Me & my: Cron TP3632G+

Switching to processless plates has not only saved time and money for Isle of Wight printer Crossprint, but it keeps the pre-press operators happier too. They don’t have to wash the gunk out of chemical processors any more.

Murray: “The colour is more vivid and there is greater fine detail”
Murray: “The colour is more vivid and there is greater fine detail”

A combination of a Cron 36 G+ B2 thermal imager and Kodak’s Sonora plates keeps the platemaking process quick and clean, with plates being activated on the press in the first few revolutions. Previously Crossprint used an ageing Fujifilm system with chemical processing.

Crossprint is a long-established printer on the island, based on the outskirts of Newport, the biggest town. It was set up in 1974 by Peter Cross, hence the name. For many years it was owned by the Isle of Wight County Press, which was acquired by Newsquest in 2017. Crossprint was part of the acquisition.

It has never been a newspaper printer, however, and today it handles both promotional print for Newsquest plus a range of general commercial work, magazines and brochures, as well as packaging and labels. It offers personalised digital printing capabilities and self-publishing book services as well as design and marketing support.

Stuart Murray has been running the company as operations manager for the past 18 months. He’s been in print since leaving school to start as an apprentice in the print department of British Hovercraft Corporation in East Cowes. This company built the giant SR.N-4 hovercraft that ran the cross-channel car ferries routes from 1968 to 2000. He later joined Crossprint as a production assistant, then left, but was subsequently invited back to be production manager.

Customers are split about 60:40 between the island and further afield in south-east England. Mainland deliveries have to go via the car ferries, but this isn’t a big issue, Murray says. “We use a good company that collects the pallets. They also deliver all our paper too, so they’re coming over anyway.”

The main production equipment includes a five-colour B2 Ryobi 755 litho press, a Ricoh Pro C751 digital press and finishing kit includes an MBO K70, a Horizon perfect binder and a Muller Martini saddle-stitcher. The MBO was installed in March, a month after the Cron, with a joint investment of about £150,000.

Eco-friendliness is important to the company, he says, which was a factor in going processless. The litho press has been alcohol-free for five or six years and also runs vegetable oil-based inks. There’s also an array of solar panels on the factory roof. “They supply almost all our needs, and actually the electricity is fed back into the grid and we get offsets on the bills.”

What’s a Cron?

Cron platesetters are made in China and were originally launched into the UK by Apex Digital Graphics in 2015. When Apex’s owners retired and closed the business at the end of 2018, Service Offset Supplies (SOS) took on the Cron distributorship. Apex had previously supplied Crossprint’s Ryobi press – this distributorship has gone to M Partners.

Cron (the full name is Hangzhou Cron Machinery & Electronics Co) claims to be China’s largest platesetter manufacturer and has sold more than 6,000 units worldwide. It develops and manufactures all components in-house, except lasers.

It offers litho platesetters with thermal or UV lasers in sizes from B3 to VLF, plus a range of flexo platesetters. They all have a frictionless magnetic laser carriage for accuracy and reliability, requiring no maintenance. The autoloader can have up to three trays, but if configured for one tray and one size its capacity is 500 plates.

Why did they choose it?

“We wanted to go processless and get rid of chemicals,” says Murray. “We’d done a lot of business with Apex in the past and they suggested the Cron. We were aware that the early Cron machines from a decade or so ago had issues, so we contacted people who had installed the latest models and checked other sources such as online forums. The feedback was all positive. Once we were satisfied about the quality, we factored in the price, and the cost saving is substantial compared with the alternatives. It had the right footprint and fitted the same area as the Fuji, less the tanks.”

The Kodak Sonora plates were recommended by SOS, which supplies them, he says. RealPro workflow software was also supplied by SOS. This outputs TIFFs to a Cron LaBoo RIP on the platesetter. “It has drastically cut RIP time, and it’s very reliable,” Murray says.

Did they look at anything else?

