsure about why to invest in CTP, Citiplate (www.citiplate.com) provides an economical check-list.
Could business be more profitable by reducing the cost of getting content to press?
Could job productivity be improved if plates were made faster?
Could competitiveness increase if operating costs were cut?
Could business be enhanced by providing digital quality, fast turnaround and competitive prices?
"It's all about communication. You can't go into CTP without treating it as a partnership with the printer," Johnson says. By converting to digital printing, publishing clients are encouraged to revamp production workflow on the front end.
"It reduces make-ready time," explains Johnson. "Tweaking time on press is also reduced because plates are in register perfectly." He surmises that there isn't a large printer that hasn't adopted CTP. "And now, it's also becoming more affordable for smaller printers," he adds. "Half-size companies are starting to implement CTP. That's why now, the technology is filtering down to the masses and becoming cheaper."
Since then, companies like Global Graphics (www.globalgraphics.com), introduced Cirrus 2M, a manual version of its Cirrus 2 digital platesetter, aimed at the small offset market. According to the company, fast production of high-quality offset printing plates allow short make-ready times on press by imaging 24 plates an hour at 2540 dpi resolution or 37 plates at 1270 dpi. As a result, both short and long press times requiring frequent plate changes can be completed faster.
"In one case," he recalls, "a client went from producing 200 to 300 make-readies down to 10."
Similarly, Presstek introduced Anthem, a system which eliminates the need to wash plates with chemical treatments. With Anthem, plates can be cleaned with water. "A customer who buys the product," says Johnson, "doesn't have to buy the oven, which is expensive to run and takes up space." Johnson says he knows a textbook publisher in Iowa who works near a lagoon, where strict environmental codes add to the difficulty of getting supplies for a film-based workflow. By converting to CTP and implementing the washable plates, his elimination of film was hugely profitable. "He doesn't have to pay for expensive transportation to haul away chemicals," he adds. "It's financially and environmentally better."
Out of the box
After nearly nine months of researching CTP products, it only took one day for Chromagraphics to get Fujifilm technology up and running. The printer's President Eric Janssen reports that they immediately benefitted from improved quality and turnaround time. When the two machines, a PictroProof digital proofer and Dart Luxel T-6000 platesetter, were installed, Janssen assumed that the company would spend six months doing 50 percent traditional film and 50 percent CTP. But after a few days, he says, "We stopped doing proofs that required film. We jumped immediately into CTP and have never gone back."
Chromagraphics recently ran 47 plates in a regular shift, a number that Janssen says would normally require two shifts. "Our press make-ready times have been reduced by about 50 percent," he explains. "And our waste has been less. We get a full paginated proof that is highly accurate, and our plates are accurately duplicating those proofs. If the proof looks right, the plate will work right. That's the benefit of having the system integrated."
Gloria Fontana, vice president of sales and marketing for GTS Companies (www.gtscompanies.com), also believes that CTP saves money down the supply chain. "In 1990, it cost $110 to scan, proof, make a Matchprint, strip it to intermediate film," says Fontana. "Today, with a digital proof, it's $25."
Digital applications have improved greatly within the last few years. Fontana describes, "Electronic hairballs were showing up in press proofs and people were concerned that if you don't have an analog proof of the printed page, it would keep happening." But using PDF, prepress companies and publishers have locked into PostScripting, which Fontana says eliminates many of the bugs, such as non-embedded fonts.
According to Johnson, "Time magazine is going to move to a 'we-only-take PDF-X files from advertisers' standard this year." And by setting the precedent, not only is the format become more standardized, but digital workflow becomes the norm. Says Johnson, "Once you've gone CTP, PDF is the magic."
-Natalie Hope McDonald