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In-the-Round Photopolymer Plate Technology

By Jim Cross, MacDermid Printing Solutions
For Flexographic Pre-Press Platemakers Association's Technology Committee

Digital in-the-round plate technology is the latest trend in photopolymer platemaking. The process involves applying a digital photopolymer plate onto a round sleeve and writing, imaging and processing that plate in-the-round.

When mounting digital photopolymer to a sleeve, prior to image ablation, the pre-carbon coated digital plate material is laminated to a press ready sleeve using a variety of laminators and adhering the plate to the sleeve using transfer tapes or standard compressible stickybacks.

The process requires some additional equipment in order to handle round plates. First, a platemaker must have an imagesetter capable of "writing" the digital image into the integrated mask on plates that have been applied to a round sleeve. Also necessary is a processing unit that can take the ablated round plate, expose it to create the image in the plate material, and then process it in its round configuration.

Digital in-the-round technology aims to provide the platemaker a simpler, faster, and more accurate platemaking process. Plates that are imaged flat and then mounted on a cylinder have some distortion and cupping in the print surface caused by the plate being wrapped around the cylinder. The nature of in-the-round platemaking technology eliminates that concern, as the plates are imaged after they are already mounted on a round sleeve. There is less variability in dot size and shape compared to plates that are imaged using film, and the printable tone range is increased.

Another advantage of in-the-round technology is that it minimizes mounting and registration issues. The plates are imaged already mounted on sleeves and in perfect registration. Press set up time is significantly improved.

Using round plate technology is no different from conventional flat sheet plates when it comes to changing repeats. To change the repeat, the plate cylinder or plate mounting bridge is replaced to accommodate the inside diameter of the mounting sleeve or continuous photopolymer sleeve.

The future of in-the-round plate technology is the continuous in-the-round plate. Not a plate mounted on a sleeve, or a niche product for continuous print only, the continuous plate is essentially a round photopolymer printing plate. Thin, flexible, and light-weight, the continuous plate will eliminate mounting as the entire job is imaged from the digital file. The complete surface can be imaged allowing for continuous print, and the print quality will be superb.

In-the-round technology strives to provide a high quality printing plate, in perfect registration, eliminate mounting issues and improve press up time. The future of plate technology is round, and the ultimate goal is to develop a round plate with a quality and cost structure that will make the next generation of plates a truly disposable round plate.


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