Modern Offset Computer-To-Plate (CTP) Technology

Maintaining a delicate balance between quality and efficiency is essential in the printing industry, and operations managers constantly seek new printing technologies to achieve this goal. The global offset printing industry is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2030, and CTP plates eliminate excess costs, prevent ink contamination and streamline printing processes.

Overview of Offset Computer-to-Plate Technology

Computer-to-plate technology generates images in a computer program and outputs them directly onto a printing plate.

With CTP technology, printing is faster, more accurate and more cost-effective, making it a preferred option in the industry for the following applications:

  • Commercial printing: CTP is for creating precise and intricate designs for quality commercial materials like newspapers, brochures, magazines and catalogs.
  • Packaging printing: Printing packaging requires accurate logos, product images and text replication, making CTP a primary choice.
  • Label printing: Labels require detailed and vibrant printing work. CTP makes it easy to replicate label designs with intricate graphics and sharp text.
  • Advanced security features: Banknotes and passports have built-in security features. CTP’s precision and reliability make it perfectly positioned for these applications.

How Does CTP Work?

CTP technology varies depending on the type of image setter and the light source you use to expose the printing plate surface. You can use the plate on the press once you’ve imaged the file onto the surface. [CC1] Printing plates are made from several materials depending on the application, including aluminum. The light sources are often ultraviolet lamps and laser diodes.

Legacy CTF processes involve transferring an image onto a photographic film, which requires several toxic chemicals. CTP eliminates this stage, expediting the printing process and creating a safer pressroom environment. Three principal types of CTP technology exist, including:

  • Thermal plates: These plates have a low sensitivity to natural light and use an infrared laser for exposure so you can use them in a bright room. Thermal CTP plates are preferred in the printing industry due to their high resolution, sharp edge and excellent repeatability. The drawbacks of thermal CTP include sensitivity to ambient temperatures and humidity requirements.
  • Photopolymer plates: These plates often comprise an aluminum base, a photosensitive layer and a surface layer. Many use violet laser technology as these printing plates require low energy to image, making them ideal for newspaper printing.

Exploring Various Offset Computer-to-Plate Systems

Several offset CTP systems exist in the market, each with unique features and capabilities to suit different applications. Some popular options to consider include:

  • Thermal systems: Thermal plates allow for rapid and precise temperature control. They have a photosensitive layer that hardens when exposed to heat, transferring an image onto a bottom layer. This image can create prints with high accuracy and clarity.
  • Violet systems: This technology uses violet lasers to expose plates sensitive to violet light. These systems are faster than thermal, but the plates are light sensitive and require handling in a yellow safelight.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) systems: As the name suggests, UV CTP systems use UV lamps or lasers to create an image on the plate.

Different Computer-to-Plate Methods

With more options, finding the best CTP system can be challenging. CTP models differ depending on the construction of the imagesetter and the light source you use to expose the plates’ surfaces. The most common options include:

1. Internal Drum

In this method, you place the plate inside a drum. At the same time, an imaging head moves along the cylinder’s axis to facilitate the image transmission. A mirror rotates around the axis at the end of the imaging head to beam the required image onto the plate. You can use one laser or several at once. While multiple lasers can increase your speed, one provides consistent light intensity over the plate during imaging.

2. External Drum

This method wraps the printing plate around a cylinder, which rotates on its axis. An imaging head moves along the axis and focuses the laser on the surface of the plate. The simple construction of external drum imagesetters allows you to use several image heads simultaneously, decreasing the processing time needed.

3. Flatbed

As the name suggests, imaging with a flatbed involves reproducing an image onto a flat printing plate. The light source is initially deflected with a rotating polygon mirror. The setup has limitations for larger prints, as you can lose accuracy toward the edges. It’s an excellent option for smaller formats like labels or reproducing lower-quality images.

The Impact of Computer-to-Plate Technology on Modern Offset Printing

Flexibility is critical to staying competitive amid changing market demands. Offset CTP printing offers an excellent balance of speed, quality and affordability. CTP technology has come a long way. What was once only available to large-scale printers is now a popular option in the printing industry, making printing more affordable and boosting production productivity.

CTP systems have spearheaded the demand for faster turnaround times and shorter run lengths, and “print on demand” is a common expectation. Making last-minute changes without incurring additional costs is possible. In the digital world, print has significant competition online. The ability to create vivid, detailed images with CTP keeps the industry relevant and ensures a continued demand.

Upgrading a CTP system requires careful evaluation of the benefits. Some of the advantages of making the transition include:

  • Improved image quality: CTP with process-free plates eliminates the variability and defects associated with traditional plate processing, leading to more reliable, vibrant images suitable for various applications where high quality is a prerequisite.
  • Faster turnaround times: Consumers expect quick results. CTP systems offer short production run times and increased print production outputs. More immediate delivery without compromising quality can set you apart from competitors.
  • Reliable registration: As the image is registered, or held in place, CTP improves image-to-edge repeatability and creates more detailed images.
  • Minimized environmental impact: As CTP printing eliminates the need for film, it also eradicates the related chemicals and biohazards from the printing process.
  • Increased cost savings: CTP saves on processing costs such as fixing and developing and reduces the amount of wasted ink. The plates are highly stable, controlling the waste rate in the plate output process. Upgrades to CTP also reduces labor costs. Although your initial investment is a significant consideration, the long-term benefits of the technology result in a positive return on investment (ROI).

