By Patrick Henry, WTT Executive Editor October 24, 2006 -- No matter what the future holds for the Graph Expo and Print shows, they will remain showcases for platesetters, plates, and related technologies for conventional prepress. The phrase "conventional prepress" used to refer strictly to film-based analog processes. But nowadays, laser-imaged metal and polyester are the conventions, while film has slipped into the realm of anachronism. Film-based prepress workflows still exist, but with every return to McCormick Place, the question "Why?" reverberates all the more loudly. Following is a digest of solutions from six exhibitors that offer printers an abundance of reasons to respond "Why not?" when it comes to the question of embracing CTP and other digital aspects of "conventional" prepress as practiced in the here and now. Agfa Graphics announced it was selling the :Avalon LF Violet platesetter in North America in both six-up and eight-up formats. The latest addition to the :Avalon platesetter line, the LF Violet model is an external-drum device that can image high-speed violet plates up to 45.7" x 32.2". It uses the same multiple-beam laser imaging technology as other platesetters in the :Avalon line, which includes violet and thermal devices in a variety of sizes and speeds. A choice of manual, semi-automatic, or fully automatic plate loading is offered in the LF Violet unit, which also features new imaging algorithms and an expanded capability for remote diagnostics. Susan Wittner, director of marketing for Agfa Graphics, said that the new model could be changed from a violet device to a thermal one (and vice versa) by swapping imaging systems—an option that would permit the platesetter to use thermal plates now and process-free violet plates when they become available. Wittner said that Agfa is developing such a plate and aims to introduce it—initially to the newspaper market—sometime in 2008. Agfa CTP customers already can choose from a large assortment of chemistry-free and low-chemistry thermal plates as well as silver-halide and photopolymer plates for visible-light exposure. Other prepress-related news from Agfa Graphics included the launch of :SherpaProof 17, a 17" inkjet proofer that scored high marks in the IPA testing roundup of proofing and workflow systems earlier this year; and :SherpaDot, a proofing solution said by Agfa to combine the look and feel of contract proofing with the high productivity of inkjet output. Also demonstrated for the first time at the Agfa booth were the latest versions of the company's :ApogeeX production workflow (3.5) and :Delano project management system (2.6). At a media briefing, EFI CEO Guy Gecht was pleased to report that more than 1.5 million of the company's Fiery RIPping and workflow solutions are in use around the world. He said that EFI also has deployed more than 10,000 print MIS software packages, a technology for which EFI has become equally well known. New products in both categories were announced at the show. Fiery System 8 is advanced print server software for commercial print, print-for-pay, corporate reprographic, and creative graphic arts environments. Fiery System 8, says EFI, delivers precision color, consistent high-quality output, workflow innovation, variable data printing (VDP) capabilities, seamless integration with EFI's Web-to-print, proofing, workflow and print MIS solutions, and connectivity to all popular prepress applications. Productivity enhancements include Fiery Smart RIP for accelerated RIPping performance; a continuous print feature that stores pages in memory to eliminate pauses between the printing of unique pages; and new RIP-while-print functions that add options for simultaneous page processing and output. According to EFI, Fiery System 8 can turn a print engine into a high-performance and open VDP solution that will support applications from the leading vendors of variable data printing software. EFI also launched Color Profiler Suite, a set of high-end color management tools for tasks including creating and editing custom ICC profiles; calibrating monitors for accurate soft proofing; visualizing color spaces in 3D to help users compare and link device gamuts; and verifying device color values against a reference standard for consistent color display from monitor to proof to print. In MIS for print, EFI presented the latest versions of its Hagen, Logic, PSI, PrintSmith, Prograph and Proteus solutions. The Hagen system added important new functionality with Auto-Count OpForma, a Web-based production management solution that automatically