“We looked at another Fujifilm too, but Apex was sure that the Cron would suit our needs, and it did,” says Murray. “The Fujifilm machine cost more, which wasn’t a major factor, but it was a factor.”

How has it been in practice?

“It’s a good unit, doing what we hoped. It has certainly reduced our costs, and also time,” he says. “It’s cut our platemaking times down on a typical job by about three quarters. This is partly because we used to have to feed our old unit manually, now we just put a stack of plates in the autoloader and let it run.

“It’s clean, with no processor, no gum or developer. They are daylight plates. too, so we don’t need a darkroom or yellow lights.”

Having no chemical processor or tanks also helps the operators, Murray adds. “The guy who does the pre-press also does a lot of our digital work. It’s freed up time so he can get a lot more of that work done too. He loves not having to clean out a processor. There are two people who use it really, and it’s freed up time for both. It’s made their life easier, which can only really benefit the company.”

The plates are taken out of the Cron and can go straight onto the press’s autoloader. The non-image coating is loosened by the damper fluid and comes off as the press is run up.

Studio manager Barry Smith says: “Now our plates develop on-press there was a concern it might mean issues for the press operators, but it’s been a very smooth changeover. They may use a little bit more water but there have been no major changes in press chemistry.

“We think we have seen a rise in print quality – the colour is more vivid and there is greater fine detail. We think this is because the press is printing from a first-generation image.”

Any problems?

Not really, but a niggle has emerged with the plates. These are supplied with a protective interleaf sheet, which the autoloader is supposed to remove. When we spoke to Murray an engineer was in trying to solve it.

“It worked at first but recently it sometimes misses them,” he says. “The interleaf sheet is very similar to the colour of the plates and sometimes it can’t tell the difference. It may be that Kodak has changed the sheets recently. It’s a minor niggle, but we have considered trying some sample Fujifilm processless plates to see if it does the same on those. It may be sorted out anyway – the servicing guys are very good. So I wouldn’t call it a major problem.”

Other than that the Cron imager has worked fine and has been serviced by SOS. It’s fitted with remote diagnostics. “It’s still under guarantee but we’ll take out a service contract with SOS afterwards,” says Murray.

Would he buy it again?

“Yes, definitely, it’s been very good for us. I would recommend others to buy it as well. The cost is good, the value of what you get for what you pay is very relevant, and very good.”


Max resolution 2,400dpi

Max plate size 925x675mm

Speed 26 plates/hr

Laser channels 32

Footprint 1,650x980mm

Workflow RealPro with Cron LaBoo RIP and TIFF catcher on the platesetter

Price From £45,000 (basic 36 G+) to £58,000 (full spec), includes two-year warranty and three-year free laser guarantee

Contact SOS 020 8502 4291


Crossprint is a long-established company in Newport, Isle of Wight. It has been owned by Newsquest since 2017. It handles general commercial work from business cards up to brochures, and also magazines, books and packaging, some with personalised printing. It employs 16 people and turnover is in the region of £1m per year.

Its main printing kit is a B2 Ryobi 733 five-colour litho press, and an SRA3 Ricoh Pro C751 digital press. Its Cron 36 G+ platesetter was installed in February 2019 and uses Kodak Sonora processless plates.

Why it was bought...

“We wanted to go processless and get rid of chemicals,” says operations manager Stuart Murray. Having been reassured about the quality of the Cron, the potential cost savings made a compelling argument for Crossprint. The Cron also has the same footprint as the Fuji device it was replacing so the company knew it would fit well into the production setup.

How it has performed...

“The big advantage for RealPro is speed, it has drastically cut our RIP time, and it’s very reliable,” says Murray. Reductions in time and costs also come by eliminating any chemical processing of plates so they go straight onto the press, where the running-up stage removes the plate coating. There are also ecological benefits in eliminating chemistry, which is important to Crossprint. The operators are happy not to have to clean out tanks and this also lets them get on with other work on the digital print side.


© MA Business Limited 2020. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .