By: Jim Rosenberg
Dry-processing media leave no chemicals;
paper-negative and plate imagers dispense with film;
newspapers reduce waste, cut costs and save labor sp.
IMPROVEMENTS TO EXISTING technologies are allowing output system vendors to eliminate silver-bearing film processing effluent, eliminate silver altogether and even eliminate page films for platemaking.
Early attempts to image pages directly to printing plates were checked by lack of progress in electronic pagination and the absence of durable plates suitable for the process. Dry silver photo media have been around for about 15 years ? but not for shooting newspaper pages. Vellum was introduced three years ago as a substitute for film, but was imaged at relatively low resolutions.
Imaging system suppliers at Nexpo 94, however, demonstrated that these waste-reducing, cost-cutting and labor-saving technologies have matured sufficiently to permit the manufacture of viable products.
The dry silver film and paper are modified versions of a 15-year-old product developed by 3M Co., according to 3M’s John Campbell. The original microfilm version, however, was too low in density for graphic arts applications, according to Bill McCallum, half of the team that originated the film.
At a presentation with executives of the Ultre* Division of Linotype-Hell Co., Campbell said it took his company five years to bring the technology to a point where 17-inch-wide film could be processed at about 260 degrees for a half minute or more without the expansion and shrinkage that cause register problems.
At the Autologic Inc. booth, McCallum described processing dry film at 240 degrees for about one minute.
“There are plans in place for second-generation product, but this is it for a couple of years,” said Campbell.
Ultre* introduced its Vision series of imagesetters, which can output both conventional and dry silver media. At the same time, Autologic brought out its EnviroSafe imaging system.
Ultre* cited successful beta testing of color separation output at California Delta Newspapers. Autologic tested its dry-silver imaging systems at the Palm Springs, Calif., Desert Sun and Vincennes (Ind.) Sun-Commercial.
Because it is processed by heat, the film creates no silver-bearing effluent. It also retains its silver, which McCallum said is locked into resin rather than contained in the usual gelatin, thereby preventing it from leaching out after disposal in landfills.
Campbell said that for all the changes to dry-silver technology, the biggest difference lies in the improved imager itself. Autologic’s Wes Stupar said the imager only needed more power to work with the new media. Ultre* described the source of illumination as the “most powerful version” available of a visible red helium-neon laser diode.
McCallum showed how the film’s blue anti-halation layer is easily peeled away prior to platemaking. The paper is itself a similarly bright blue and photographically invisible when a negative is shot from it.
The film will support screens sufficient for newspaper color separations. McCallum said that the film has been satisfactory imaged at up to 150-line screens and that paper can produce up to 100-line screens.
Campbell, however, cautioned that although the dry media will image higher screens, they are not especially suited for higher-quality color at 133 lines or more and certainly cannot hold the finest dots.
While acknowledging that they are “slightly more expensive on a square-foot basis than film,” McCallum said savings in dry media come from eliminating chemistry and disposal.
“If you take all the cost effects,” he added, “the cost is comparable.”
Ultre* business planning manager Daryl Tjaden emphasized that by eliminating wet chemical processing, dry media afford superior control and slightly faster processing.
Ultre’s new Vision imagesetters, 72- and 94-pica models, are expected to be available from its OEM partners this fall at prices “slightly” above current models.
David Green, Ultre* vice president and general manager, said the Vision machines resulted from three years of research and development aimed at achieving economic and environmental objectives.
The two models use conventional helium-neon exposure as well as dry-silver paper and film. Green noted that customers can change to dry media simply by throwing a switch.
With almost 8,000 machines in use worldwide, Ultre* OEMs its equipment to output system vendors for newspaper and low-end commercial production. Vision is positioned as the company’s high-end product. Tjaden distinguished Vision as the first low-cost imagesetter that can run 3M’s dry-silver media and described it as “a bridge product” from conventional to dry imaging.
There were no demonstrations of the Vision machines, but of five Ultre* OEMs at Nexpo 94, four showed the new models. To hold down costs to users, Tjaden said Ultre* will make available directly to its OEM partners the Autologic dry-image processor, using technology licensed from 3M, and 3M’s paper and film.
Though based on the company’s three-year-old “E” products, Vision incorporates new lenses, redesigned electronics and the powerful laser diode in place of gas laser systems.
Ultre* said both models are fast, eight inches a minute imaging at 1200 dpi, and offer the repeatability supplied by the company’s Color Quality Registration technology, with 0.05% accuracy enhanced by its user-defined Film Advance Correction.
Autologic’s APS-7 EnviroSafe imagers are based on the 1016-dpi 108 and multi-resolution (800- to 1600-dpi) 3850 machines. The 3850, developed by Information International Inc., comes with its own three-punch system. Page sizes, accuracy and media cassette capacities also differ.
Speed of the APS thermal processor used on Ultre* and Autologic machines is given as 24 inches/minute at the media’s maximum 18-inch width. Paper and film have a one-year shelf life.
(In a related matter, Ultre* executives said that a product utilizing Xerox’s new, silver-free Verde film are expected before year’s end, probably at no more than a $2,000 extra cost per machine. It remains to be seen how well Verde film will hold halftones.)
