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Thread: Image setter?

  1. #1

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    Image setter?

    Hello all! Long time lurker first time poster.

    I came across an image setter and was wondering what exactly it did?
    I googled it of course and the descriptions are not the easiest to understand (the ones I found) so I was wondering, in simple terms, what does it do?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Bill Burk's Avatar
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    An imagesetter is like a laser printer. Except instead of spitting out sheets of paper with 1200dpi black and white output, it spits out exposed lith film that you have to develop.

    My analog darkroom does not have one of these. But I keep the Dove prism from an old imagesetter as a souvenir from the good old days.

  3. #3
    Mainecoonmaniac's Avatar
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    Bill Burke is correct indicating that it's like a laser printer. Some output lith film to be used in making printing plates. The lith negs can also be used for alt processes like cyanotype printing. It's an expensive alternative of using inkjet OHP film. But the results might be better. As you might have guessed, it's a digital output.

  4. #4
    RalphLambrecht's Avatar
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    I use them to make digital negatives:

    http://www.darkroomagic.com/DarkroomMagic/Hybrid.html
    Regards

    Ralph W. Lambrecht
    www.darkroomagic.comrorrlambrec@ymail.com[/URL]
    www.waybeyondmonochrome.com

  5. #5
    jp498's Avatar
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    I had brief experience with image setters in the 90's at a magazine and a college newspaper. It was basically used as final output from the desktop publishing software (such as pagemaker) onto film that had to be developed. The output quality was very high compared to a normal 300 laser printer and made better resulting text compared to printing with laser on paper and photographing it with the process camera to get the same film for making plates for the press. The magazine editor liked looking at it's output as it was real close to the final product, especially to inspect my text kerning. Every printer had it's own fonts, so different printers = different results. It was also much more expensive and slower than laser printing, so I didn't get allowed to use it much. We didn't have good scanners at the time and didn't have digital cameras so the photography was mostly done separately from the imagesetter. Eventually the college paper got a 1800dpi laser and with some minor gamma adjustment to make up for dot gain, was able to print text and B&W photos (screened for newsprint) right from the layout software and was "camera ready". This is when the imagesetter sorta stopped being maintained.

    I think it'd be kinda fun to have one if maintenance/upkeep were cheap enough. Most of them are probably already in landfills.

  6. #6

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    We used one in the catalog production company where I once worked. It and the accompanying developer unit ended up in a landfill when the big printing companies went from burning printing plates from page negatives to direct-to-plate digital technology. They cost many tens of thousands of dollars new and had zero value in the end. Unless you have the software to run it and a knack for calibrating and maintaining complex electro-mechanical devices, I'd steer clear. These were production machines and unless they are running frequently if not constantly, they are a big headache.

    There also were imagesetters designed to output high-quality digital enlargements to camera film. A few shops around the country may still run these, but they are old machines, old technology, expensive to run and maintain, and increasingly rare. I personally think these were a great concept. Perfect a negative digitally and have the file output to contact print or enlarge traditionally.

    Peter Gomena

  7. #7
    Hexavalent's Avatar
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    An imagesetter is indeed very much like a beefed-up laser printer, but they are certainly not on the same playing field.
    In full colour offset lithography, absolute positioning of dots, and absolute repeatability are critical - output must be exact. In addition to accuracy and repeatability, the shape and sharpness of an imaged dot has to be very precise: overlap or gaps is not tolerable. Do all of this at 3000 dpi, and you can imaging the level of engineering required to pull this off, and the considerable maintenance to keep it all working.

    The innards of a classic Linotronic drum imagesetter are gorgeous: chilled air-bearings for the laser feed screw, automatic registration punching, precision film feed, tensioning and vacuum system, etc., etc., I was responsible for the care and feeding of several of these beasts in my pre-press days; fond memories
    - Ian

  8. #8
    Bill Burk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hexavalent View Post
    I was responsible for the care and feeding of several of these beasts in my pre-press days; fond memories
    Me too. Nothing like the pressure of a 300 employee plant breathing down your neck because they have nothing to do while you have the covers off. Meanwhile your head is deep in the laser path, you're cleaning lenses with cotton swabs and hoping when you get it all back together you haven't left something out.

    As Ralph pointed out, if the device has high enough native resolution, you can output high-quality halftone dot negatives. So this device which might have zero commercial value, might have value in a hybrid photographic darkroom. That's off topic here.

    I learned much about process controls and densitometry in those days, which I put to practical use in my analog darkroom these days.

  9. #9
    Hexavalent's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Burk View Post
    Me too. Nothing like the pressure of a 300 employee plant breathing down your neck because they have nothing to do while you have the covers off. Meanwhile ...
    Ohmy Yes! I know that scenario: nothing like a inked 8 colour press waiting for a plate ... or discovering a moiré only after the second pass of a work and turn - OUCH!
    - Ian

  10. #10
    Mainecoonmaniac's Avatar
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    So I'm wondering of image setters are not antiquated due to direct to plate presses? There are also printing presses that have a process similar to Xerox that use special inks instead of toner.

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