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Generous helpings on plates

Advances in platemaking technology are helping to make the prepress process more efficient – and easier

Since launching the world’s first digital imager for flexo plates at Drupa 1995, Esko, in close co-operation with DuPont, continues to innovate in upgrading flexo print quality and streamlining the platemaking process, from prepress to mounting.

At Drupa 2012, the company’s introductions included the CDI Spark 4835 Auto flexo plate imager, which integrates a digital UV back exposure with automated loading, imaging, digital main exposure and off-loading to the processing unit.

Flexo plate imaging by a single click on a button” was the catchword for this innovation, symbolic of the way major suppliers such as Esko have been developing their technology to help make the prepress operator’s job as efficient – and stress-free – as possible, while also ensuring that the end-product will be of the highest quality.

The digital UV back exposure completes Esko’s concept of a fully digital UV curing environment. Curing is achieved through digital UV diodes similar to the existing Inline UV technology. Digitising back exposure results in a notable increase in print quality and stability it is claimed.

Another Esko innovation at the Düsseldorf print industry show was HD Flexo Pixel+ technology. This is an optical, electronic and screening enhancement for HD Flexo imaging to support flat top dots creation for different plate vendor flat top dots offerings such as DigiCorr, DigiFlow, Lux and Next. It is claimed to achieve a substantial increase in solid ink density.

In the quest for quality, the combination of smooth highlight printing and ‘gravure-like’ solid ink densities for flexible packaging has remained a difficult objective. With digital main exposure built into the CDI imager (Inline UV2) in combination with innovative imaging and screening technology, Esko is now able to control the shape of different dot structures in one single plate.

The result, the company states, will be a superior flexo plate suitable for the highlight and shadow or solid areas of a print job. “We want to go beyond the binary discussion of flat top dots or round top dots, and create the best possible combination of print dot structures on a single plate,” states Jürgen Andresen, vice president flexo business.

By combining CDI digital flexo imagers with HD Flexo technology, Esko claims to have driven flexo printing to become comparable to gravure and offset. “Worldwide, hundreds of HD Flexo certified customers, digital flexo partners and vendors benefit from accurate sharp imaging quality combined with greater consistency and full tonal range,” the company boasts.

DuPont Packaging Graphics has announced full commercialisation of its Cyrel DigiFlow digital workflow enhancement designed to expand the capabilities of digital Cyrel and digital Cyrel Fast to deliver superior print quality and productivity.

“Higher quality at higher speed is our focus, and the enhanced capabilities of the new Cyrel DigiFlow system continue to provide our customers with a competitive advantage,” states Tracy Lunt, global technical manager.

“Cyrel DigiFlow is a powerful tool to improve solid ink densities and print contrast, while maintaining the outstanding image quality typically associated with Cyrel, all within the existing digital workflow,” she adds.

Cyrel DigiFlow is said to be “a relatively simple and inexpensive modification” to DuPont’s existing range of exposure units. It adds a chamber that allows the creation of a controlled atmosphere during the main exposure, enabling one-to-one reproduction of image elements on the plate, which is critical to optimising the effects of solid screening patterns.

The new exposure units were designed for use on an ‘as-needed’ basis, and can be easily switched off when the standard digital dot is the preferred result.

DuPont says the low cost and flexibility of Cyrel DigiFlow makes it “the simplest and most cost-effective solution for those flexographers desiring the ability to seamlessly switch between standard and hybrid dots”.

Drupa 2012 also saw the commercial launch of Kodak’s Flexcel Direct system, which uses energy-efficient, high power direct laser engraving of in-the-round (ITR) flexo sleeves with increased production throughput. With imager and consumables designed to work as a complete solution, the system is said to enable more affordable production of high quality sleeves for package printing, as well as increasing print quality and reducing press setup times.

The new Kodak system is claimed to have performed even better than first expected in live production jobs for its test site customers. Multinational prepress company Miller Graphics has been evaluating it for the last six months in its facility at Limoges, France.

Claude Vriet, Miller’s ITR production manager, enthuses: “The Flexcel Direct system has exceeded our initial expectations, both in our own production operation and on press with our clients, and we are already supplying sleeves for production jobs, and even winning new business as a result of the improved quality.

“Our customers are impressed with the increase in print quality, greater consistency, and faster press setup times,” he continues. “Combine that with the fact that we have increased our sleeve production throughput, and you can see why we are excited to continue our co-operation with Kodak.”

Affordable quality

The Flexcel Direct system joins the award-winning Flexcel NX system in Kodak’s flexo line-up. “The Flexcel NX system remains our flagship solution,” comments Mohan Garde, VP and general manager of Kodak’s packaging solutions business.

“With the addition of the Flexcel Direct system to the portfolio we can now make affordable, high quality ITR flexo sleeve production a reality.”

Kodak has also introduced a platemaking system aimed at small format offset packaging and commercial printers in emerging markets. The Achieve All-In-One CTP (computer-to-plate) system offers complete access to Kodak’s state-of-the-art imaging and plate technologies “at an affordable price”, including platesetting, plates, workflow software, processing, and chemistry.

The system features a platesetter said to deliver stable, high quality and consistent imaging. The Achieve EM thermal plates perform “exceptionally well” in prepress and in the pressroom, where they are rated for up to 200,000 impressions without baking. Kodak says they deliver “extraordinarily sharp detail and stability” from mid to long run AM and FM applications, while reducing plate remakes and variation.

Low chemistry usage and reduced waste are also claimed for the new system, which is currently being introduced in the Asia-Pacific region. Later in the year, availability will expand into emerging markets in eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

Jet Europe is now the European distributor for Xeikon’s new range of ThermoFlexX imagers for flexo and letterpress plates. Harry Heesen, managing director of Jet Europe, says: ”The ThermoFlexX units expand our already wide range of solutions as a trusted provider of high quality flexo and letterpress plate production systems.

