“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority,” Mark Twain once said, “it is time to pause and reflect.” For some Hong Kong print manufacturers, it is also time to react. In fact, in the past 12 months, two bold actions have altered the industry landscape.
One occurred at Drupa 2012, when CTPS signed on to purchase three new HP presses (T410 color inkjet web press, Indigo 10000 and Indigo W7250) in addition to the T300 and W7250 already installed. The other was the improbable (but thoroughly logical) merger between 1010 Printing and Asia Pacific Offset early this year.
The first event symbolizes the full-blown adoption of digital printing in a field populated (and popularized) by offset printing; the other signals the beginning of a new type of printing enterprise, that of integrated print management firms, where the line between printing and print brokering blurs.
There are other shifts—subtler but no less important. The extension of print into digital offerings, for instance, acknowledges the ubiquity of user interactivity, e-books and mobile apps in our daily lives. Printed content is now digitized, flat text given interactivity, and illustrations made 3D. Leo Paper’s FamLoop platform, Hung Hing’s BelugaBloo services and C&C Offset’s cross-media solutions exemplify this careful mixture of manufacturing expertise with newly honed digital publishing skills. Even soft-toy manufacturer Animal Magic is getting into the act through its collaboration with a California-based interactive media company. (Yes, you can definitely teach old dogs new tricks.)
Diversifying the portfolio by applying proven techniques onto more lucrative board-and-paper products is another move. The new luxury packaging divisions within Hung Hing and Leo Paper—branded as HH Deluxe and Leo Luxe, respectively—prove this point. Ultimately, what works well for luxury packaging can be re-applied to book printing, especially on limited edition boxed sets and deluxe packs.
While these first movers will reap the advantages, they and their counterparts still face the same challenges as before. During PW’s annual visit to these companies, the conversation sounds like a broken record whenever the talk turns to the economy and the industry: sluggish, tough, U.S. is better but Europe is down, more work to achieve the same volume, etc. Few want to comment on the rising cost, razor-thin margin, shorter run or compressed manufacturing lead time. These are after all industry realities whether one likes it or not, and the priority lies in dealing with them internally while working aggressively to expand sales and markets.
There is cause for celebration, though. American publishers are back with new projects and more orders, and business is nowhere near as bleak as it was three or four years ago. Stability has allowed these print suppliers to focus on extending another mile of service and offering wide-ranging solutions instead of simply replicating print. The focus now is finding products for their customers, and not vice versa (as advised by marketing guru Seth Godin), and writing a new chapter for their company.
The following review—not exhaustive or rubber-stamped with our approval or endorsement—highlights ten export printers and the unique projects that they deliver to clients. Use it as your starting point in your search for the best suppliers whose expertise, organizational set-up and offers fit your criteria.
1010 Printing/Asia Pacific Offset Ltd (APOL)
The merger with APOL in January this year has turned the 1010 Printing Group from a pure printer to an integrated print management firm with in-house printing capabilities. “This merger has not only brought business diversification but also a combined budget, allowing the group to enjoy greater economy of scale,” says executive chairman Peter Yang, adding that 1010 has all along applied strategic sourcing of paper, one of its most critical cost components. “Although it has only been about six months since the merger, we have already seen the savings from our increased purchasing power. We are confident that this will allow us to maintain our competitive edge. The next step for the group is to continue to expand through mergers and acquisitions so as to strengthen our position as a print management leader.”
The merger has gone smoothly, adds APOL president Andrew Clarke from his San Francisco office, whose operation will run independently while drawing on the combined resources of the group. “Both 1010 and APOL are lean and flexible companies and are able to adapt quickly. And 1010 has a state-of-the-art ERP system—now implemented at APOL—that provides comprehensive reporting to all divisions across the group. Purchasing paper and coordinating logistics as a group will certainly help our competitiveness. Our customers have responded positively to the merger. APOL has been around for 16 years providing service-intensive print management. Now with the financial resources of a listed company, we will be around for many years to come.”
Prior to the merger, in September 2011, Yang and his team acquired Ocean Graphics Printing, and “the acquisition has increased the group’s sales by more than 10%, while our 800,000-sq-ft Yuanzhou plant has achieved over 97% machine utilization throughout 2012. Ocean Graphics has certainly contributed to this impressive result.”
