Three Ahmedabad bureaux and their CTP chronicles - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column
Customers are the most important asset to your business, and looking after them is essential to your success. A case study by PrintWeek about three firms using Kodak platesetters who have evolved from being makers of positive films to producers of digital plates.
18 Sep 2022 | By Noel D'Cunha
There are 2,500 offset platesetters installed in India, comprising thermal and violet, besides sizable CTCP installations. Historically, there have been three phases in CTP in India – CTP Vs PS, thermal Vs violet, and now thermal-violet Vs UVCTCP.
Kodak’s Bhalchandra Nikumb says, that Kodak is a pioneer in thermal technology and is consistently promoting only thermal over the years. “We believe in thermal,” he says. And why not? Of all the installations, Kodak’s 1,000th CTP was sold to Modern Printers in Ahmedabad.
Gujarat has around 100 thermal CTPs, 42 of which are in Ahmedabad. There are around 15-20 CTCPs, some of which post-Covid-19 may be idle, and 30+ iCTPs, mostly with newspapers and publishers. Kodak claims to have a big proportion of the CTP pie in the Gujarat circle.
PrintWeek spoke to three Kodak customers to find out their pre-press journey and what are the qualitative, competitive and cost benefits of CTP
The owners of the three firms have been in the business for more than two decades, and primarily began as positive film makers.
Scan Press in Ahmedabad began as maker of positive films in Gujarat in 1986. It gradually upgraded technology with time and installed its first Kodak platesetter in 2009 and its second in 2014. Recently, the company replaced the Kodak CTP installed in 2009 with the Kodak Trendsetter to stay abreast with the latest technology.
Understanding the industry’s requirements, in 2017, Scan Press invested in a CTCP machine too. “We have the CTP technology. It eliminates the need for processing and fixing processes such as film development. However, CTP uses expensive plates, and many smaller print companies would rather prefer an affordable option from their point of view. CTCP allows the use of traditional offset plate technology,” Kantibhai Hirpara. Hirpara and his partner Arjun Ladani own Scan Press.
These were the key ingredients for Scan Press’ growth, but it possibly would be unable to achieve success without the right technology in place.
Hirpara says that the CTP technology that is more premium and Kodak Trendsetter CTPs allow us to offer first-rate services giving us an edge over our competitors, secured repeat work and new customers, as well as build loyalty.”
Higher Enterprise was established in 2022. It’s an offshoot of Higher Scan, whose history dates back to 2011-12. Karan Patel, a young man, working at the firm, decided to take over the CTCP firm in 2013 along with his friend Sunil Patel.
It was a courageous move for Patel. “The initial days were tough as the transition from an employee to an employer was a bit overwhelming,” he says.
A couple of years into the new venture, the two Patels were joined by two other Patels, Amit and Ankit. The foursome began the streamlining of business in right earnest. “During those days, we got support from the vendors in terms of supplies and credit, and as the business grew, the bond we developed between us was for life.”
Around 2016, the conventional plate business in Ahmedabad was quite popular. Higher Enterprise was functioning with just one CTCP, which was becoming inadequate for the growing demand. “We decided to opt for a BasysPrint CTCP kit. We also added manpower. It made us a dominant player in Ahmedabad’s pre-press industry,” explains Patel.
Higher Scan catered to multiple offset printers for their commercial jobs – pamphlets, leaflets, books, and catalogues. The job run lengths varied from short runs to long runs, especially for the publishing jobs.
A few years into CTCP platemaking, Patel saw the pre-press industry moving towards thermal technology and invested in a pre-owned Heidelberg Suprasetter platesetter in 2021. “It was a cautious investment, as we were just coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, hence the decision to buy a pre-owned machine,” explains Patel.
Armed with two CTCPs and a thermal CTP, the firm could now cater to all kinds of customers.
A year later, early this year to be specific, Patel upgraded its thermal technology with a brand new Kodak Trendsetter. It also brought the thermal operation under a new aegis, Higher Enterprise.
Patel says, “Our vision is to provide thermal plates to existing customers and add new customers. We intend to provide non-stop services to offset printers, day in day out.”
Swastik Graphics is a digital plate bureau in Ahmedabad owned by partners Suresh Patel and Janak Vania. While Vania has 20-odd years of pre-press experience, mostly administrative, Patel has spent 25-hands-on years dealing with platesetters and plates.
Patel’s journey began with Scan Press in Ahmedabad as an employee, where he worked for 16 years before deciding to start his own business. Patel invested in Scitex’s Dolev 800 computer-to-film machine in 2008 when films were in demand and CTP was at a nascent stage in the market. After the imagesetter, like everyone in the market, Patel moved to the next step of CTP technology. Patel joined Matangi Graphics in 2013 and worked there till 2017 before taking over the firm along with his partner Janak Vania and renaming it Swastik Graphics.
