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CTP is Faster

Mar 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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"This is a major step for a company our size to take," asserts Mike Lafferty, president of Thomas Graphics. "But in our business it's all about getting the plates to the press as quickly as you can, so it was really a no-brainer. Last Thursday, on our six-color press, our press operator hung and ran 44 plates in one shift. Some people might say, 'Yeah, that's bull,' but I'm telling you the truth. It's incredible."

Mike and co-owner Dave Thomas almost bought an imagesetter instead of a computer-to-plate system--here's the story . . .

In early 1996, we went to a print show in Miami. We thought buying another imagesetter would reduce our prepress bottleneck. We explained this to our Pitman rep, and he said, "Wait a minute. Why buy another imagesetter? Let's look at the next step."

We looked at a number of the CTP manufacturers and, for the half-size market, the PEARLsetter from Presstek was a perfect fit. We looked at the other systems, but those guys have designed systems for large installations, not small users like us.

Time and speed really were what led us to go with thermal plates. People are amazed when we show them how our platesetter works. They are used to traditional methods--put the plate in a vacuum frame, put film on top of that, close the frame and burn the plate. And to develop those plates, you need all kinds of accessories.

With the PEARLsetter, though, the plate mounts on a cylinder, similar to that of a press. A laser burns the plate and when the plate comes off of the platesetter, you rub it out and you're done. There's no processing or gumming steps. We have three Komori presses--a six-color and two two-color presses--that are all the same size and all take the same plate.

We're a Mac-based operation in prepress--we have five Mac workstations, an ICG color drum scanner and a black-and-white flat-bed scanner. Also, we have a PC hooked into our network because we do get a lot of customer disks that are PC-based.

Everything needs to be imposed electronically before it can go to plate. If a job needs to be trapped, it goes into our Trapwise workstation. If it doesn't, it goes directly to either a laser printer for black-and-white proofs or to our Hewlett-Packard plotter. The plotter shows the whole side of a plate. Because all of the "stripping" is computerized, we use the plotter to check that all marks are correct and that we've got the right gripper and plate bend.

The plotter's output doesn't show perfect color, but it does show what's going to be red or blue or whatever. The plotter is driven by a RIP from the platesetter--we can double check the work before we actually make a plate, which is a big benefit.

We also use a Rainbow proofer, and as we learn, we teach our customers as well as our salespeople how to use digital proofs. We have some customers who are very particular and we have some who don't care. But our goal is to help all of our customers understand that digital proofing is the wave of the future.

CTP is faster. Making plates conventionally normally takes four hours to run film, strip the job and make the plate. CTP, once the proof has been approved, takes eight minutes to produce a plate. And when you mount the plates on the press, boom, they're in register. It all comes down to time, time, time. That's the bottom line.

Sure, we've got some things we're trying to iron out, but for the most part it's gone smoothly. I'll tell you something--we installed this system the second week of December and within a couple days, we were making plates. That's pretty amazing.

We've been working in the Mac system for three years and I think that helped. You have to be ready from the computer end--there's a big learning curve. The problems you see with CTP really are traditional software problems in the front end. We already had CTP prepress in place--a lot of companies our size don't.

We've been pretty aggressive in this area--putting in a CTP system was a bold move for a company our size. But six months from now, we'll really be kicking butt on this thing.

* Locaton: Dayton, OH * Founded: 1975 by Dave and Dan Thomas; bought out by Dave Thomas and Mike Lafferty in 1981 * Description: A 20,000-sq.-ft. commercial sheet-fed printing company specializing in four-color process short runs and solid coverage jobs * Size: 38 employees, $4.5 million in sales * CTP User Since: December 1996 * CTP Highlights: Presstek PEARLsetter and plates