Potential Obstacles With Offset Computer-to-Plate Technology

Although offset CTP systems have significant benefits, it also has some disadvantages to consider while upgrading your technology, including:

  • Business size: Although CTP offers a positive return, achieving it in a small print shop may take longer. Consider how quickly you may be able to get a positive ROI on your offset CTP transition.
  • Digital limitations: You must switch everything to digital when you convert to CTP technology, from the type and photos on individual pages to the imposition information.
  • Damage: As with other offset printing methods, you must produce a new plate if it’s damaged.

When you balance the pros and cons, increased image sharpness and streamlined processing are potent motivators, reducing costs and daily management challenges. The benefits of CTP technology make the transition attractive to any printing business looking for fast turnaround times and a quality end product.

Upgrading Offset Computer-to-Plate Technology

Any significant change to your business operations requires careful research and planning. While the transition can benefit your business, you want to see a favorable return as quickly as possible. The following tips can streamline the change and minimize costly mistakes:

1. Prolong the Life Span and Durability of Your Offset Computer-to-Plate Prints

CTP prints are durable, but their life span depends on several factors, including the quality of the materials you use, storage conditions and correct handling. One of the main factors to consider is your choice of paper or substrate. Stick to high-quality, acid-free paper and ensure your ink and coating selections suit your intended purpose.

Storage is also critical to print life span. Ensure you store your prints in a stable temperature and humidity, protecting them from excessive light, moisture and contaminants. Following general printing best practices will ensure the finished product reaches your customer in the best possible condition.

2. Consider the Role of Maintenance and Training During CTP Upgrades

Understanding the associated training and maintenance requirements is essential when introducing new technology. Offset CTP technology upgrades should streamline pressroom workflows rather than inhibit them.

Your team must use and maintain the equipment effectively to enjoy the advantages. Focusing on maintenance and training during your transition can maximize the benefits for your team and customers. Dedicate the time to familiarizing yourself with using and maintaining the equipment to reduce downtime and errors in the transition phase. When your team knows how to identify and resolve issues, it empowers them to adopt the new technology.

The maintenance requirements for offset CTP printers may differ depending on the make and model of the machine. Ensure you check the manufacturer’s requirements to implement an effective maintenance program. Some standard maintenance requirements to consider include:

  • Preventive maintenance: A well-defined maintenance plan to prevent defects can save you time and money. Many suppliers provide you with one — if they do, it’s best to stick to it whenever possible. Typical preventive maintenance best practices include logging any machine damage and subsequent repairs and regular inspections to identify maintenance issues before they become significant problems.
  • Power fluctuations: Proper grounding is critical to protect your equipment from damage from sudden electrical surges. Laser diodes are particularly susceptible to damage from power irregularities.
  • Component replacements: Many components in your machine will degrade, affecting its performance before they fail. Run your equipment well within its ratings to maintain longevity and replace any parts that underperform before they break.
  • Temperature control: Your CTP printer needs a consistent temperature to achieve optimal results. Many have temperature control units to fulfill these requirements. Ensure your pressroom maintains a constant temperature and inspect your control unit regularly so you can address problems before they affect your machinery.

3. Factor in Ongoing Costs in Your CTP Upgrade

Transitioning to new technology can be challenging, and the best way to combat these challenges is to stay prepared. Investing in comprehensive training programs and ensuring your team feels proficient in using this new technology can accelerate your return, as you’ll experience fewer errors and troubleshooting will be more efficient.

Your ongoing costs are another crucial element of your decision. Budget for:

  • Repairs
  • Plates and inks
  • Software updates
  • Training expenses
  • Preventive maintenance

Understanding your new technology from the outset can extend equipment longevity and reduce the chances of mistakes as your team navigates the CTP system.

Upgrade Offset Computer-to-Plate Technology With Fujifilm Graphic Communication

The digital age provoked significant changes in the printing industry. Yet, offset printing continues to adapt to consumer demand, integrating with digital technologies to reduce waste, streamlining process efficiency and producing high-quality images. Transitioning to offset CTP technology is the next logical step for many printing businesses. What better way to make the transition than being backed with the reliability of Fujifilm?

Find the technology you need with our extensive product portfolio. Let us work with you to integrate the latest technology into your existing workflow. Whether you’re a commercial printer, art studio, newspaper publisher or service bureau, we create solutions that address your specific industry needs. Contact us to learn more about offset CTP technology, or order your supplies online today.

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