Premedia Executives Talk Surface Optimization, Plate Consistency & Certification, LED Plate Exposure

Certification Simplified

A Google search of the word “certification” yields a concise definition: “The action or process of providing someone or something with an official document attesting to a status or level of achievement.” The first eight companies in North America to achieve this status for XPS Crystal Plate exposure are listed on the side bar on page 2.

XPS Plate Certification is made simple because the plates being certified by XPS users have already been certified in the Esko plate labs or the plate labs of Esko plate supplier partners. In the “original” certification, plate exposure parameters (light intensity, number of exposure passes of the moving light source and speed of pass) are determined through an optimization process.

Esko Samworth Figure 7 - Virtual Town Hall
Figure 7: In a Virtual Town Hall, premedia leaders cited LED plate exposure as among the most significant technologies impacting their business today.

These tests are extremely time consuming and consist of specific test charts imaged, plated and printed under controlled conditions. Measurements are taken on the mask, the finished plate and the printed sample. Multiple iterations are performed until optimum values are achieved. Upon completion of the optimization for a specific plate material, exposure parameters are recorded in a database which is periodically uploaded to XPS units around the world.

Given that Esko, working with its plate supplier partners, has done the optimization work up front, it’s not necessary for the premedia company to repeat it. All that’s required is to make a plate and send it to Esko. Plate experts at Esko simply measure that plate and compare the results to the same plate in the database. If they match, the premedia company attains the official certification status. It’s that simple.

“The simplicity of the certification process reflects the fact that Esko has done the heavy lifting up front,” says Pinel. “We don’t want a long certification process; we want an accurate certification process… and that’s what’s been brought to the table.”

Peek agrees: “Certification is about credibility… it’s about showing that we can make the same plate today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. By documenting the fact that our plate matches the plate in the standard plate database, we are effectively documenting both quality and consistency.

“At SGK, we have standard operating procedures (SOPs) and process control parameters for every plate we make—whether bank light or LED,” he continues. “You can look at the data in our trend reports and see the difference between the LED exposed plates and the bank light exposed plate. The bank light data moves around and requires regular adjustment; the LED data is a flat line and requires no adjustment.”

“The concept of certification is extremely important to SGS and it’s a big part of our overall color management strategy,” says Scott Thompson, VP of technical sales and innovation at SGS. “But ultimately, it’s about performance. LED plate exposure has enabled us to use flexo for high-end graphics that formerly could only be accurately reproduced using other printing processes.”

Unfiltered Thoughts

As part of EskoWorld 2021, a virtual town hall meeting was conducted with the objective of collecting direct, unfiltered input from the industry’s most respected premedia companies. Participants were encouraged to speak candidly about their current technology and future plans; even if that entailed promoting a product or technology considered to be “competitive” to Esko.

While the open discussion touched on a variety of topics, the subject of LED plate exposure stole the show. When asked the open question, “What recent technical advancements have had the most impact on your business?” every participant cited LED plate exposure.

Smith had the quote of the day. His statement, “With LED plate exposure technology, you can make a good printer great, but you can’t make a bad printer good,” was met with unanimous agreement.

Esko Samworth Figure 8 - Step and Repeat Print Job
Figure 8: Mike Sheppard inspects a printed step and repeat job, then says, “You can really see the LED plate consistency on step and repeat work… the top-left, bottom-right, and all steps in-between are now virtually identical… this was almost impossible to achieve with bank light exposed plates!”

O’Connor continued: “The challenge is to manage the variation throughout the process, and the most significant source has frequently been the plate exposure. As prepress suppliers, we live and die by the consistency of our plates… LED exposure substantially reduces the potential variation that can result as traditional UV lamps degrade and lose intensity.”

Sheppard agrees. “How crazy is it that we have been working with bank light all of these years and directly contributing to press variation. We never realized how much variation the bank lights had until we switched over to LED plate exposure.” He also offers descriptions of the different types of jobs they plate and how these affect press variation. “You can really see the LED plate consistency on step and repeat work… the top left step and bottom right step are now the same!”

Smith shared some of the data analysis work that Cyber Graphics does to explain why step and repeat work is so much more consistent with LED vs. bank light. “We track a lot of variables in the plateroom. Among them, relief height, 2 percent dot size on plate, and 50 percent dot on plate. Relief height consistency of LED has long been understood, likely because it’s easy to measure and track, but you would be amazed at how much more stable the 50 percent dot on plate is with LED compared to bank light.”

Asked about the future of premedia and specific plans, Eliana Rodriguez, general manager of Redi Color SA de CV in Monterrey, Mexico, jumped in. “Our future is about automation… ultimately we want effective automated tools, embedded in a digital workflow environment and connected to an inline process with CDI imaging, LED plate exposure, plate processing and quality plate controls, using environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies.”

She adds, “It’s all about productivity! In a market with demand of high efficiency and precision; less human touch points mean greater consistency and higher quality. When we look at purchasing new equipment or software—plate imaging, plate exposure, plate processing—you name it, we ask the question, ‘How will these fit together with our automation strategy and digital transformation?’ Moving source LED architecture—where the plate goes in one end and comes out the other—is a key component of our strategy.”

About the Author

headshot Mark Samworth
Mark Samworth began his career with DuPont, where he held numerous positions in the areas of flexographic plates and electronic imaging. Mark joined Esko in 1997 and is currently focused on consulting in screening, calibration, G7, color management and expanded gamut. He holds 11 patents in digital imaging, including FlexoCal, Hybrid Screening, Plate Cell Patterning, Concentric Screening, Equinox expanded gamut technology and PressSync. He has authored numerous articles in the industry’s major trade publications and presented many papers at trade conferences. In May of 2011, Mark was inducted as the 49th member of the FTA Hall of Fame. Mark received his Bachelor of Science from RIT and his M.B.A. from the University of Delaware. He lives in Wilmington, DE.