The label and packaging industry sees Xeikon as a trustworthy player, and that was a very important reason to enter into this Europe-wide partnership.”

Based on “mature technology and proven digital workflow solutions”, the ThermoFlexX range is said to enable users to produce high quality digital flexo and letterpress plates consistently at resolutions of up to 5,080dpi. Its special features include an advanced clamping design that allows plates to be mounted directly onto the drum, while novel vacuum sliders offer the flexibility to use plates of any width.

This is highly beneficial to operators as there is no need to cut the plates to fit a dedicated vacuum zone, allowing the use of cut-off scraps.

The ThermoFlexX also features ergonomic plate mounting and its hybrid drum offers the flexibility of holding plates in place either by vacuum or by magnetics.

Although best known for its digital presses, Xeikon has also been manufacturing CTP systems for more than 15 years. Director of product management Jeroen Van Bauwel affirms: “ThermoFlexX expands our CTP experience into the flexo and letterpress markets, reinforcing our commitment to the label and packaging markets. Xeikon is the only player on the market able to offer solutions for both flexo platemaking and digital label and packaging printing.”

Xeikon company BasysPrint unveiled its next generation of 4-up and 8-up CTP UV platesetters for the digital exposure of UV-sensitive offset plates at Drupa 2012.

Incorporating state-of-the-art optical modules, the new UV-Setter Series 460x and Series 860x promise to deliver “unsurpassed exposure quality” with resolutions of up to 2,400dpi.

BasysPrint says special features in the models deliver new levels of flexibility as well as “significant” improvements in productivity and profitability.

The UV-Setter Series 460x and Series 860x offer exposure resolutions of 1,500dpi or 2,400dpi. Their special flatbed design enables digital imaging of a wide variety of plate sizes – from formats as small as 200mm x 200mm up to a maximum of 680mm x 830mm with the 460x; and 940mm x 1,150mm with the 860x.

The novel dual plate loading option also offers the flexibility of loading and imaging two plates at the same time. This allows the systems to image up to 145 plates/hour, with a plate size of 400mm x 550mm improving productivity significantly.

The modularity of the new generation of UV platesetters is said to ensure that a customer’s investment is always secured.

Even if they start out with the basic manual version, customers can easily upgrade to either a semi-automatic or fully automatic model as the demands of their business change.

The new Series 460x and 860x models also offer a manual operation option on the fully automated versions.

Back in 2009, German self-adhesive label printer Gewa Etiketten became the world’s first printing company to expose letterpress, flexo, offset, and Gallus Screeny printing plates on a single CTP output unit – the Lüscher XPose! 230 4Flex.

The company’s facility in Gau-Bickelheim has five Gallus hybrid narrow web presses that combine offset, flexo and screen, as well as a range of offset presses from Heidelberg and Ryobi, plus five LeoMat overprinters. All of these machines require a variety of different printing plates (letterpress, flexo, offset and screen).

Before the Lüscher XPose! 4Flex “revolutionised” their production, the repro films for all these were produced in-house and copied in the conventional way in the prepress department, entailing plates and screens being made in no less than 25 different formats.

Now the Lüscher system is used to produce all plates for the site and, as its exposure format extends to 1,130mm x 950mm, it also serves as a back-up for conventional offset plates for Gewa’s other site at Bingen. For the 25 different smaller plate formats in Gau-Bickelheim, lines were marked and labelled in the drum, so that any employee can insert the plates correctly before the XPose! 230 4Flex holds them securely with a vacuum during exposure.

Gewa’s machine has 16 laser diodes each for thermal and UV exposure but, if necessary, the XPose! can in future be easily upgraded to 32 laser diodes to accommodate larger plate volumes.

Another manufacturer that considers packaging an area of increasing opportunity is Screen. The company is expanding its range of CTP devices for the fl exo packaging industry, and is offering the PlateRite FX range of thermal platesetters to image all leading makes of solvent and water-wash photopolymer plates for flexo and letterpress applications “to the highest 4,800dpi quality levels”.

The open-platform PlateRite FX systems can be integrated with any flexo front-end system, in addition to Screen’s Equios workflow and FlexoDot software. Together, they are said to offer a powerful and flexible imaging solution for flexible packaging, labels, cartons and corrugated packaging applications.

On the packaging gravure front, Hell has a new series of output devices based on conventional stylus engraving. The HelioKlischograph’s engraving systems are being repositioned, with a broadband system for the 54-100 l/cm screen range, and a hybrid system for combined operation of vibration engraving and the XtremeEngraving system.

With a speed of up to 24kHz and a write resolution of up to 540 l/cm, Xtreme-Engraving is now said to represent “a real alternative to laser-based methods”.

The AutoCon has made automatic cylinder production a reality, states Hell. In this fully automated production environment, HelioDisk and the new MIS Connect functions bring transparency to day-to-day production operations; and the extended engraving certificates create the requisite reliability in production, the company adds.

Hell has also unveiled new handling and processing options for the Conti Laserline flexo printing plates, which are solvent-free and available as reelstock.

Esko’s CDI Spark 4835 Auto – less manual
intervention offers reduced production risks CDI Spark 4835 Auto Kodak’s Flexcel Direct system uses energyefficient, high power
laser engraving Flexcel Direct system Lüscher’s XPose! 4Flex “revolutionised” production at Gewa XPose! 4Flex BasysPrint’s new UV-Setters promise to deliver “unsurpassed exposure quality” BasysPrint

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