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Computer to Screen units.

Computer To Screen: Better, Faster, Cheaper

Over the last few years, Computer-to-Screen (CTS) technologies have advanced significantly. There is a wide array of benefits to Computer-to-Screen systems, almost all aimed at increasing productivity and quality in your shop, while minimizing costs. With the maturation of CTS technology, there is sure to be a unit in your price range! Let’s discuss a few of the advantages you’ll get when changing over to a CTS unit.

Process Background

To many screen printers, the process and expense of a CTS might seem daunting. But let’s take a look at a pretty typical CTS shop workflow and compare it to those who still use film. The core of the art department’s responsibilities are ensuring proper separations as well as sending the separated files to the screen room. At this point, the screen room technician will place the coated screen onto the CTS, placed either with a pin registration system or a three-point registration system. The artwork is then loaded into the CTS software and printed based on a predetermined template.

Once printed, the screen technician will expose the image on an exposure unit without glass and wash it out. The screen is ready. You will see in this example a number of instances in which costs are shifted to less-expensive labor, as well as the removal of a number of points of failure in the screen preparation process:

  • Instead of the art department managing film output, the screen technician manages CTS output.
  • The artwork only needs to be registered once - when you are placing the screen onto the printer. When using film positives, artwork has to be registered multiple times - onto each other, onto carrier sheets, and onto the screen.
  • The artwork will always be printed to the same location on the screen. Because of this, you can prepare screens without registration marks.
  • The exposure unit doesn’t have glass, which will minimize the possibility of pinholes as well as various other benefits.

In practice, Computer to Screen units will decrease labor costs and improve productivity by shifting much of the labor out of the (typically more expensive) art room and into the screen room. These benefits alone are usually worth the cost of admission for Computer to Screen systems, but there are many, many more benefits to owning a CTS, which I will go through below.

Quality Improvements

Without improvements in quality compared to film, CTS technology would be dead in the water. Fortunately, there are many quality-related benefits to using CTS. Direct exposure of the screen, without light-scattering interference from exposure unit glass or film positives, has a few benefits in and of itself. Many customers have found they are able to hold finer halftone dots. They have also seen less undercutting caused by longer exposures. CTS units also have specially-formulated inks to ensure the best opacity and quick drying for screens. These inks are usually less expensive and better performing than OEM film printing inks.

Because you have a better exposure and more opaque ink, you can expose your screen properly without worrying about negative side effects. You will end up with a more durable screen that isn’t weakened when cleaning it or performing an ink color change. Quality is not the only criterion that screen printing shops should look for when considering upgrading to Computer to Screen. CTS technology will also speed up your workflow and improve efficiency around your shop.

Increased Productivity & Decreased Costs

In many instances when a company is ready to grow, they believe adding screen printing capacity is the best investment. CTS presents another option - productivity. CTS units can significantly increase productivity and drive down costs by making every step of the process faster and easier than before. This means that alongside the cost savings that I will discuss later, you are also going to get a continued labor cost savings.

In general, the more people who “touch” a process, the longer it will take and higher the chance is that it gets messed up. Each touch can be a point of failure. With CTS, you are limiting touches to three (art room, printer, washout).

Not only are there fewer touches, but the touches are more accurate than the manual processes that CTS is replacing. With a CTS, you no longer need to worry about registering your positives, making sure they’re properly placed on carrier sheets, or ensuring the screen is set right on the positives themselves. As long as your screen is properly placed, CTS units will consistently print at the right location on the screen, every time.

Because you are printing directly onto the screen, you will have a number of advantages. First, you won’t have to utilize a vacuum & glass system to ensure your positive is flush with the screen. Without glass, your exposure times will decrease and you will end up with fewer pinholes in your screen. Many equipment manufacturers are creating space- and energy-saving LED exposure units that are about the size of a dip tank. Since the images are always placed properly on your screen, setup times will be minimized. Using your screen press’ registration system, your screens will all be very close to aligned. With a good workflow, press operators can expect to have multicolor jobs set up in 2-4 minutes per screen.

Finally, Computer to Screen units can be significantly faster than film printing systems. Not only are you going to forego the tedious alignment and registration processes that come with film printing, but CTS printers are blazing fast - there are a few units that can print a screen in less than a minute!

When you think of the doors that CTS will open as far as productivity is concerned, the limit is your imagination. With significantly faster setup times, lower quantity orders can be profitable. Many screen printers with CTS units forego registration marks, and some have almost completely done away with screen tape! All of these minor time and money savers add up to make CTS a worthwhile investment with surprisingly fast ROI.

Decreased Costs

Let’s face it - storing positives and reprinting films regularly is both a headache and a costly venture. Valuable square footage is used in storage, and all too often one or many films will have to be reprinted when a customer reorders a job - and that’s if the customer reorders the same design without revision. With CTS, all that is required is hard drive storage space. When buying ink for a cartridge based printer, you can be paying $400 per liter or more for OEM black ink, plus the extra cartridges you’ll never actually use. Most CTS units’ ink will cost half that, and you won’t have superfluous cartridges or excess waste ink. Computer to Screen systems fulfill the trifecta that all shops are looking for: improved quality, decreased cost, and maximized efficiency. Over the last few years, CTS equipment has become faster, less expensive, and more reliable, leading to very quick ROI. This combination makes now the perfect time to check out CTS!

Eric Norby is the Product Development Leader at SPSI, a full-service equipment and supply distributor based in Maple Grove, Minnesota, with offices in Kansas, Texas, and Kentucky. SPSI distributes top-of-the-line equipment, including DataScreen, Acti Cameras, and Douthitt Computer to Screen units.

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