Agfa is today joining the suppliers with a develop on press plate, ten years after introducing the Thermofuse technology used on its Azura plate family.
And it claims that the Azura TE offers significant benefits over the Fuji Pro T3 and Kodak Sonora which dominate this sector of the market. The benefits to Azura TE include a high contrast latent image, long latency for this image, even unprotected under daylight conditions and fast start up on press, issues of perceived weakness for the develop on press sector.
While the plate is launched commercially from 1 December, Agfa has been testing the plate at 50 sites around the world with positive feedback from these customers it says.
But despite the advantages of DOP, Agfa is not aiming to convert users of its Azura TS or TU plates. It continues to believe that imaging and developing offline offer greater flexibility and so will be the preferred plate for volume users. However, the cost of the Clean Out Unit developed for the standard Azura plates is a barrier for smaller users. "If a printer is using 20,000m2 of plate a year, the cost of the COU is negligible," says Eddy De Dobbeleer, marketing manager commercial print and packaging, "But it is too expensive for the printer using only 2,000m2 a year.” These are the target customers for Azura TE.
It is these printers, wanting simplicity of operation as well as environmental benefits, that are turning to DOP plates and where until now, Agfa has been unable to match their requirements. In the early days of the Thermofuse technology Agfa had offered a DOP plate but withdrew it. Now improvements in the technology as well as press control systems are tackling the major acceptance issues. Heidelbereg offer some a DOP plate under the Saphira brand for example, though KBA does not endorse DOP Partly because the image contrast has not be good enough for its Plate Ident system.
However press latitude with these plates is still less than with off press imaged plates. Agfa will supply a starter kit to include an approved fount solution, and will recommend roller settings and washes as low flash point solvents can damage the image carrying capability of the plates. The surface is also more vulnerable to scratching and finger marks points out application manager Ineke Van Severen.
The Azura TE uses a thin coating of polymer covered pearls on the surface of the plate. These also contain a thermochemistry dye so that as the pearls are melted and fixed to the aluminium to curate the image ares, the dye changes from its background grey to blue in colour. This gives the contrast necessary to avoid misidentification when mounting the plate and to allow quality control checks to be carried out using standard measurement tools after imaging.
The image remains clear and the plate usable for at least a day even if unprotected from daylight, compared to a two hour latency from other plates. Testing, supported by user feedback, also points to a faster start up on press. The damping system must be activated first to loosen the unimaged pearls before the first few sheets through the press remove them. After ten sheets the plate is accepting ink cleanly.
It is these benefits that Agfa believes provides the advantage over the Kodak Sonora XP and Fujifilm Pro T3 plates — until their suppliers take a further stride forwards.
Agfa claims key benefits for the Azura TE plate including fast roll up, sharp image contrast and long image latency, issues that have marked previous generations of develop on press plates.