Achieving flat top dots without adding steps to the workflow has been a reality since spring of 2014, when MacDermid launched the ITP 60. In The Plate (ITP) 60 is a 60 durometer plate well suited for the flexible packaging, folding carton, tag and label, and sacks, paper and multiwall segments.
LUX ITP delivers LUX like performance and characteristics without adding steps to the workflow. Beyond the launch of a new printing plate, LUX ITP was created as a new platform of flat top dot technology— the byproduct of a persistent and focused effort to advance flexographic plate making and printing. The result was an innovation that made the proven print benefits of flat top dots easily available to an entire industry.
A 2016 Technical Innovation Award in the Prepress Graphics category was awarded to MacDermid Graphics Solutions for its ITP 60. “MacDermid has a long history of providing innovative solutions coupled with expert service, and to be recognized by such a well respected industry association speaks to the quality, efficiency and consistency that we’ve been able to deliver to our customers with LUX ITP,” said Timothy Gotsick, VP and GM of MacDermid Graphics Solutions.
To tell the story of the LUX ITP development, it’s important to position the LUX technology within the evolution of flexo plates. Photopolymer plates were first introduced more than 50 years ago when they were designed to replace their rubber forefathers. The benefits were substantial improvements in:
- Imaging resolution
- Print capabilities
Rolling the calendar forward another 25 or so years, digital photopolymer plates were introduced as an evolutionary step beyond analog photopolymer plates. With this advancement, there were improvements in the imaging fidelity and print capability. Additionally, the digital workflow was more efficient and consistent than the analog process.
However, there was a price to pay, beyond the investment in the laser imager and higher plate cost: The digital plate making process produced very fine, bullet shaped highlight dots (see Image 1). Photopolymer producers stressed the advantage of having a sharpened dot that was slightly below print height. However, digital plates were more sensitive to impression and wear as a result of the same bullet shape that delivered fine highlight dots.
The LUX Lamination process, introduced in mid 2010, was the first wave of the “dot evolution program” which ultimately led to LUX ITP. LUX ITP allowed plate makers to get all the benefits of the LUX flat top dot profile, straight out of the box. A comparative example of the two LUX dot shapes is shown in Image 2.
The LUX process was developed by MacDermid Graphics Solutions as part of its program to advance flexo printing through the optimization of the flexo dot profile. MacDermid had been studying how dot profile affects printability, from fluting in corrugated to dot gain and tonal range in wide web film. The “flat top dot evolution” program required:
- Technique optimization
- Chemistry optimization
- Dot shape optimization
- Surface alteration
The selection of the optimum dot profile was one of the foundations of this work. The second result was the selection of the “technique” for achieving this optimum dot profile, and technique optimization began with the LUX lamination method, also a winner of the Technical Innovation Award, in 2011.
MacDermid selected a simple lamination process, whereby a thin membrane is laminated to the digital plate after laser ablation, and prior to main exposure. In addition to the benefits of the LUX dot profile, it was found that there was also a profound enhancement of surface screening options with the LUX lamination process. The membrane was used
to tailor the surface texture directly, by embossing a pattern into the plate surface. This element is the “surface alteration” phase of the flat top dot evolution program.
Development & Integration
Through the chemistry optimization development phase, LUX ITP eliminated the lamination step, allowing it to be used in the existing plate making workflow without adding time or materials. Using the regular plate making process, it’s possible to create a plate with the LUX dot profile. LUX ITP enabled plate makers to attain all the print benefits of the LUX flat top dot profile, straight out of the box.
As shown in the workflow diagrams in Image 3, the LUX ITP pathway is predicated on simplicity. While the lamination step itself is a simple, quick, and still widely used method for producing flat top dots, the LUX ITP technology takes it further by removing the need for lamination entirely.
This technology is a unique and innovative achievement in photopolymer development. In addition to the imaging capabilities of this material, the product line was also developed with processing flexibility in mind; LUX ITP can be processed in standard solvent systems, as well as through MacDermid’s line of LAVA thermal processors.
When using LUX ITP plates, you get the same 1:1 imaging benefits that you would with LUX lamination. This includes:
- Increased Tonal Range & Color Gamut: With 1:1 imaging, the elimination or reduction of the bump curve returns portions of the gamut previously “lost” in the conventional digital plate making process
- Improved Imaging Consistency: When applied, the bump curve is dependent upon the linescreen and the imaging device. The bump for a 120 linescreen job is not the same as a 150 linescreen job. Secondly, even though a customer may have all the same type and model laser imagers, each one is slightly different and therefore the bump curve can vary. Lastly, the selection of the bump curve is a manual process that relies on human judgment. Again, more variability reduced by the LUX Lamination and LUX ITP platforms
- Better Quality Control: Measuring the size of dots in a conventional digital plate is difficult. The bullet shape of the dot is the culprit. Using common tools like a Betaflex or microscope can yield widely different results. A digital plate made using LUX or LUX ITP technology has a flat top dot profile. As a result, reading tonal range using a Betaflex or microscope is much more consistent, similar to analog plates
Customers who have printed LUX dots, made using either pathway within the LUX platform, be it lamination or ITP, unanimously agree that the print pops. It simply looks better. They also cite faster press setup time, smoother vignettes and improved solid ink density.
Present & Future
Direct print comparisons of LUX Lamination and LUX ITP have been achieved successfully both internally and within various commercial accounts. Commercially, sales growth of LUX ITP has been phenomenal, multiplying rapidly from 2014 to 2015 and expanding to use at dozens of customer locations. All of this has happened while maintaining steady growth within the LUX Lamination product line.
The LUX technology platform now has multiple options for producing flat top dots: lamination, ITP capabilities and even “alternate” methods for producing flat top or hybrid style dots. Each selection has further options for plate processing: solvent or thermal processing of the exposed plate. The customer chooses the optimum process for the business.
The future elements of the dot evolution program will greatly expand the reach and utilization of the LUX ITP platform. Chemistry optimization can be combined with other elements (surface, dot shape, technique) to reach greater levels of material performance in quality, such as the use of capping technology in combination with the ITP chemistry. An example of the forthcoming LUX ITP C plate technology is shown in Image 4, which combines more than 25 years’ worth of capped plate technology and knowhow with the LUX ITP technology.
By leveraging LUX process technology with MacDermid’s innovative approach to generating these dot structures right out of the box, it is possible to engineer dots specifically for applications or for certain exposure techniques. As a result, customers are now able to expand their print capabilities without sacrificing plate making time, additional consumables or special exposure equipment.