Among my tour of the crowded booths was Creo. The Canadian firm so much in the news these days enjoyed constant heavy traffic at GOA, with attendees splitting their attention between platesetters, RIPs and workflow tools, with many taking the time to test their eyes and judgment regarding whether a selection of images were offset prints or photographs. The choice was a bit harder than one might think.

Creo’s Staccato technology, the company’s brand name for its FM (or stocastic) screening process, noted for producing images of exceptional clarity, was challenging attendees’ perception of just how good offset printed images could be. Attendees used a large, 10X loupe to examine the details of an assortment of images and give their best guesses as to whether an image was a photograph or an offset print. When both images reside on high quality glossy stocks it can be quite hard to tell the difference, and amply demonstrates the capabilities of the SQUAREspot thermal imaging used to create the prints. And if the differences are hard to see under magnification, chances are they aren’t going to be noticeable to the average viewer--except they will look a whole lot better than similar images made using traditional AM screening.

Which is the whole point, and one not lost on a large number of magazines that are now printed using Staccato screening, along with the SkyMall catalog of things you don’t really need that’s found in the seat pocket of virtually every U.S. airliner. The content of each seasonal issue is identical in, while the cover varies by carrier. But all the pages are printed using Staccato. The magazines shown at GOA run the gamut from general consumer mags to high-quality/high-demographic books replete with ads for expensive clothing, vehicles and home furnishings. Staccato is making its way into packaging as well, with canned food from Hunt’s and ConAgra using it on labels and products like Krylon paint and Lysol using it directly on the spray cans.

According to Creo, Staccato uses ink more efficiently than standard AM screens. This increases the available gamut in the midtones while reducing the color-influencing effect of the paper itself. Toner stability on press is also improved, most notably over a range of ink densities. This is important everywhere, but in Latin American markets where printers make a real effort to get the most out of every liter of ink, achieving consistent image quality at all ink densities--often on lower cost papers--makes for a measurable economic advantage. Other advantages include faster drying, aiding overall throughput; print integrity despite misregistration (there are no rosettes to align); elimination of moiré patterns; superior spot and PMS color reproduction; and as noted earlier, near photographic reproduction, especially on high-quality coated stocks.

"FM screening has been around awhile, but it wasn’t really efficient in old film-based workflows," says Ken Hanulec, Creo Director of Marketing. That changes with an all digital workflow. Most printers buying Creo’s platesetters can take immediate advantage of Staccato, which is shipped on about 75 percent of Creo’s CTP systems. And with these advantages, it’s hard to see many reasons why at least some jobs couldn’t shift over right away. "Our customers tell us that once their customers see the difference between traditional screening and Staccato they begin asking for it, often by name," says Hanulec. Sounds like a little branding is going on out there.

So hearing all this, I picked up the loop and looked at the images. I got most of them right but a few tricked me. As with evaluating any images, it’s all in knowing what to look for, but if you have to look that close, whatever you’re seeing must be very good to begin with.