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May 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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Tim Ware, vice president of Warecraft Press, offers two pieces of advice to would-be computer-to-plate (CTP) adopters. "Make sure you have a digital workflow in place first," urges Ware. "And don't waste any time. Because if you don't get in this soon, you're not going to stay in the printing business."

Prior to installing its CTP equipment, Warecraft had 18 months of experience on a digital press, the Heidelberg GTO-DI, which significantly accelerated its CTP learning curve. In general, Ware reports few stumbling blocks. "We initially believed we'd have a mix of film to plates somewhere between 60 to 75 percent plate and 25 to 40 percent film. Within three weeks, we were running better than 98 percent plates."

Ware notes that his platesetter, a Gerber PREDator 30 x 30-inch red laser diode plate/filmsetter, has run almost continuously since it was installed this past July. "Whenever we put in a new piece of equipment, we expect that it will take a certain amount of time to get it up and running properly. But the PREDator was nearly flawless from the first day."

Why did Warecraft select the PREDator? Aside from overall performance and service considerations, Ware cites three specific reasons. "The smaller size fits us better because we're not buying something we don't need. Also, the screw drive's air bearings ensure that there are no artifacts in the imaging. Finally, the red laser is cost effective. As far as lasers go, it's not a high maintenance item."

As for proofing issues, Ware concedes that customers have had to adjust to the digital proofs generated by his Hewlett-Packard plotter. "They still want bluelines," reports Ware. "What we've had to do is explain to customers that we're giving them a proof that doesn't look like the traditional proofs they're used to seeing. But we're also delivering printing that far exceeds what they'd gotten in the past."

As a $3 million commercial printer, Warecraft is among the smaller CTP adopters. Ware is convinced, however, that the company made the right decision. "We can see such great benefits at our size, that even if we were half as big, we'd still do it."

Faster makeready, better quality and swifter turnaround are among the benefits Warecraft has reaped as result of its CTP installation. "It used to be that we had a bottleneck in prepress," notes Ware. "Now our bottleneck is our press. We're getting much more work than we had in the past. Of course, our turnaround is faster now, too. Theoretically, a job could be on press within 24 hours--it used to take two to three days proofing, imaging film, stripping and that type of thing. Before, we spent a lot of time making adjustments to compensate for less than perfect stripping. Now, when a job is imposed correctly and imaged on plate, it fits. All we have to do is worry about hanging the plates squarely."

Interestingly, Ware has found that sometimes the quality is too good. "We've found that the shadows and highlights in our halftones were graying out. Before, anything less than a three percent dot would go to nothing and anything greater than 971+2 percent would flood to solid. With the plate and CTP technology, we're able to hold a much finer percent dot, so we've had to compensate for that."

Ware adds that workflow is the key to successfully implementing CTP. "We have 100 percent data integrity and that's the thing everybody is worried about in the CTP environment. Some printers are going up front to a Macintosh and printing out a proof and then turning around and printing that out to the platesetter. At Warecraft, once the PostScript file is generated, that's the exact same RIP that produces the ink-jet proof the customer signs off on, as well as the plate. We don't have to do anything to that PostScript file except plot it to a platesetter. That's absolutely the way to go."

What's next for Warecraft? "We're waiting for delivery of a second PREDator with automatic material transporter," says Ware. "We're still manually loading plates now. The goal is to have our prepress department dial into the system remotely and queue up the jobs for the platesetter. The platesetter would then run all of these plates at night and we'd come in the next morning with the plates ready to go on press."

* Location: Jacksonville, FL * Founded: 1974 by Delano Ware * Description: A 16,000-sq-ft. commercial printer specializing in full color collateral materials * Size: 24 employees, $3 million in sales * CTP User Since: July, 1996 * CTP Highlights: Gerber PREDator (Crescent/3030) 30x30-inch platesetter driven by a DEC Alpha RIP; Mitsubishi Silver DigiPlate Alpha Red aluminum plates