Industries worldwide are moving rapidly toward “green” operations, seeking to reduce environmental emissions, hazardous materials and waste streams, while at the same time striving to conserve energy and materials. In line with this trend, printing industry leaders have focused on improving the environmental aspects of their supply chain and operations to reduce waste and improve efficiency.

After an early focus on things such as recycling programs and facility-wide energy-saving practices, many printing industry leaders are now looking beyond those “low hanging fruit” opportunities and taking the next logical steps. They are assessing all their operations, seeking to reduce their environmental impact—ideally while also increasing efficiency, shortening turnaround time and reducing costs.

Platemaking is one area where technology advances have played a major positive role in streamlining operations, making them more efficient and environmentally sound. The latest approaches reduce three of the primary elements traditionally involved: chemicals to develop or process the plates; energy to power the processor; and water to rinse the plate, dilute the chemicals and clean the processor. Beyond these direct resources, indirect resources include those consumed in manufacturing and delivering the processor and materials.

Today, there are really four different approaches to the platemaking process—traditional processing, reduced chemistry, chemistry-free, and process-free. In traditional processing for digital plates, thermal or violet (visible) lasers image the plate, which is then processed with chemistry. The size of the processor unit also determines the amount of chemistry used, as does the system’s need for replenishment (to proper operating strength).

Reduced chemistry plates are processed in systems where the replenishment function calibrates the correct chemistry and water solution according to the activity of the developer bath, or they use chemistry with low replenishment rates to reduce overall chemistry usage.

The term “chemistry-free” is widely misunderstood and is something of a misnomer as applied to printing plates. The truth is that ”chemistry-free” plates actually require some chemically based post-imaging processing or finishing to fix the plate image before mounting on press. In some cases, that finishing is part of the start-up sequence of the press. The bottom line is that these plates don’t require a standalone processor with chemistry or clean out solution.

Process-free plates are the first plates to truly eliminate all the chemistry and processing equipment while delivering or exceeding the quality of mainstream traditional plates. Process-free plates give print providers a real option for reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

The chemistry usage of different platemaking processes has been analyzed exhaustively over the years by plate manufacturers, industry associations, and user groups. Not surprisingly, traditional processed plates consume the most chemistry on average—followed by, in this order, reduced chemistry options, chemistry-free plates and process-free plates.

While the same pattern of consumption applies in water usage, some of the water recirculation systems and so-called intelligent processors available today can reduce the amount of water required even for traditional, chemically processed plates, but these can lead to cleanliness issues and plate defects. It’s also important to note that all plate processors and clean out units use energy, and not only in working mode when plates are being developed or processed. Processors need energy to maintain proper chemical temperatures even in “ready” or “sleep” modes—not to mention the tremendous amount of energy it takes to manufacture and distribute a processor.

Printing plant managers must juggle the availability and costs of water, chemistry and energy every day and adhere to strict environmental regulations governing the disposal of waste chemistry, process water and containers. Removing or reducing these variables frees up printers to focus on other areas of the business and other aspects of environmental sustainability.

For printers grappling with many of these common challenges, the savings in cost and time that process-free plates deliver are encouraging the adoption of this innovative and useful technology. Process-free plates increase productivity, simplify operations and reduce costs by eliminating steps from traditional platemaking. In fact, process-free platemaking eliminates all costs associated with processing equipment and chemistry while reducing floor-space requirements and energy consumption as well.

Clearly, these savings are as great for printers’ bottom lines as they are for the environment.

Kodak’s new generation of process-free plates, SONORA XP Plates for commercial printers and SONORA NEWS Plates for newspapers, have capabilities similar to mainstream processed plates, but without any of the legacy burdens of chemistry and processing. The expanded capabilities of the plates over previous process-free plates make process-free technology a smart and attractive option for a large population of printers looking to maintain their productivity and quality requirements.

Kodak has written a new white paper that includes the history of process-free technology, what has worked and what hasn’t, and the details behind Kodak’s successful press ready technology. You can read it here: