About to embark on the most important printing show in the U.S., WhatTheyThink.com thought it would be most interesting to have a dialog with two of the industry’s leading CTP vendors - Agfa and Creo. We wanted to gather their views on industry trends and products our readers should see at this year’s Graph Expo show. The format we selected poses the same questions to both companies.

A special thanks to Joe Luckett, CTP Product Marketing Manager, Creo America; and Susan Wittner, Marketing Director, Agfa Graphic Systems for providing their insights.

WTT: Which is the hottest selling imposition device in your CTP line?

Susan Wittner of Agfa:
Agfa develops and provides field proven tools and solutions to the prepress and printing industry, focusing on providing time and cost saving automated solutions to help designers and printers be more productive and consistently output top-quality results.

Agfa’s CTP market share has been gaining in all segments, 4-up, 8-up and VLF (Very Large Format). The 8-up market is by far the largest for Agfa, followed by 4-up and VLF. While the mature 8-up and VLF markets remain highly successful, Agfa’s 4-up Palladio platesetter has been experiencing the greatest sales increase.

Joe Luckett of Creo:
The Trendsetter 800 series continues to be a popular choice. This product is accurate, reliable and user friendly, residing on a modest footprint.

Creo 4-pg Thermal CTP Solutions start in the low $90,000 range and our 8-pg CTP solutions start in the lower $100,000 range. These CTP engines are available in multiple speeds with a choice of platforms. Upgrade paths vary and include, imaging film, digital halftone proofing, and conventional and waterless on the same CTP Engine. Field upgrades range from 4-pg to 8-pg upgrades, Spectrum Digital half tone proofing, Various levels of automation, Speed increases, media changes, and SQUAREspot upgrades which helps maintain end to end integrity from the original file through to the press, despite variations that may occur in a typical production environment.

WTT: How important are ‘Green,’ environmentally safe products to your customers?

Susan Wittner of Agfa:
Agfa Graphic Systems develops environmentally conscious tools and solutions for the prepress and printing industries. When designing a chemistry based system, Agfa works with its customers in order to design and implement the most appropriate system that meets all relevant environmental laws, constraints and issues. Both Agfa and its customers are committed to protecting the environment while meeting the needs of business.

Agfa’s NewsPlate Premium Edition printing plate, announced last month, is a true aqueous system, which does not incorporate non-biodegradable solutions and minimizes unrecoverable by-products. Additionally, Agfa Pressmatch Dry offers a chemistry free analog proofing system.

Agfa recently announced that it will be unveiling a new plate processing system at IFRA in Barcelona. The new process is expected to reduce waste by as much as 40%. Agfa continues to develop solutions that minimize waste, product cost and clean up.

Joe Luckett of Creo:
Creo recognizes that our customers are developing a keener awareness of green products. We have moved forward with development and qualification for process less media and DOP technologies that help address our customers’ environmental concerns. Additionally these customers can realize a bottom line benefit by reducing consumable consumption and maintenance associated with a chemical processing line.

Creo 4-pg and 8-pg CTP engines have the option to image chemically free plates-some models are still in the qualification stage. This allows our customers the option of removing chemistry processing associated with plate development. There are no chemicals for employees to be exposed to, or to be disposed. The added benefit is that it can save customers a good deal of money. Many customers perceive the economic advantages as complementary to the environmental stewardship.

WTT: How popular with your customers are the ‘exotic’ screening products (i.e. stochastic)?

Susan Wittner of Agfa:
Agfa led stochastic process printing many years ago with CristalRaster stochastic screening. The wider industry acceptance of CTP technology has made alternative screening more tangible to most printers. But, as most printers know, stochastic process printing is a difficult task. Agfa recently introduced a more practical concept with Sublima hybrid screening which customers are very excited about.

Hybrid screening utilizes a combination of traditional AM screening in the midtones and stochastic screening to consistently maintain the full 1 to 99 percent tonal range throughout the print run. Agfa’s patented stochastic technique reproduces different tones by varying the number of dots of a fixed size. Unlike simple FM screening, Agfa Sublima does not reveal graphical noise in the highlights or midtones, as often seen with FM screening.

In the future, hybrid screening techniques like Agfa Sublima will be adopted where FM is being used today. We expect that more print buyers will ask for Agfa Sublima as a response to the need for higher quality printing with minimal effort.

Joe Luckett of Creo:
Creo has approximately 500 installations around the world, although not all have implemented Staccato yet. Among them are The Segerdahl Corporation of Wheeling, IL; Lake County Press of Waukegan, IL and Urban Art Lithography, Inc. of Sacramento, CA.

WTT: Printers are looking for better, faster, cheaper proofing methods, what solutions are you providing?

Susan Wittner of Agfa:
Agfa’s family of Sherpa inkjet proofing printers offers designers an affordable and easy solution to create contract proofs, verify design quality and check for errors. The Sherpa printer family outputs SWOP certified proofs and offers designers a full line of varying output sizes. Sherpa is the fastest growing proofing system on the market, with per proof costs as low as $1.69, compared to digital halftone proofs at $11.00 and more.

The core system combines a high quality piezo-electric inkjet printer with an Apogee Proofer RIP, ColorTune color-management software and AgfaJet inkjet proofing papers. Driven by the Apogee Proofer RIP and the Apogee PrintDrive, the complete system gives total process control and guarantees maximum performance.

Furthermore, Agfa Pressmatch Dry Negative offers cost savings for those designers and printers who prefer an analog proofing system. Agfa Pressmatch Dry is an off-press analog contract proofing system that fits into any work environment. It is a simple, handy peel-off process in three straightforward operations, which guarantees the production of reliable color proofs in a minimum amount of time. The materials and hardware are simple to use. Maintenance is limited to occasional cleaning of the equipment.