collects, tracks, and reports workstation productivity without manual record keeping or data entry. Workflow integration also was a theme at EFI's booth and at the booths of various partners as Agfa, Komori, MAN Roland, and Standard Horizon demonstrated connectivity with EFI products for print MIS. Komori, for example, announced that EFI's Auto-Count shop floor data collection software soon would be embedded into the Komori Management System (KMS) for job control and tracking. Appearing as a tab on the KMS interface, Auto-Count will broaden the Komori system's record-keeping capability by automatically collecting non-job details such as materials, waste, and employee information—data that JDF does not supply and that was not previously tracked by KMS. Fujifilm Graphic Systems USA may have retired the Enovation name that once denoted its distribution arm, but there has been no letup in the company’s effort to bring new products and services to the prepress market. At Graph Expo, the conceptual showing—although not the commercial release—of a chemical-free violet plate was Fujifilm’s main technical attraction, with a new line of small-format platesetters and a remotely controlled equipment diagnostic service generating interest of their own. Slated for commercial availability in 2007, The Brillia HD chemical-free violet plate is a violet photopolymer, non-ablative CTP plate that can, according to Fujifilm, print with aggressive UV inks and solvents without baking. Formulated for long runs and yellow safe light handling, the plate requires a rinsing and gumming step that isn’t needed with the currently available Brillia HD processless thermal plate, made of material from which excess coating is removed in the first few revolutions of the press. After exposure, the surface of the Brillia HD displays a faint latent image that can aid in plate identification and last-minute error detection. Fujifilm, which likes to name its platesetters after antique weapons of war, has bestowed a suitably martial appellation upon a new series that was launched at Graph Expo: the Dart pair of four-up devices, taking their place in the Fujifilm CTP armory alongside the Javelin eight-page thermal units and the Saber devices for high-speed violet imaging. Aimed at small and mid-sized shops, the Darts can handle plates in sizes from 12 3/4" x 14 9/16" to 32 21/32" x 26. The Dart 4300S can output up to 21 four-page plates per hour at 2,400 dpi, while the less expensive Dart offers the same level of resolution at a slower speed (11 plates per hour). Both feature an automated, lightweight clamping and vacuum system, and both can be equipped with cassette autoloaders for fully automatic, continuous operation. Meaning “help” in Japanese, “Taskero” is an appropriate name for Fujifilm’s package of Internet-enabled services for remote diagnostics, quality monitoring, and troubleshooting. A basic implementation of Taskero connects about 1,000 Fujifilm CTP devices to a central location in Hanover Park, IL, where staff technicians issue green, yellow, or red alerts about the status of equipment as Taskero reports it to them. “Taskero Universe,” announced at Graph Expo, will attempt to spread Taskero’s blanket of diagnostic support from prepress all the way through to the pressroom. Over time, says Fujifilm, Taskero’s centralized functions will include analyzing transmitted spectrophotometric data from proofs, plates, and press sheets; optimizing server performance; running live-chat sessions with technicians who also can connect customers with databases of troubleshooting information; and even monitoring pressroom temperatures and checking the conductivity of fountain solution. The latter would be done by dipping a sensing probe into the fountain and sending the reading to Taskero central for examination. The main Graph Expo keynotes for the Kodak Graphic Communications Group were digital and inkjet printing, production workflow, and a new initiative called the Kodak Market Mover Network: a plan to forge e-commerce connections between print providers using Kodak equipment and print buyers in search of the services the Kodak providers offer. Prepress was a smaller but still significant aspect of Kodak’s presentation at the show, with the principal news under this heading being the first North American showing of the Magnus 800 platesetter. This is an 830 nm exposure unit capable of imaging thermal IR-sensitive media at resolutions up to 2,450 dpi with a 250 line screen. Image area along the drum axis can be from 15" to 45.7", and a choice of throughput speeds—15, 22, 30, or 