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PLATEMAKER and PROOFER: a two-in-one system

Aug 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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Great Lakes Graphics (Skokie, IL) is a 60-employee, 65,000-sq.-ft. operation, specializing in packaging, brochures, annual reports and posters. Last summer, owner Vlado Bjelopetrovich challenged the prepress staff to find new technology that would enhance the company's position as a high-quality printer.

Although CTP met that criteria, proofing in a filmless workflow was a potential obstacle. Bjelopetrovich required that the new system “produce a true and accurate dot and ensure consistency between the proof given to the customer and the final printed piece, while still adhering to industry proofing standards.”

At Drupa 2000, Great Lakes Graphics' management saw ECRM Imaging Systems' (Tewksbury, MA) DesertCat 88, which consolidates contract proofing and platemaking into a single thermal device. Four months later, the Skokie printer installed the 2540-dpi, dual-purpose system.

Great Lakes' customers know they can trust the proofs made on the DesertCat 88, since the device also creates the plates. The proofs use the same paper as the final printed piece, further bolstering customer confidence.

In addition to the advantages of eliminating film (reduced dot gain and printing from a first-generation image), the DesertCat produces four- or eight-page imposed digital contract proofs that replicate the actual dot shapes, structures and color densities that will appear on the final printed piece. It images the proofing media one color at a time to form a composite CMYK proof.


Before selecting the DesertCat 88, Great Lakes wanted to be sure that both plates and proofs produced by the system would meet Great Lakes Graphics' high standards. To verify the system's platemaking performance, the printer spoke with Widen Enterprises (Madison, WI), a DesertCat 8 user. Widen's system uses the same thermal technology as the DesertCat 88 to create eight-up plates. Widen was enthusiastic about the system's quality, but Great Lakes still needed to establish the efficacy and utility of the proofing function.

“We wanted to show digital contract proofs to customers and also be able to calibrate the DesertCat to match contract proofs produced elsewhere,” Glusak explains. So, Great Lakes Graphics sent its own files to ECRM and asked the company to use the DesertCat 88 to match the proofing standards.

“ECRM was able to match line screens even higher than we'd asked for,” reports the prepress manager.

Great Lakes added ScenicSoft's (Lynwood, WA) Preps software to impose pages for the Harlequin RIP on the ECRM device. The printer also installed an SPC-mini-HD 34/122 Wisconsin Oven (East Troy, WI) to process the DesertCat's 20 × 15.8-inch to 44.5 × 35.4-inch Kodak Polychrome Graphics (Norwalk, CT) thermal 830 plates.

In just one week, Great Lakes trained the day shift in platemaking, proofing, RIPing and electronic imposition. “Production never stopped or slowed down, and every job proceeded on schedule,” he says. Within 30 days, the new workflow was handling 60 percent of the plant's jobs.

Going to Drupa gave Great Lakes Graphics a head start it was able to complete its testing, training and installation before the North American introduction of the DesertCat 88 at Graph Expo in September 2000. It can claim bragging rights as the first U.S. printer to use the ECRM product for contract proofing and platemaking.


Since installing the proofer/platemaker, Glusak estimates an overall prepress time savings of 50 percent to 70 percent in his shop. Makeready times and paper usage have both been cut by 50 percent. The consistency between proofs and plates enables Great Lakes press operators to quickly come up to color.

But Glusak also sees a daily measure of success that may be more satisfying than these statistics: “When the press operators are happy, I know we're doing a good job in prepress. And they are really happy with this system.”

Contract proofing for packaging customers

Consistency between the proof and the final printed piece has special advantages for Great Lakes Graphics' (Skokie, IL) packaging customers.

Using conventional contract proofing systems, Great Lakes was limited to laminating proofs on a few generic substrates, which, in turn, were film-laminated to approximate the appearance of the laminated final printed piece. The results were unreliable sometimes colors would intensify or lighten. Vignettes, in particular, were hard to represent on the proofs.

With the DesertCat 88, Great Lakes not only creates plates and proofs with the same device, it can also create a proof on the actual substrate that will be used on the press. Great Lakes can now generate an excellent visual representation of the final printed piece and laminate it with the same substrates and films used on the printed package. That way, the printer can offer its customer a laminated proof that is visually consistent with the final printed and laminated piece.