As I write this, I am on way my home from the FESPA 2005 show in Munich. In my opinion, this was one of the best shows in a long time. Visitor traffic was strong, and there was a very positive buying atmosphere. Almost all the stands I visited were swamped, and it was difficult to get attention and time of manufacturer representatives. Be that as it may, there were a number of new developments and some significant improvements in technology. Among the most impressive were advances made in computer-to-screen (CTS) imaging, which I’d like to address in this month’s column.
For the sake of perspective, the offset lithography community has been well into the transition to computer-to-plate (CTP) technology for a number of years now. Initially the cost was in the $500,000 range for a 28 x 40-in. platemaking system. Several systems have been introduced in the past year that bring the cost of the technology below $30,000, which makes CTP a viable and natural extension of the digital workflow. These new entries, and the competition they bring, have prompted companies like Agfa and Linotype to no longer make film-based imagesetters. This has direct repercussions for those of us in the screen-printing industry.
While CTP is a known fact of life in the litho industry, some may question whether CTS is ready for prime time in the screen-printing industry. After reviewing the CTS offerings from 15 companies that exhibited at FESPA, I would say maybe. We are certainly approaching the tipping point where it will become a common reality in screen printing, and there are several key reasons why we can expect this to happen.
The first reason is that imaging systems are quickly getting better. I will go into much more detail about the main types of imaging engines shortly. Both the speed and resolution of the heads are improving. There were systems on display at FESPA that offered resolutions from 600 to more than 2500 dpi. Many of today’s CTS systems have a decided resolution advantage over conventional film-based stencilmaking, and even apparently low-resolution CTS devices are delivering excellent, high-quality images.
At the core of CTS technology is some type of digitally controlled head that images directly onto unexposed emulsion. Some systems are inkjet based and print the positive image directly onto the coated screen. With these systems, as the head density increases, costs drop, and reliability improves, the economy of the technology becomes very attractive. The alternative to inkjet-based systems
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