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CTS imaging screen printing

Computer-to-Screen Systems: The Digital Alternative

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. 

For more information, visit: http://www.spsi.biz/

This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Printwear magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!

Over the last few years, computer-to-screen (CTS) technologies have continued to advance. There are a number of benefits to using CTS systems, almost all aimed at increasing productivity and quality in your shop while minimizing costs. Let’s explore 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. To determine the validity of this concern, 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 is to ensure proper separations as well as sending the separated files to the screen room. The screen room technician will place the coated screen onto the CTS, set 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 then ready.

Storing positives and regularly reprinting films 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.That’s if the customer reorders the same design without revision. With CTS, all that is required is hard drive storage space.
Storing positives and regularly reprinting films 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.That’s if the customer reorders the same design without revision. With CTS, all that is required is hard drive storage space. (L: Image courtesy M&R Companies; R: Image courtesy Lawson Screen & Digital Products)

Quality improvements

Direct exposure of the screen, without light-scattering interference from exposure unit glass or film positives, has a few benefits in and of itself. However, many customers have also found they can hold finer halftone dots and seen less undercutting caused by longer exposures.

CTS units additionally have specially-formulated inks to ensure the best opacity and quick drying of screens. Because you have a better exposure and more opaque ink, you can expose your screen properly without worrying about negative side effects. This means that you will end up with a more durable screen that isn’t weakened during cleaning or when performing a color change.


CTS units have specially-formulated inks to ensure the best opacity and quick drying of inks. (Image courtesy Lawson Screen & Digital Products)

Increased productivity and decreased costs

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, you are also going to get a continued labor cost savings.

In general, the more people who “touch” a process, the longer it takes to complete and the chance for mistakes increase. Each touch can be a point of failure. With CTS, you are limiting touches to three (art room, printer, washout).

What’s more, you no longer need to worry about registering 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. Because you are printing directly onto the screen, you will have some advantages. First, you won’t have to utilize a vacuum and 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.


The faster nature of CTS equipment translates to a faster ROI. (Image courtesy Exile Technologies)

Since the images are always placed properly on your screen, setup times will be minimized. Using your 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 two to four minutes per screen.

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 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.

CTS systems fulfill the trifecta that all shops are looking for: improved quality, maximized efficiency, and decreased cost. 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.