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A Viable Production Tool

Mar 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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"You know what really amazes me?" asks Curtis Fong, executive vice president of Fong & Fong. "So many of these CTP articles that say the technology isn't mature seem to come from people who have no experience with it. Who's writing this stuff? Who are they talking to? My department supervisors and I read these articles and we laugh. CTP is a reality. It works well for us."

Without further ado, here are Curtis' firsthand computer-to-plate observations . . .

During the year we spent researching CTP equipment, we looked at a number of tests comparing conventional digital plates to thermal ones. The thermal dot structure was definitely much crisper. Seeing that superior quality and priding ourselves as an organization that has built its reputation on high quality work, the decision was easy. Thermal plates were the sharpest and the best option then, and we still believe that's true now.

What led us to CTP technology? The turnaround times are much quicker. By using CTP, we're cutting turnaround time by about 25 percent to 35 percent compared to doing the job conventionally. We've been able to grow our overall volume tremendously because we can push more work through the plant. Also, eliminating film in the workflow was another motivating factor. Working with a first-generation digital dot on a plate gives us quality advantages.

The disadvantages that people have talked about in the CTP workflow--plate availability or quality issues or digital proofing solutions--these all are false. As a user of thermal platesetting equipment, we can say this is a viable production tool.

You do have some ramp-up costs in the initial equipment--this is a very sizeable commitment. We have almost a $1 million investment in CTP equipment. But with our plate usage, we're going to see a payback period of approximately 14 to 16 months.

Plating materials cost about three percent more than our conventional plates. On the proofing side though, we're saving about 65 percent in costs by outputting digital proofs as opposed to analog proofs.

We're doing all "stripping" on the desktop, using PostScript workflows. Everything is fed through a Sun UNIX server running Archetype OPI software and then everything's transferred to the Creo system, which uses a DEC Alpha Harlequin RIP. The platesetter is a Trendsetter 3244 Thermal.

Part of that CTP workflow includes the Screen TrueRite digital proofer, which also uses a DEC Alpha Harlequin RIP. We RIP once for the proofer and then again for the platesetter. Some say you should "RIP once, use many," but we prefer to have a single RIP on each device. So it's not the same RIP, but two separate, yet identical, RIPs.

There's been no problems with remaking plates--basically it takes us about six minutes to image a new plate. Overall, print quality has gone up. We've noticed when using CTP to image digital plates that 175-line is sharper than our 200-line film-based workload.

Educating our staff really wasn't an issue. We purchased the very first Agfa Avantra 44 eight-up film imagesetter, so we'd been dealing with large-format impositions for about three years. Moving to CTP wasn't a major transition at all--it was very seamless.

What would I tell other printers? There's a lot of infrastructure and groundwork to lay before you get into any type of CTP workflow. Look at your current digital workflow, make sure that you have a strong network to serve as a backbone. You're going to be transmitting large files back and forth so you'll need a good size file server. But once you make sure that your infrastructure is sound, moving to the CTP workflow can provide increased thoughput and cost-savings benefits.

We don't see that CTP is going to completely eliminate film. In our operation, we can see maybe a 50/50 tradeoff between film workflows and CTP workflows--but there's definitely a place for the CTP environment.

* Locaton: Sacramento, CA * Established: 1958 by Paul and Mae Fong * Description: 75,000-sq.-ft. commercial sheet-fed operation specializing in six- and eight-color annual reports, point-of-purchase materials, direct mail pieces, posters and other high quality work * Size: 130 employees, $21 million in sales * CTP User Since: September, 1996 * CTP Highlights: Creo Trendsetter 3244T platesetter; Kodak thermal plates