“We already had a Kodak platesetter, but CTCP was the flavour in those days. Hence, as soon as we took over, we invested in a Cron kit and added a CTCP to our operation,” says Patel. The experiment did not last for long. The firm sold the Cron CTCP and invested in yet another Kodak Trendsetter platesetter.
And to be at par with the needs of its customers, the firm upgraded the Prinergy workflow software. “We fire Kodak plates on the two Kodak platesetters, 10% of which are Sonora process-free plates,” says Patel. He added, “We do not bake our plates, as it is supplied to customers running short-run lengths. For the rest, its Sonora, particularly when the jobs are UV, long runs and high-quality.”
Qualitative benefits of CTP
While the quality of print delivered by a plate fired on CTP is markedly better than a CTCP, the cost matters. “CTCP system has a large price advantage and can achieve production. Low-cost operation is the buzzword, says Hirpara of Scan Press.
But when it comes to crisper tones on the final product, it has to be CTP, says Patel of Higher Enterprise. “One can see a difference in high-end commercial jobs where higher screen ruling is required. Tone reproduction and output quality with thermal are best as highlight dots are correctly reproduced, and shadows don’t become solid to give a proper tonal shift.”
Hirpara of Scan Press lists some of his key customers, such as Plus Offset and Sharp Offset, which offer high-end commercial prints. He recollects having produced plates for printing textile catalogues and catalogues for ceramic tiles. “We plotted fine screens on the Kodak Trendsetter to help reproduce the exact match for the actual sample.” Scan Press uses Prinergy Connect software.
Swastik, which experimented with CTCP, does not want to enter the violet Vs thermal debate, pinning its faith completely on Kodak’s thermal technology. “We have among our customer printers who earlier used violet plates, but now they buy thermal plates from us. And they are happy and don’t complain about variation they had in violet.”
Many plates on the market have different attributes – some are higher resolution than others, some have longer-run lengths, some bake-able, and some are not. “We use Kodak brand of plates for different needs. Capricon Gt for commercial printers and long-run jobs, we use Sword Max plates,” says Suresh Patel of Swastik. “We avoid baking but have used up to 250lpi for a commercial job,” he said.
Karan Patel of Higher Enterprises is very clear when discussing the cost of plates. “It has to be competitive, should be good for higher run-lengths and produce best dot reproduction.” Baking is not an option, he says. “It’s expensive.”
When it comes to colour reproduction, less usage of water and an enhanced colour image plus brightness, Kodak is very good, says Kanti Hirpara of Scan Press. “We can image 1% dots and 99% dots using Kodak technology, combining CTP, Prinergy software and Kodak plates. The dot reproduction is consistent, and plate output is linear. The plate settles in any press environment. We are using Kodak Workflow for better quality control in our pre-press.”
Nikumb of Kodak says, Kodak plates never had batch-to-batch variation in the market due to stringent quality control at the factory. “Kodak India keeps sufficient inventory of various sizes of plates to manage demand.”
What CTP thermal technology brings to the table is its fast makeready compared to the conventional system, says Nikumb. Patel of Higher Enterprise agrees. “We have no complaints as far as makeready is concerned. The colour setting is very fast and accurate too.”
He adds, “We have just started the thermal set-up, but the initial response we have received from our customers about accurate and faster registration with the Kodak CTP has been very encouraging.”
Scan Press provides CIP3 data from the Kodak workflow to its clients for easy colour setting. “Thermal CTP results give the sharpest images and excellent colour contrast. We cater to all types of customers – commercial printers, publication, and packaging too. Zero complaints on the quality side so far,” says Hirpara of Scan Press.
Has CTP enhanced its competitive advantage overall? Yes, says Hirpara. “Our CTP business has grown over the years, which is why we kept investing in this business. We have a clientele of regular customers. Print consistency our customers deliver, to their customers, is why they come back to us for their plate requirements.”
One of the factors while working with platesetters is the operator's comfort level. Scan Press’ Kodak thermal plate usage is 85%, while the rest is CTCP. “Our team is very comfortable managing the operations. We have dedicated people for design, processing, delivery and management of incoming jobs,” says Hirpara.
Higher Enterprise has two CTCP and one thermal platesetters, hence it has a mixed number of plates. That said, Patel says, we tell customers to send only PDF files and not open files, so that no information such as colours or fonts are lost. That’s a cost advantage, too, because, at the end of the day, a wrong output means loss of plate, time at our end, and wastage at our customers' end.”
Hirpara, too, avoids taking open files from customers unless there are corrections. “Taking PDF files from customers is good for us. This helps in faster processing of plates, and many issues are eliminated.” He adds, “CTP saves electricity. Kodak CTP machines use very less electricity during plate imaging.
Suresh Patel of Swastik concludes, “Cost advantage with Kodak platesetters is that it does not require maintenance. The support is good. The machine can run 24x7 and help us achieve maximum production. Power savings are good as compared to others. Most important, the CTP can be used for a very long period and can also be upgraded.”