Joe Luckett of Creo:
Creo will showcase the new Veris™ proofer at Graph Expo. This new generation, 4-up, tabletop proofing system provides digital contract proofs. Veris uses a new Creo technology—Multi-Drop Array™ inkjet—for high image quality and consistency. The Veris proofer produces high quality proofs with a controlled stream of dots that are precisely formed and placed. The Multi-Drop Array technology allows the Veris proofing system to provide a true symmetrical resolution of 1500 x 1500 dpi.

Veris is the first Creo proofer to use the Certified Proofing Process that we developed to provide quality assurance to the customer. First, the Veris system checks that the proofer has been calibrated recently and the correct calibration set-up has been used. Next, the system verifies the correct ICC profile has been selected. Finally, the system ensures the proof is printed with ink and media defined for the proof. The Creo Veris will use certified Iris® ProPack-GA and IrisPRO™ II media.

Creo has a full range of proofing solutions depending on customer needs, including contract, color, imposition, and digital proofing. Creo will also have other proofing announcements at Graph Expo.

WTT: What product(s) is generating your biggest sales growth?

Susan Wittner of Agfa:
Apogee workflow and Sherpa proofing have been Agfa’s most successful solutions. In addition, we continue to gain market share in platesetters as evidenced in our Palladio CTP device. Only six months after the first unit was shipped, Agfa has delivered more than 150 units. As Agfa's newest member in its violet laser family of CTP solutions, the Palladio is a fully automated, 4-up flatbed platesetter designed for small to medium sized printers. Introduced at Print '01, Palladio began shipping in January, 2002. Targeted at the small to mid sized printer, this platesetter has helped more than 150 printers move to CTP with a fully automated, reliable machine.

Joe Luckett of Creo:
In a broad statement today, the largest percentage of our revenue is derived from CTP sales of all models. Creo does not release revenue breakdowns per product group.

WTT: How are your workflow products addressing customer needs?

Susan Wittner of Agfa:
Agfa Graphic Systems develops and provides cost-effective solutions for today’s graphic enterprises. In addition to manufacturing products that perform a specific task, Agfa also explores the overall workflow of the prepress and printing house floor. Agfa believes that efficiency enhancements to the job processing method are just as effective as the improvements Agfa tools and solutions provide.

Agfa was the first to adopt the Adobe PDF file format and encouraged other manufacturers to follow suit. It was Agfa’s belief that open industry standards were the lynchpin to more powerful tools and solutions for the graphic enterprise. The success of Adobe PDF has unlocked unprecedented efficiency, reduced waste and cross platform interoperability.

Furthermore, Agfa saw the deficiencies and delays from redundant tasks and slow routing in the prepress process. The resulting Apogee series offered customers a digital network solution that automatically consolidated tasks and instantly routed projects to the appropriate handler. Apogee brought the time savings and efficient resource handling that allowed designers and printers to finish jobs more perfectly, faster and cheaper.

Apogee introduced the JDF file format, which became an industry standard for job handling. Both PDF, which holds digital information about the content of a job, and JDF, which holds information on how the job is to be handled, further unveiled more powerful possibilities for the graphic enterprise.

From Apogee, Agfa takes the entire printing floor into consideration and developed the modular Delano graphic enterprise network solution. Delano is an end to end solution that helps printers plan prepress and print jobs; maintain a customer database and history; smoothly transition a job from one step to the next; and intelligently drives enterprise resources, such as platesetters, print presses, proofers, etc. With Delano, printers and designers have a solution that seamlessly manages the entire graphic enterprise, from job creation through to the final printed product.

Joe Luckett of Creo:
Creo has compiled operations data on 324 printers over four years. The vast majority were commercial printers and just under half of the companies reported annual revenue of $1 to $10 million. The printer sites covered the spectrum in terms of size as well as their level of investment in digital technology and operations processes. Just over 12% had implemented CTP.

In terms of productivity, investments in both CTP and workflow had significant impact on the process or manufacturing cycle times. From a film process with various digital workflow front ends to CTP with Brisque™ Impose or Prinergy® workflows, there was nearly a 46% decrease in the platemaking cycle time-direct labor time, not elapsed time.

WTT: What is your most often heard customer complaint?

Susan Wittner of Agfa:
Agfa Graphic Systems is always in and planning constructive dialog with customers. Attentive sales and customer care representatives regularly check up on Agfa’s customers to make sure that they are satisfied with our products or services; that their questions are being answered; and that they are appraised of current best practices to enhance their business.

In addition to one on one vendor to client communications, Agfa also hosts many annual user conferences around the world to address specific issues in the prepress and printing industries. This year’s Apogee User Conference, held between September 15 –18th in Ghent, Belgium, offered Agfa customers a forum to discuss the latest in print workflow technology, as well as offer improvements and suggestions to Agfa’s solution and product designers.

Currently, designers and printers have expressed the most interest in network solutions and how they can improve customer relationships, decrease processing time, and greatly increase productivity. Agfa was the first to adopt and promote the Adobe PDF file format and has the breadth of experience and in-depth knowledge of open standard technologies to help the graphic enterprise design and implement a custom enterprise wide networking solution.

Joe Luckett of Creo:
Creo makes great efforts to work individually with every customer who chooses to do business with us. This effort focuses on our customers business where we generally try to get to the root cause of issues. I don't believe we have a common customer complaint. If so, I would be very interested.