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Back to Basics

CTP Equipment and Plates

Computer-to-Plate systems still play an important part in the industry. Genevieve Lewis discovers some of the latest products to come to market

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How can CTP technology continue to develop when it has been around for so long?

Old dog, new tricks

Computer-to-Plate (CTP) production, despite having been around for decades, continues to play an important role within the printroom.

However, what is interesting is that despite being a pretty standardised process, products continue to develop and change. New players come to the field and force themselves in with the elite club legends that have been trusted for years.

One of those newcomers is CRON, which is a Chinese-manufactured range of CTP equipment supplied in the UK by Service Offset Supplies. The CRON brand was re-introduced into the UK market in 2015 and has continued to develop its customer base in the UK over the last four years.

At present, CRON CTP systems are manufactured in a state-of-the-art factory in Hanzhou, all to ISO90001 and ISO140001 standards. All components are made by CRON with the exception of its lasers – there is an extensive research and development programme in place to continue the innovation in this area.

CRON technology is manufactured in Hanzhou, China


An aspect that has been improved by R&D from the manufacturer includes the laser head transport system on CRON machines. This uses a frictionless magnetic laser carriage and also requires no maintenance. On top of this, CRON has patented automatic laser focusing, internal temperature control, and a side gauge system. This means that the plate registration can be within ten microns in accuracy.

The kit

The range from CRON covers from B3 up to VLF (‘Very Large Format’) which can be used in specialist packaging applications. The most popular formats are 26 (B3) and 36 (SRA1). The CRON equipment is compatible with all major plates including processless and will also fit into existing pdf workflows.

More specifically, there are two CRON product groups – the H Series and the G+ Series. The H Series is a space-saving three-in-one design, with autoloader, de-interleaving and punching built in. The G+ Series is available with a range of autoloaders, with a high capacity single size tray or multiple trays depending on your needs. Manual loading is also an option, but switching between plate sizes, plate thickness and punch configuration is entirely automatic.

Punching on both the H and G+ variants is accurate up to 0.01mm, with resolutions up to 9,600dpi possible. This is also helped by the vacuum system that holds the plate to the drum securely.

More laser heads mean greater productivity, and CRON machines have up to 64 laser heads (B3) which equates up to 60 plates per hour, or up to 95 laser heads to produce 95 plates an hour.

The dawn

When you cast your mind to the original CTP systems, your mind wanders to Agfa, which first introduced the industry’s foray into computer systems from the old film systems.

There is no one more apt to talk us through the latest Agfa technology than Gary Giles, UK sales manager for key accounts at the company.


Gary Giles, UK sales manager for key accounts at Agfa


“Agfa offers a complete turnkey solution in the marketplace,” says Giles. “From file creation/input through its unparalleled Apogee/Store Front and production workflows, which in turn can drive a wide range of output devices. For that of digital print solutions, be they inkjet (for which Agfa has a wide offering of production presses in the POP and sign and soft marketplaces) Electrostatic (short-run commercial print) and our Avalon range of Computer-to-Plate engines for the imaging of Lithographic plates.”

Giles continues: “The Avalon range is available in formats from B2 through to that of VLF, with various levels of automation from semi-automatic to fully-automatic available. Complimenting these are Agfa’s comprehensive range of Lithographic printing plates to meet the customer technical requirements and preferences.

The Avalon N4 from Agfa


Agfa’s range is inclusive of process-free, processless, no-bake technologies coupled with low eco footprint processed plate solutions.”

Continuation of development

But with a technology such as this, how does it continue to develop? Giles explains that despite the lithographic appearing to be a “mature” market, the customer base for print is always changing.

Giles explains: “While the lithographic printing market appears to be a mature one, the customer base for print is constantly evolving to meet their customers’ ever-growing appetite for on-demand printed products, goods and services. Almost all of our customer bases have a blend of technologies in order to produce ink on media within their production facilities to meet their customer demand.”

While the lithographic printing market appears to be a mature one, the customer base for print is constantly evolving to meet their customers’ ever-growing appetite


He continues: “Agfa is committed to a continuing cycle of innovation, improvement and process reduction of its plate offerings. This is driven by the needs of our customers to provide inter-connectivity, so systems and solutions (within the blend of technologies) efficiency, print quality and control of process costs.”

Giles also explains that there is a consistent need for inter-connectivity of systems and solutions, which will in turn improve efficiency, print quality and control of process costs. “The marketplace is constantly evolving,” he says, before continuing: “With technologies like low energy UV press drying, the increasing use of recycled and uncoated paper products, shorter manufacturing times, long and short print runs, with an ever-increasing awareness of
carbon footprint.

Agfa’s Avalon N6-50


“Agfa’s range of both system solutions and lithographic printing plates are constantly evolving in order for our customer to meet these advancements, challenges and demands of their marketplace.”

Plate it up

CRON offers processless plates, preferred by a greater percentage of the industry, which results in a number of benefits. Not only that, but it has a unique offering in that there are UV plate options available. A UV offset plate is durable and easy to handle, as well as boasting the factor that plate costs are considerably lower. Blackwood plates, made by CRON’s sister company and distributed from a European hub are also available.

Giles of Agfa adds: “Agfa continues to demonstrate its innovation in the marketplace in lithographic plates being one of the first to develop on press imaging, and developed plates with the introduction of Termalite back in the early 2000’s. [In] 2004, Agfa introduced the Azura plate range, a processless CTP plate based on ThermoFuse technology, eliminating the need for developer, with that of a simple gum and go to produce a press-ready plate. In 2011, Agfa introduced the Elite Pro no-bake thermal plate, [and in] in 2014 extended the Azura range with a clean out on the press version of Azura and the TE plate.”

O Factoid: In 1993, Agfa introduced the ‘real’ CTP plate, the Lithostar.  O


This development continued, with the introduction of more sustainable products. Giles concludes: “In 2016, Agfa underlined its commitment to sustainable innovation that focuses on ecology, economy and extra convenience, and coined ECO3 with the launch of Elite Eco and Arkana processing. [This] eliminates wash water from the traditional process, resulting in one of the lowest eco footprints for processed plates in the market. In 2019, Agfa will continue this innovation.”


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