Long a supplier of plain-paper imagers, Graphic Enterprises of Ohio Inc. has brought silver-free, plain-paper imaging to page negative production with its new Neg Setter 1000.
“We do not claim to be better than film [but]…as good as film,” said marketing and R&D director Mark Gill, who added that the market has shown “a definite interest” in “eliminating or reducing film.”
The Neg Setter records dry toner images on up to 18×24-inch (double-length cartridge available) cotton-based drafting vellum, described as an off-the-shelf product available from local paper suppliers.
A successor to the 65-line, 800-dpi Vellum Negative Printer introduced a few years ago, the Neg Setter offers 1000-dpi resolution for production of 85-line screens suitable for spot and process color printing. It registers to within 0.006 an inch.
Gill said its density of 3.2 to 3.5 reflective allows operators to use normal settings to burn plates.
Price was put at $43,500, including a PostScript Level 2 Mac- or PC-based Harlequin software RIP. At 75? per sheet for toner and paper, Gill said savings over film range from 35% to 65%.
The Neg Setter also improves controls, notably over cartridge temperature and humidity. For color registration, it uses two motor control systems: one for the paper drive train, the other for the photoconductive drum. The dual motor controls can calibrate the imaging with the paper’s travel.
Besides a spot size reduced from the VNP’s 85 microns to 60 microns, a Xerographic toning process rotates the developing roller in the same direction as the drum, giving a cleaner dot, reducing background and blasting around characters caused by the sweep of toner by opposing roller surfaces.
Gill pointed out that negative film can still be stripped into a vellum negative. The Neg Setter will also produce positive plain-paper proofs loaded in another cartridge at about 12? per page. These are only useful as proofs.
The new Pro Setter 1000 delivers 1000×1000-dpi with a 40-micron spot for 85-line screened color separations at 18×24 inches using a black-write engine. The Pro Setter includes the same temperature and humidity controls and toner cartridge found on the Neg Setter. Both new imagers are compatible with any PostScript RIP, and interface cards are available for output systems from other vendors, according to Gill.
In contrast, the PageScan 3 has lower resolution and line screen, less-accurate register and toner supplied from a bottle. Gill estimated the per-page cost at about 25?.
The new plain-paper imagers ship in July following testing at about a dozen North American sites, according to Gill.
He said prospective customers are interested in using the new imagers to add capacity and perhaps eventually to replace older imagesetters.
Graphic Enterprises also released its Windows NT-based Graphic Universal SubSystem, output management software that combines the functions of OPI server, Mac/PC/Unix/Novell network print spooler and print job router-multiplexor.
For fully paginated newspapers ready to move beyond wet- or dry-processed silver or silver-free paper or film, Western Lithotech showed the Autologic APS Platemaster 2800 on line to its processor and punch-bender.
The argon-ion laser system images the new DiamondPlate developed by Western Lithotech and its parent company Mitsubishi Kasei.
Like the new paper and film products, the aqueous subtractive DiamonPlate offers clean processing, with effluent that can be piped to a sewer drain, according to Autologic’s Phil Weliky.
The first plate emerges in four minutes, with subsequent plates requiring a minute each.
The imager was developed by Gerber, which sells it under the Crescent trade name. Gerber’s Dan Connick said the greater part of Gerber’s business is with commercial, higher-resolution imagers.
Autologic OEMs the Crescent machine from Gerber, adding a high-performance DEC Alpha-based RIP, multiplexing and remote page transmission capabilities where needed, and lending its presence in the newspaper industry.
Platemasters are sold by Autologic and Western Lithotech.
Gerber representative Stan Wisniewski, who said a similar product has been used in the printed circuit industry for five years, noted that an imager will be required in any case and that the direct-to-plate system eliminates the traditional camera-platemaking operation, frees up production space and does away with negative processing chemistry.
Autologic has but one direct-to-plate system operating at a U.S. newspaper, the Springfield, Mass., Union-News/
Sunday Republican, which uses the Hoechst N90 aluminum plate.
In Europe, however, Autologic’s U.K.-based representative, William Geller, said systems have been running live for a year or more at two Austrian sites, and systems are going into newspapers in Sweden and Norway. In all, he said there are six Autologic direct-to-plate systems at four European sites.
Geller referred to IFRA research that showed direct-to-plate production is faster than film-to-plate as long as a paper needs no more than two or three copies of each plate. But for now, he added, the technology does not lend itself to the very largest newspapers.
The Austrian sites, he said, are averaging about 35 plates per hour. Ultimately, the efficiency of direct-to-plate production may depend on a newspaper’s platemaking needs shortly before deadline, especially for color pages.
Geller said it is “inevitable” that the technology will eventually become affordable for smaller operations, and practical for the largest.
With the process slowly gaining ground, Wisniewski said there are now about 10 manufacturers offering direct-imaging plates, affording customers a range of choices.
One manufacturer, Hoechst Printing Products North America, also recently announced toner- and chemical-free dry color proofs in single sheets. Negative-acting Pressmatch Dry News uses a laminator and exposure frame to produce what it calls “color-accurate representations of the press sheet” in about 12 minutes for a 15×24-inch proof.
A color layer is laminated to a receiver sheet, exposed to a separation film, and the carrier is peeled away. The process is repeated for each separation and covered with a matte sheet.