20 years of Sonora technology

The Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

It’s been twenty years since the introduction of Kodak’s Sonora plate technology. Two decades during which time the printing industry has undergone massive upheavals. 2004 saw the start of considerable consolidation amongst makers of printing plates, consolidation which continued for many years. Who now remembers Ipagsa or Southern Litho? In 2004 the two companies announced a cooperation that was expected to lead to the development of a processless or process free plate. But Kodak was already there with Sonora, at least in terms of the technology.

Kodak claims to be the world’s “first and longest-running manufacturer and supplier of true process free printing plates in the world”. Looking back in time the picture is murky with many companies striving to go beyond the processless film imaging technologies Xerox and Polaroid were developing. The holy grail was a plate technology that could be imaged directly, without needing the interim film stage. Over the last two decades many players in this field have fallen by the wayside to leave only Agfa, Fujifilm and Kodak as viable developers and providers of process free plates. All three manufacturers have continued in their efforts to drive improvements in their technologies, and in so doing have made a huge contribution to the improved environmental sustainability of our industry.

In Kodak’s case, continued extensive investment in materials research and plate coatings development continued since 2004, despite the distractions of steering the business towards survival. In 2005 Kodak launched the Kodak Thermal Direct plate and it was this technology that became Sonora. Kodak’s Sonora XP was formally introduced as a product at drupa in 2012. This was during Kodak’s dark Chapter 11 days but all these years on, it was clearly a risk worth taking. Over the last twenty years the technology, has been massively improved and refined. Today there are over 6000 printing companies using Sonora XP for sheetfed and offset plate production. Making the switch from wet processed to process free plates is a no-brainer: faster imaging, stronger image contrast, support for linescreens of 1 to 99% at up to 200 lpi, support for 20µ stochastic screening (for commercial applications), improved handling robustness and competitive run lengths (up to 250,000 on a sheetfed press and up to 100,000 for UV applications).

The sustainability of process free (Kodak), processless (Fujifilm) and chemistry free (Agfa) plates is also a no-brainer. They are consistent so there are fewer errors making their way to press. This means less waste and faster job turnarounds. They also involve fewer chemicals, so they are more convenient to work with. In Kodak’s case the plates are made in regional hubs which reduces the emissions associated with transporting the plates to customers. Direct to plate is good, but doing away with chemical processing is even better.


This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa GraphicsEFIFespaFujifilmHPKodakMiraclonRicohSplash PRUnity Publishing and Xeikon.

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