By Debora Toth September 18, 2006 -- Faster productivity, higher quality output, and reduced costs. What printer would not want to gain any of these attributes in their company? In the past two years as more and more process-free, chemistry-free plates are being used in the market, these are the comments being made by printers who have adopted the technology. With competition remaining fierce in the market, printers are focusing even more on productivity and profitability and finding that process-less/chemistry-free plates can maintain or improve their current production throughput as well as reduce their existing plate processing costs while producing high-quality products and accruing tremendous savings and simplifying production from the prepress department to the pressroom. Golden Circle Graphics, a two million printer with 20 employees based in Jackson, Tennessee, became the first user of Agfa’s :Azura chemical-free thermal plates in North America. Once installed, :Azura provided three critically components for Golden Circle: saving money (no chemistry to buy), saving time (no time spent on chemical processes) and maintaining high quality. "What drove us into this was the cost of the chemistry, which was through the roof," says Joel Maners, a co-managing director and partner along with Neil Maners. "We were spending $400 each week on chemistry alone and we had to maintain the chemistry whether we used it or not. The ultimate solution to us was to take away the chemistry and lower the costs. With :Azura, we’ve been able to do that." He continues, "We did our de-linearization test, set up our curves and we were ready to go. We get excellent results from the :Azura plate using 175 lpi conventional screening. It is stable on press and the ink-water balance holds very well. It now takes us about six minutes per plate from the start of the process to get to press. With the old plate it took from 40 minutes to an hour. We were using one oven for both the pre-bake and post-baking, since we were unable to afford two ovens. If we added up all the time it took to get the oven the right temperature for each procedure, to run one plate through the pre-bake and post-bake processes was about 30 minutes. That’s just too long. Overall, making one plate took about an hour. With :Azura, we are doing it in one-tenth the time. It’s nice not to have to worry about plate issues." Target Information Management, a printer of direct mail, stock forms, custom printing, and general commercial printing, became the sixth site in the US and first in the state of Michigan to begin using Fujifilm’s Brillia HD PRO-T processless thermal plate in February 2006. Located outside of Lansing, Michigan in Okemos, the nine-employee company was switching to computer-to-plate and wanted to take one step further into processless plates. "We were spending too much money on composite films from our service bureau to win jobs," recalls John Harris, the firm’s vice president. "As we researched direct-to-plate at Print 05, processless plates were the rage. For a small shop like ours, we didn’t want to saddled with the chemistry costs, disposal, refrigeration, and heating for conventional thermal plates. After researching the variety of plates on the market, we chose to use Fuji’s PRO-T plates on both our Komori Lithrone 26-inch four-color sheetfed press and our two Didde web form presses." "In the past six months that we’ve been using the plates, we’re pleased with the performance of the Fuji PRO-T plates," says Harris. "They give us run lengths in excess of 100,000 impressions and unlike prototypes of that plate we saw at the show we were delighted to find them improved with an easily visible image on the burned plate. We’re now winning jobs that we didn’t win before and saving time in production." In June 2006, Lee Printing Company, a family-owned commercial printer located in Clinton Township, Mich. was the first print shop in the US to begin using Heidelberg’s Saphira Chemfree thermal plate solution. Founded in 1889, the nine-employee shop prints a variety of general commercial materials, including business cards, letterhead, envelopes, fliers, programs, brochures, posters and labels for a local client base. Lee Printing offers design, printing, cutting, die- cutting, folding and direct mail services. "During the purchasing process of our first four-color press from Heidelberg, a Speedmaster SM 52, in April 2005, we immediately were attracted to the combination of the Suprasetter and the Saphira Chemfree plates," says Keith Lesperance, Chief Operating Officer, Lee Printing Company. "The Suprasetter dramatically increased our speed and productivity. A job that used to take us three days to process with two prepress employees now takes our press operators only four hours. The chemistry-free plates do not require any maintenance, so we’re saving time and money." The Saphira Chemfree Thermal Plate is a traditional aluminum grained printing plate that uses a new coating technology called micro spheres. The latex-based micro sphere coating is non-ablative and eliminates traditional thermal plate processing variables. The Suprasetter’s patented thermal laser (830 nm) is used to bond the micro spheres to the base metal and expose the plate, forming the printing image. The Saphira Chemfree Thermal Plate uses no developer, no water and no large footprint processor. The technology reduces chemical costs by eliminating high-volume water and waste associated with the traditional thermal process and is environmentally friendly. Another shop seeking an environmentally-friendly solution was The Graphic Arts Group, a full-service commercial printing company located in San Antonio. Since it was established more than 80 years ago, the family-owned firm has grown from an instant print shop to a full-color house producing stationery packages, brochures, postcards, business cards, magazines, newsletters and a variety of other materials. "As we evaluated systems for more than a year, our primary criteria were minimizing impact on the environment while maximizing the benefits of computer to plate (CTP)," says Dan Callaway, president of the firm. "With the Kodak MAGNUS 400 imaging device and Kodak THERMAL DIRECT non-process printing plates, we have the best of both worlds. Chemical usage has been reduced beyond our expectations, productivity has increased as we image more plates per hour, and output quality has never been better. By shortening the platemaking cycle, we’re producing more jobs per shift and increasing production efficiency." The Kodak THERMAL DIRECT plate is a non-process plate featuring a traditional grained and anodized aluminum substrate. Based on fourth generation thermal technology, the plate doesn’t require the use of a processor, or modifications to imaging devices or the press. Nova Offset, a 46-year-old general commercial printing firm located in New York City, moved from film to computer-to-plate in late 2002 choosing to use Presstek’s Anthem chemistry-free plates. Within the past three months, the firm has begun to use Presstek’s newer version, Anthem Pro chemistry-free plates, along with Presstek’s Dimension450Excel computer-to-plate system. Nova Offset uses 1,000 to 1,500 plates per month on its Heidelberg 14 x 20-inch sheetfed presses. "We’ve certainly experienced faster productivity, reduced chemistry costs, and higher quality," relates Lance Burns, vice president of Nova. "What used to take us an hour of straight time now only takes twenty minutes. We’ve eliminated chemistry costs of $300 to $400 a month and eliminated the one-hour-a-week cleaning and two-and-a-half-hour-a-month plate processor cleaning. But after looking at all the process-free, chemistry-free plates on the market, I chose the Presstek plate because it was the only one that could be used in daylight. Here in Manhattan, space is a premium and using the Anthem Pro we did not need a darkroom. I could use that space more wisely." Burns says that the new Anthem Pro is a grainer plate that runs easier than the original Anthem plate. By switching to computer-to-plate, Burns says that he’s experienced a huge improvement in quality and producing faster, finer dots by using the Dimension450Excel. Debora Toth is a freelance writer who has worked in the graphic arts industry for 25 years. She can be reached at [email protected]