Chemistry-free plates for a green print industry

The Benefits of Chemistry-Free CTP Plates | Going Green

As Computer-to-Plate technology continues to evolve, more choices become available. As a result, business owners have more options. But the array of choices that exist— even when it comes to the type of plate to use — are extensive and often complicated to navigate.

When it comes to printing, protecting the environment is a hot topic. In recent years manufacturers have made progress in the eco-friendliness of plate production, traditionally an industry that has involved complex chemical processing accompanied by hazardous waste, emission issues and extensive use of power and water.

Today, however, chemistry-free plates — a variation of thermal Computer-to-Plate (CTP) systems where the plate doesn’t require developing — are available. After imaging chemistry-free plates, the non-image areas are removed by applying gumming solution manually, or by using a clean-out unit.  The gumming solution is recirculated in the clean-out unit, eliminating any waste.

Additionally, with a chemistry- free plate — sometimes called a wash-off plate — laser energy causes the coating to change its solubility. Subsequent water washing, gumming or wellspring solution removes the soluble areas either in a special bath, or on the press.

Chemistry-free plates — which can accommodate up to 32 by 44 inches —can be baked to print up to 500,000 impressions.

In the cases where processing the plates remains necessary, manufacturers are still reducing environmental impacts by making developer-free plates, which use solutions that are free of solvents and therefore, not considered harmful. These solutions also require less water and last longer.

Many, if not most, printers tend to underestimate the total cost of chemistry, processing and maintenance, according to John Zarwan, an internationally-recognized expert in the graphic arts, printing and publishing industries, and author of a whitepaper, CTP Plate Making: Understanding the Real Costs. He says, chemistry can account for as much as 30 percent of the price of a plate and the typical printer can spend anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 per year on chemistry and related items. Overall, however, chemistry is typically equivalent to about 18-20 percent of a printer’s annual expenditures on plates, although it can be more than 70 percent and as low as five percent. There are a number of reasons for the variation, but the major ones include plate volume; the specific requirements of each type of plate; and the ability of the chemistry to be “pushed” beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Manufacturers including Agfa, Fuji and TechNova are producing chemistry-free CTP plates.

True with most any purchasing decision, there are always advantages and disadvantages to consider. Here are the most popular ones in the marketplace today.

Advantages

  • Chemical purchases and disposal purchases are no longer necessary.
  • The cost of purchasing and disposing of film is eliminated.
  • Equipment to develop film is no longer needed, freeing up physical space, as well as lowering operations and maintenance expenses.
  • Removing the film development process eradicates the largest source of silver in wastewater. As a result, there is no need to recover the sliver which reduces some environmental concerns.
  • These plates offer longer run-length, which varies based on the manufacturer, but ranges from 50,000 to 250,000 impressions.
  • Eliminating film developing reduces the use of chemicals, which also lowers the exposure of employees to chemicals. This impacts health risks, improves employee morale and enhances productivity.
  • Chemistry-free plates provide higher sensitivity, ensuring higher through-put per hour, a critical need for newspapers and service-bureaus.
  • These plates require lower start-up waste on the press.
  • A quick visual check prior to mounting the plate onto the press. will show any errors since the chemistry-free plates have a high- contrast, dark image on a standard aluminum substrate.
  • Companies switching from conventional CTP plates to chemistry-free plates, can use the existing plate processors for plate heating and gumming after imaging. The chemistry is simply removed from the processor.
  • Most chemistry-free plates do not require finishing, eliminating prepress steps, reducing the need for labor and potential quality errors.

Disadvantages

  • Chemistry-free laser imaging requires more laser energy, so equipment cost, and associated maintenance are higher.
  • The durability of the image on chemistry-free plates can be lower, with plates losing their quality after 100,000 prints.
  • Since chemistry-free plates require more laser energy, the images process slower compared to standard thermal CTP plates.
  • In many cases chemistry-free plates cannot be satisfactorily imaged on older, lower power thermal CTP systems because of the amount of power required.

The Takeaway

While more choices may make business decisions tougher, more players in the game also means more competition in the industry. But you can stay ahead of the competition by making smart green industry choices to improve your print business. Contact Platesetters for more information on the print industry latest CTP equipment, refurbished equipment, repairs and maintenance or other CTP related requests. We are here to help.

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