40 plates per hour—is offered. The Magnus 800 can be upgraded from semi-automatic to fully automatic operation and is available with up to 10 customized punch heads. Kodak announced speed upgrades to several other of its platesetters. The V-level speed of the Trendsetter 400 III has increased to 43 plates per hour standard and 50 plates per hour with automation; the Trendsetter 800 III is 5 percent faster in its X-speed. The Magnus Elf's V-speed and dual plate option now can image 40.5” plates at a rate of up to 39 plates per hour, while its F-speed imaging and dual plate option can achieve an output up to 20.6 plates per hour. The accelerated Magnus 400 platesetter now reaches 32 plates per hour, according to Kodak. The latest version (4.0) of Kodak’s Profile Wizard MIO color management software also was announced at Graph Expo. This tool for creating and editing ICC device and Device Link profiles includes new technology for better control of black replacement throughout the entire color space. It also extends profiling capabilities by enabling creation and editing of profiles with up to seven colors. Kodak says the software also strengthens profile editing capabilities, including gray balance editing for Device Link profiles and black hue adjustment. Besides launching its new 52DI (direct imaging) press, Presstek spotlighted its prowess in thermal CTP by displaying two platesetters for small and medium- sized print shops: the Dimension425 Excel and the chemistry-free Vector TX52. The Dimension 425 Excel is a small-footprint, four-up device that is optimized for use with Presstek’s chemistry-free Anthem Pro plate. This plate, good for run lengths up to 100,000 impressions, requires only a post-imaging water rinse and does not need gumming, baking or chemical processing. Presstek Freedom plates for the Vector TX52 are prepared in the same way, with the water step taking place in the Vector’s integrated plate washer. The plate is then ready for runs up to 25,000 impressions. The Vector TX52/Freedom plate combination provides an affordable metal platemaking solution for small shops, according to Presstek. No Graph Expo exhibitor gave visitors more to appreciate in thermal platesetting than Screen. Registering the biggest impressions in more ways than one at the Screen booth were the latest models in its Plate Rite Ultimo VLF (very large format) line. How large is very large? In the case of the Plate Rite Ultima 36000, large enough to handle plates from four-page (25.6" x 21.7") to 36-page (82.6" x 62.9") formats. Larger still is the PlateRite Ultima 36000S, capable of outputting 19 plates in the 80" x 50" size per hour. With dual plate loading, says Screen, the output rises to 36 eight-up plates per hour. The high-productivity PlateRite Ultima 36000Z features twin exposure heads and can image 29 80" x 50" plates every hour. Imaging two 40" plates side by side at once, the 36000Z can achieve a maximum hourly throughput of 58 plates. A bit smaller but no less capable is the PlateRite Ultima 24000, designed for plants equipped with multi-format four-, eight-, 16- and 24-page sheetfed or web offset presses. This VLF device has a maximum plate size of 68.8" x 55.1", but it also can expose pairs of smaller plates with a minimum size of 25.6" x 21.7". The 24000 can image the largest plates it can handle at a rate of 23 per hour; the high-output 24000Z model boosts the hourly plate output to 33, and side-by-side imaging of 40" plates with twin exposure heads yields 58 plates per hour. Making its debut at Graph Expo was the PlateRite 6600, designed to support six-page web and sheetfed presses with plates ranging in size from 12" x 14.6" to 38.5" x 26.9". The entry-level 6600E produces 18 plates per hour, while the faster 6600S images 30 plates per hour. Both use the same base engine, and Screen says the E model can be field-upgraded to S configuration by replacing certain key parts. Screen also used Graph Expo as the occasion to herald its entry into CTP for flexography. The break-in device introduced at the show was the PlateRite FX870, a platesetter that uses a 32-channel laser diode head to image digital flexo plates and letterpress plates from 7.9" x 7.9" inches to 34.2" x 28.9". Featuring resolutions of 2,400 dpi and 2,540 dpi, the FX870 will be marketed as a platesetter for high-quality printing of labels, flexible packaging, corrugated, carton and security printing. Screen says the device is compatible with all flexo workflows including its own Packstudio SE. Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at [email protected]