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NO PRESS; NO PROBLEM

May 1, 1997 12:00 AM


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Like most people in the graphics arts industry, you are probably familiar with the basic computer-to-plate (CTP) concept. Unless you have visited a certain prepress shop in Menomonee Falls, WI, however, you may not know about CTPFSEP--that's Computer-to-Plate for Someone Else's Press.

"We've been offering traditional electronic stripping and scanning since 1988," explains Dennis Redman, vice president of MAS/graphics. "In 1995, we decided to add CTP as an extension of our business. We estimated that by 1996 our work would be 80 percent film and 20 percent plate, but it's turned out to be the reverse."

Isn't it usual for a prepress house to install CTP equipment? "It's not for everyone," admonishes Redman. "You have to analyze your customers. We started working with two printers, one sheet-fed and one web, that didn't have the electronic front-end equipment. Through us, they're able to access cutting-edge technology without having to invest in it themselves."

It addition to its printer partners, MAS/graphics initial CTP effort attracted a partner from the publication world, Guest Informant.

Guest Informant (Woodland Hills, CA) publishes the hardcover city guides of the same name that are found in many hotel rooms. The company was drawn to MAS/graphic's CTP solution for two reasons. First, the prepress shop and its sheet-fed partner, Inland Graphics, provide the scheduling flexibility required by the publication's advertisers. Second, using CTP enables Guest Informant to trim approximately 20 percent from its pre-CTP $900,000 yearly production costs.

As for MAS/graphics, Redman says it's too early to discuss the company's return on its investment (ROI). "At this point it's not about ROI, it's about RIB--remaining in business," laughs Redman. "We're all in a survival mode in the graphics arts."

Redman and his partner, president Ray Muth, have web printing backgrounds, having previously served as technical director and plant manager, respectively. Redman says this experience, coupled with their prepress knowledge, made it easier for MAS/ graphics to implement CTP.

"As a prepress service company, we're used to change. The discipline that we had in place for maintaining process control of our film output made CTP a natural progression."

At the heart of MAS/graphics' CTP installation is a Gerber Cresent 42 platesetter/imagesetter. "As a prepress house, we needed a system capable of both plate and large output," explains Redman. "Gerber had what we needed."

A Rampage RIP drives the platesetter, which uses Polychrome plates (maximum output is 32 x 42 inches).

"We know our future is CTP," relates Redman, "that's why we chose the Rampage RIP. It drives our Gerber and our Lino, our film device. It's the same RIP that does both."

A copydot scanner is used to digitize supplied film. Proofing generally has not been an issue. "There probably are some customers who believe they have to have dots," submits Redman. "We don't offer dots, but it hasn't been a problem."

MAS/graphics furnishes Rainbow dye-sublimation proofs to its customers; a Hewlett-Packard digital proof is used to check the output prior to platemaking.

"We take the file, do our preflight and then pull our Hewlett-Packard proof of an eight-page imposition. We check the imposition, position, type and so on. Then we make the plates and deliver both the proof and the plates to the printer. It works."

What about remaking a plate? "Everyone wants to know about that," responds Redman. "It's not an issue. We're making 500 to 800 plates a month. Our remake for imposition, position, accuracy, marks, and color bar placement is zero. Some printers used to order two sets of plates for runs over a million, but they're only ordering one set now. We might remake one or two plates on 1.4 million run."

Remakes due to plates damaged on press are rare, accounting for less than one-half percent of total remakes.

Any advice for those thinking about getting started in CTP? "There's no perfect workflow," says Redman. "What works for us in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, will not necessarily work for another printer or prep house. There's definitely a learning curve. But I think it's a good extension for a trade shop."

* Location: Menomonee Falls, WI * Founded: 1980 by Ray Muth * Description: A 25,000-sq.-ft. independent trade shop * Size: 27 employees * CTP User Since: October, 1995 * CTP Highlights: Gerber Crescent 42 platesetter driven by a Rampage RIP, Polychrome plates, Hewlett-Packard Digi-Proof