Commentary & Analysis
The Benefits of Chemistry-Free Plates
By John O'
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: December 11, 2006
By John O'Rourke of Presstek December 11, 2006 -- Earlier this year, Presstek commissioned industry consultant John Zarwan to research and write a white paper to review the various chemistry-free platemaking technologies now available on the market and to gain perspective on the day-to-day experience with how their deployment has impacted the customer’s business. Interest in chemistry-free platemaking systems has increased dramatically over the past several years. Today, all major plate manufacturers offer CTP plates with some degree of chemistry-free functionality, and all have installations in the field. In fact, in a recent study of small commercial and quick printers, sponsored by PRIMIR, found that while relatively few small commercial and quick printers have moved to metal CTP, those that have are as likely to be using chemistry-free plates as digital metal plates that require processing. Chemistry-free platemaking is the logical extension of CTP technology Presstek believes that chemistry-free platemaking is the logical extension of CTP technology -- offering greater benefits in terms of higher quality, reduced labor requirements, lower materials consumption and reduced waste / spoilage. Chemistry-free platemaking delivers: * Fewer platemaking variables o More predictable process o Highest possible consistency * Elimination of chemistry purchase, storage and disposal costs o Better environmental sustainability * Reduced or eliminated labor requirements o No heavy processor maintenance Presstek created the category of chemistry-free plates over 15 years ago with the introduction of the PearlDry plate used on DI presses. Today, there are multiple vendors in the CTP plate market, who label their products “chemistry-free.” However there is a lack of consistency around the use of this terminology. As the originator of the plate category of chemistry-free, we feel that terminology is important. At Presstek uses the term chemistry-free to mean: 1. No developing or other chemistry is required after imaging. 2. There is no spent chemistry to dispose of. 3. Plates go to press “ready to print” without the need for development in or on the press. We are extremely pleased to see that market demand for chemistry-free platemaking systems is growing, and that major plate manufacturers recognize the value of chemistry-free platemaking by continuing their work towards delivering chemistry-free products. However, the term is used somewhat more loosely by some plate vendors. Some so-called “chemistry-free” plates require gum or “photo-chemical aqueous solutions” to rinse and finish the plate after imaging. While other manufacturers offer plate products that develop on the printing press by reacting with fountain chemistry and ink at the start of the print run. The term “processor-less” could apply here, but developing (on-press or off-press) is still developing. For the right environment the benefits of chemistry-free platemaking technology are financially and environmentally compelling. In his research, Zarwan reviewed three technologies being used in the marketplace today: * Thermal ablation (Presstek Anthem Pro) * Thermal coalescence (Agfa :Azura) * On-press development (Kodak Thermal Direct and Fuji Brilla PRO-T) He also interviewed customers using each of these individual types of plates to gain their perspectives relative to the plate characteristics, including processing, storage and handling, ink/water balance, and image visibility. The current Zarwan study shows that the benefits of these products are real, and that print service providers are taking advantage of these benefits. Print as a communications medium faces more competition now than ever before, and any efforts that can be employed to ensure that it remain a competitive, viable communications alternative will benefit the entire industry. The production synergies and cost efficiencies that print service providers can achieve by transitioning to chemistry-free platemaking are a key contributor to the achievement of this goal. The production synergies and cost efficiencies of chemistry-free platemaking help keep print competitive as a communications medium. In his white paper, Zarwan concluded: “No one plate is suitable for every printer in every environment. Even with all of the advantages of chemistry-free and processless plates, many printers are simply unable to use them. For the right environment, however, the benefits of chemistry-free platemaking technology are compelling, both financially and environmentally. A number of factors go into the selection of a plate supplier. These [chemistry-free] plates [currently on the market] all work on press; each of the technologies has satisfied customers, many with years of experience printing with them. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, issues that must be addressed. The drawbacks are not insuperable. In most cases, they can be accommodated. For some printers, the advantages of a particular technology or plate make it worthwhile. For others, however, their concerns have led them to choose a different path. Even so, all things being considered, the benefits of chemistry-free make it worth considering.” If your business has not yet migrated to CTP, or you are considering updating your platemaking process to gain the advantages of chemistry-free, we invite you to download Zarwan’s white paper to help you with your decision-making process. And as always, if I can help you with any additional information, please feel free to write me.