By Professor John H. Marsh, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Technical Officer, and
Stephen P. Najda, Ph.D., Technical Expert, Intense Ltd.
Over the last 25 years, electronic typesetting and desktop publishing (DTP) have
revolutionized the printing industry. Almost anyone with a computer and the right
software can create and print professional materials. However to achieve the highest
print quality, it is still necessary to use a commercial or industrial printer with advanced
technology for delivering state of the art print quality standards.
In DTP, text is input using a word processor running on a desktop or laptop computer and
then transferred electronically to a page layout package. The page layout software
enables an editor to determine the precise appearance of the printed page. For most
commercial and industrial printing, the page is then imaged onto printing plates that are
mounted on a printing press. A single printing plate is used for monochrome and several
plates for color (a minimum of 4 plates but usually 6 or more). These plates are imaged
using computer to plate (CtP) systems, so CtP has become a key technology in almost
every printing house. CtP printing is the de facto standard for the highest quality printing
that can be achieved.
As recently as the 1970s, the preparation of printing plates was a craft industry, with
compositors using hot-metal typesetters to cast lines of text. These lines of text were then
set in a frame by hand to give the final page layout. This process remained essentially
unchanged for almost a century. Automation began in the 1970s with photo-typesetting, a
technology that used entirely photographic techniques to create an image on photographic
paper. The images were then pasted up and transferred photographically to a printing plate. However, the present day combination of page layout software and CtP systems
eliminates all of the hand composition stages.