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FLEXO Magazine : January 2008
. . . . BEGINNER FLEXOGRAPHER . Making Superior Plates Every Time By Malcolm G. Keif F lexo plates are a critical component of the printing system. Printing is a system-viewing platemaking in isolation doesn't address the total print process. A sys- tem has multiple components that interact with each other and influence the performance of each. Great plates with the wrong anilox rolls offer nothing to improve quality. Likewise, great plates made from a poorly prepared file help little to produce an outstanding final product. So, looking upstream and down- stream is necessary to ensure your plates are supporting the total printing system. Superior printing plates... · have sufficient resolution for the graphics to be repro- duced on the substrate for the job (paper, film, foil, etc). · are produced to optimize press and ink performance. · are made in a controlled and repeatable manner. Let's look at several important factors to making great plates. PLATE ROOM Quality in the plate room starts with the design of the plate room. If solvent processing is used, it is im- portant to exchange the air in the plate room several times per hour. This ensures a safe work- ing environment for the operators. Additionally, reducing dust is critical, which means having a filtration system and ideally a positive air sys- tem-air blows out of the plate room when the door is opened. Many plate rooms have tacky mats that are stepped on when entering the room to remove dust from shoes. The goal is to minimize dust as much as possible. Basic housecleaning is essen- tial to ensure pinhole-free plates. - PLATE MATERIAL A number of companies manufacture plate materials. Plate material generally comes in three forms: . Liquid for forming, then imaging, then mounting. . Sheet for imaging, then mounting. . Sleeve for imaging. Obviously, the more processing you perform in-house, the cheaper you can acquire the base polymer. However, forming plates or sleeves in a "clean-room" factory provides better re- sults than forming in a typical printing company. If starting from scratch, one of the first decisions in buy- ing sheet plates is which thickness to purchase. Plates come in various thicknesses and a balance is reached between buying extra polymer (thicker the plate, higher the cost) and having enough polymer for the various plate "reliefs" you may want to use. Plate relief is the difference between the plate surface and the floor that remains (film backing plus support polymer) after processing. Narrow-web printers usually use O.067-in. plates in the u.S. However, European narrow-web printers often - . ""' ,. JANUARY 2008 www.f I exog ra p hy.o rg FLEXO