Actually, despite the somewhat negative wording above of the history of these plates, one supplier has been shipping chemistry-free plates for many years. This supplier is Presstek, a company best known for supplying the imaging electronics and plate consumables for most DI presses in use. A DI press has to have no process or no chemistry plates, as the plate is imaged and prepared for printing on the press. In fact, most plates for DI presses use a process of ablation to remove the surface of the plate exposing a silicon based substrate to allow for waterless printing. While such plates are fine for DI presses, they are not really what is wanted for conventional presses.
Despite this, Presstek has been making such ablative plates available for non-DI printing. The negative of this is they require a CTP device that has a dust extraction system to remove the ablated material (dust) that is blasted by laser exposure from the plateÂ’s surface. Such platesetters are only available from Presstek and Creo. Creo (now Kodak) does not actively offer this facility, preferring other options for process-free plate working. Apart from the Pearl Dry plate used for DI printing, Presstek also offers its Anthem and Applause plates in the chemistry-free area, however both use ablative technology for imaging.
In this DI market there are other suppliers of plates that are similar to PresstekÂ’s Pearl Dry. Heidelberg has been shipping a plate under its Saphira brand made for them by Fuji. Heidelberg however has just signed a new contract with Presstek and it appears in future that the Presstek Pearl Dry plate will be supplied in future under the Saphira brand. Kodak (Creo) also supplies Clarus WL, a plate designed for imaging on DI presses. Agfa has also been shipping its Thermolite plate for certain DI presses that use Creo on-the-press imaging.
On show at Print05
The forthcoming Print05 will confirm the availability of process and chemistry-free plates from a number of suppliers. Apart from Presstek, Agfa has now been shipping its Azura plate for over a year and has more than 250 installations worldwide using it successfully. Azura is a conventional anodised and grained aluminium chemistry-free plate that prints in the same way as a conventional analogue or CTP plate. Kodak, the company that has been talking about and showing process-free plates as technology demonstrations at trade shows longer than any other supplier, will finally make its Thermal Direct process-free plate commercially available. Whereas AgfaÂ’s Azura is a chemistry-free plate requiring off line washing and preparation, KodakÂ’s Thermal Direct plate is process free where the imaged coating is removed on the press during inking and is deposited on the first sheets of paper run in the makeready operation. This plate has been extensively tested over the past year at beta sites, and there are now over 100 customers using the plate in production. Kodak also has a different technology process-free plate available to them through their acquisition of Creo. This is Clarus PL, which uses a technology called switchable polymers. So far Kodak has not decided if it will bring this plate to market. Presstek has also introduced a chemistry-free plate, this being its Freedom plate. This is being offered together with a new B3 format platesetter it acquired with AB Dick.
Another company with a process-free plate that is shipping in small volumes is Konica Minolta. This plate is used on the latest Screen TruePress DI press, but to my understanding is not available for other forms of printing yet. Konica Minolta is expanding its plate operations and has just purchased American Litho to give it a modern US based plate manufacturing facility.
So far all the announced process and chemistry-free plates require thermal imaging. In fact, Creo has repeatedly claimed it is impossible to have a process or chemistry-free plate using a visible light technology, such as violet diode imaging. At drupa last year Fujifilm indicated that the process-free technology it was working on could operate with either thermal or violet imaging. Not surprising Creo commented that it would take years for this to happen. So far Fujifilm has not announced its plans for process-free plates, and whether there will be any announcement at Print05. I would not be surprised if they were to announce a process-free plate. Whether there will be a violet process-free plate announced at Print05 will be interesting to see.
In the past week there has been another announcement about process-free plates, this time from US plate supplier Citiplate. Citiplate only sells through third parties who Â“own brandÂ” their plates. Citiplate has announced it has three new process-free plates. These can be imaged by thermal, violet and UV power and light sources. If a small plate supplier like Citiplate can produce a violet process-free plate, then surely a larger company like Fujifilm can also produce one.
The benefits of process or chemistry-free plates are the elimination of the processor with its cost of running, and the space it takes. So far process and chemistry-free plates have been significantly more expensive than other CTP plates, and also have needed thermal CTP systems. These plates are mainly targeted at smaller printers because plate costs are too high for high volume plate users, and because their shorter run lengths. Thermal CTP suppliers see process and chemistry-free plates as an ideal response to the sales approach of the violet CTP vendors. These vendors are targeting smaller printers with their systems, which are cheaper both to purchase and to operate. If now there is to be a choice of violet process-free plates for these lower cost violet CTP systems, one of the advantages for thermal CTP devices may be eliminated. I shall watch announcements and developments at Print05 with great interest.