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A Tête-à-Tête on Computer-to-Plate

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The advantages of Computer-To-Plate (CTP) technology, also known as Direct-To-Plate (DTP), are numerous. During the past year and a half or so, we at PrintNet have come to understand CTP’s value in saving time and money and producing a good product.
Right now, going CTP is especially suitable for web runs (large quantities of a lower quality). Some vendors also offer CTP for sheet-fed runs (small quantities and higher quality), and this can work well too.
Keep in mind that many people see our industry making a complete move to CTP in the near future, and I’m one of them. To avoid lost time and money, publishers and print buyers need to understand this trend.

Begin to “Think Digital”

Whether you’re just learning about CTP, have been considering it, or are already using it, the good news is that though you might spend some time learning the technology, using CTP won’t take a lot of planning. In fact, two words sum up the planning you need to do: Think digital. Remember these words at all stages of product development, planning, buying, and prep, and you’ll be fine.
CTP starts with getting your art in a digital format. Don’t be satisfied with a film archive of your property. Get your hi-res files after scanning, and save your digital archive on stable media. I suggest CD-ROM.
Begin right now, on your current project, and make sure to get copies of all the files (hi-res scans) from your separator. Keep these files. Now you’re ready for CTP.
Stop thinking you can pull old film to dupe an image or even reprint the book. Although it won’t happen in the next year or two, there will likely come a time when film will be useless.
The digital data is your most valuable asset. You can use it over and over, in any size or format you choose (e.g., a brochure, another book, on the Internet, or in a multi-media production). Remember, though, that you won’t get the data unless you ask for it. And if you don’t ask for it in the beginning, it might be erased forever, even though you’ve paid to have your art scanned. Suppliers cannot store everyone’s data indefinitely so they regularly delete files. Thinking digitally means asking for your digital files.
Your supplier will copy your data onto some type of media (Jaz, Zip, CD-Rom, Syquest Disk, Optical Disk, or Dat Tape) and charge you for that media unless you supply it. You’ll also be charged for operator time to copy the data to the media. The operator must make sure the appropriate data is transferred and cataloged, and that the data is whole.

The Plates: A Consideration

One point to understand and keep in mind as you choose your suppliers on upcoming jobs over the next couple of years: While the plates off the CTP systems are practically indestructible and can therefore be used for millions of impressions (a fact often used as a selling point), printers have a storage problem because plates are bulky. Therefore, though your plates could be used for numerous reprints, most likely they won’t be available to you.
Here’s the scenario: You print your title on CTP. You saved because you didn’t output film, but you only saved a little because the CTP technology is new and expensive. Your book does well, and you go back for a reprint. Unfortunately, you learn that your supplier didn’t keep your plates, so you have to pay for a new set.
For most publishers, reprints represent an important opportunity to make money-on the reprint you can save those expensive prep charges. But beware with CTP. You’ll have the “prep” charge for plates on every run. That may work fine for some publishers or certain projects, but for many publishers this could be a significant reason not to go to CTP right now.

A Final Thought

If you’re deciding whether to go CTP here in the States or go to film in the Far East, when you factor in current plate costs and their potential in future runs, the Far East may become even more competitive. In making the transition to filmless, think digital and think smart.

Lori Comtois is president and founder of PrintNet, Inc. a print management company. She has served as a consultant to publishers for over 20 years regarding print buying, and she has managed production on hundreds of four-color titles. To contact PrintNet, call 800/656-4498. Visit their Web site at www.printnetglobal.com.

 

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