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It's a "DI"fferent world, part 1

Nov 1, 2004 12:00 AM


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Direct imaging (DI) presses typically are used for runs ranging from 350 to 20,000 impressions. Buyers include in-plants and other businesses with high-speed digital machines adding their first four-color press; service bureaus making the transition to print; small printers expanding beyond two-color presses; and larger commercial printers seeking an efficient short-run alternative.

It's been almost 13 years since Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) launched the first DI press, the GTO-DI, and almost a decade since the debut of its Quickmaster DI (QM DI). But some pundits say recent imaging technology, plates and press introductions could push DI to new levels of popularity.

Better print quality
At Drupa, Presstek (Hudson, NH) debuted ProFire Excel, a fourth-generation thermal imaging technology that uses a 16-micron spot to support 300-lpi, stochastic, hybrid and conventional screening. You'll find ProFire Excel on the following 13 × 18-inch DI presses: Ryobi's 3404X and 3404 E; KPG's DirectPress 5634 and 5334DI; and KBA's 46 Karat Plus (sold only in Europe). Presstek also introduced ProFire Digital Media for use with Excel laser equipped DI presses.

Peter Bouchard, Presstek's business unit manager for on-press imaging, stresses the improved print quality made possible by the new ProFire Excel imaging and ProFire digital media. “There's no compromise in spot size,” says Bouchard, noting that the current 16-micron spot size represents about a 25 percent reduction vs. the vendor's previous generation of imaging technology. In addition to printing stochastic at the touch of a button, ProFire Excel-equipped presses also can do lenticular work. (See www.lenstar.org.)

Bouchard adds that new presses such as KPG's DirectPress 5334DI are lowering DI's cost of entry. “[This press] is targeting the smaller printer — companies in the $600,000 to $1 million range can afford this device.”

KPG has been marketing, selling and servicing the Ryobi-platform 5034 DI since mid-2003. (See “Why DI,” August 2003.) Prior to Drupa, KPG had marketed a single DI press, the DirectPress 5034 DI system. At Drupa, KPG showed the DirectPress 5634 DI system, which reportedly leverages the automation 5034's capabilities and adds incremental imaging capabilities. A third KPG DI press, the 5334 DI, targets users with lower production requirements.

New imaging, RIP and plates
Heidelberg's DI news includes new imaging technology (Presstek's ProSpot), a PDF-based RIP (MetaDimension 5) and its own plate (Saphira Caleidoplate 46). It was economically impractical to adapt the QM DI's design to accommodate the ProFire package, so Heidelberg opted for ProSpot. ProSpot reportedly generates laser spots with an optimal size in relation to the dot.

“It allows us to leverage the 200-lpi screening technology first developed for our Delta RIP 7.0,” explains Jorg Dahnhardt, Heidelberg's director of product management for small-format presses. “Now we have a fully PDF-based RIP that's creating output with screening specifically optimized for the waterless QM DI.”

Heidelberg hasn't formalized plans for its own imaging technology, which the vendor announced at Drupa and showed on a Suprasetter platesetter as well as a Speedmaster 74 DI.

Some pundits predict that Heidelberg's Saphira Caleidoplate, a recent arrival to the U.S., could lower total cost of ownership for the QM DI press, because users are no longer restricted to one plate option. The plate material, combined with new press software, allows format-dependent spooling of the printing plate roll. The smart spooling function is said to adjust to the size of the document being imaged, thereby minimizing plate consumption.

The Clarus WL, a waterless polyester plate for DI presses that Creo (Vancouver, Canada) announced at Drupa, is currently in beta testing for the QM DI, Karat 46 and Ryobi DI. The plate can be used for run lengths of up to 30,000 impressions and is expected to be commercially available at the end of 2004.

Using off-the-shelf inks
Screen (Rolling Meadows, IL) unveiled its TruePress 344 DI at Drupa. This is neither a waterless nor an entry-level press and it's also the only press that doesn't feature Creo or Presstek's imaging heads. Rated at 7,000 sph, the four-color press uses Screen's 830-nm multi-array laser diode (MALD) to image processless thermal polyester plates.

The TruePress 344 reportedly can produce a 500-sheet single-sided job in less than 15 minutes, with a five-minute makeready. (This includes auto wash-up from the previous job, imaging four plates, makeready and printing.) Plates can be imaged at 2,400 dpi using traditional screening or the company's Spekta AM/FM hybrid screening.

Truefit Advance software reads jobs' image data files and automatically sets the ink keys, reportedly enabling the operator to get to color in about 30 sheets. TruePress automatically scans every sixth print, analyzes the data against the original calibration, and adjusts ink and water accordingly.

Citing the TruePress's dampening system, the vendor emphasizes that the press can use off-the-shelf inks.

Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at kobrien@primediabusiness.com.

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