Executive director C.K. Lau likens 1010’s printing capabilities to McDonald’s: a clean environment, reliable and standardized quality, fast turnaround time and inexpensive price. “When publishers look for printers for their conventional hardback, paperback and wire-o books, 1010 should come to mind.” On the other hand, the commoditization of printing, Lau adds, “requires service differentiation in order to compete in the market. We define ourselves as a service provider rather than a manufacturer, and we have focused on supply chain management from the very beginning while automating production processes in order to control headcount. Although we have been in this industry for decades, we do not rely solely on printing knowledge. We analyze figures and data to make responsive decisions to market trends. This approach has made us the oddball of the industry.”
A consequence of commoditization is that conventional print manufacturers are gradually being eliminated. “The printing business in the Pearl River Delta is undergoing restructuring. Many printers are not willing to continue their business. Some have failed because of the thin margins. Meanwhile, the region’s property market booms. Many printers who own the land where their factories are located would rather sell their land than continue their operation,” says Lau.
Yang notes that it has become a trend to relocate conventional projects back to the U.S. “This is particularly true for jobs with short lead time and print runs below 500 copies,” he says, pointing out that “as long as freight charges stay within 10% of total cost, the price gap between printing onshore in the U.S. and offshore in China should remain at 15%. This, coupled with the excellent quality produced by Chinese book printers, should ensure a steady flow of business to the 1010/APOL Group.”
Design capability is central to soft toy manufacturer Animal Magic, a company founded by chairman and CEO Piers Morgan about 25 years ago. “We have built a solid reputation for the design interpretation of characters and concepts, turning them from 2D client artwork into 3D soft toys. This has been in no small part due to the expertise and skill of Megan Han, one of the old-school Korean soft toy designers, who joined Animal Magic in 2000 and retired last year after training and establishing our design team.” The design studio, which includes costing and engineering divisions, has around 80 people and averaged 3,000 new designs in each of the last four years.
At the China factory, established 14 years ago, Morgan mixes new technologies with old methods. “Modern multiheaded embroidery machines used in conjunction with laser cutters—of which we have four units—are among the latest additions. When I started in this industry in 1989, labor was very cheap and plentiful, and factories in China scissor-cut their materials. By the mid-1990s, die- and heat-cutting replaced scissors, and some applications employed electric knives. Today, there are even more modern applications to reduce cost and increase productivity. Although some aspects of toy manufacturing can be modernized and automated, at the end of the day we still need people to sew the skin together, turn, stuff, close, finish, pack and ship it out.”
A major challenge, says Morgan, “is the ever-increasing amount and cost of safety testing and record-keeping requirements, which—coupled with rising labor costs—will soon render short-run production unaffordable. In the last five years, the average cost of safety testing has risen from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars per toy. This effectively means that only retail outlets capable of handling large volumes will be able to absorb these escalating costs.” These financial pressures, together with the growth in touch-screen interactive devices, he adds, have inevitably led to the development of “digital play,” even for preschoolers and infants, and children’s play is moving from touch-and-feel to virtual reality.
“Our core expertise is in cutting and sewing and all things textile. Will we still have soft toys ten years from now? I believe so, but such toys may well be expected to interact and add play value to digital devices.” This vision has seen Morgan working with California-based Fat Red Couch Interactive Media Publishers (see the online article “Linking Apps to Durable Products”) on toy-related interactivity with digital devices. “Market sensitivity prevents me from elaborating on this, but it is fair to say that Animal Magic is investing in the new digital age, and I expect an increasing percentage of our longer term manufacturing to grow out of this association with Fat Red Couch.”
C&C Offset Printing
Providing solutions instead of just print manufacturing services is the way forward for C&C. “We are more than just a printer, as we have not restricted ourselves to be a replicator,” says assistant general manager Kit Wong, adding that print replication services have been commoditized over the years, especially when there is an imbalance in demand and supply. “Take our cross-media business unit, for instance. It is established to provide integrated services and business solutions for clients who want their content to be delivered on different media. Our augmented reality solutions, for one, are widely adopted for publicity and promotional projects, while our digital asset management [DAM] system helps clients to better manage their content in archiving, searching and repurposing.”
In addition, the cross-media unit handles e-book conversion, e-commerce, iOS and Android content delivery, audiobooks and video-in-print (VIP). “We also build Web-to-print platforms for many clients to streamline their order processing when they print with us. Overall, we expect this unit to be our future growth engine.”
The company also has a dozen in-house designers working on ideation and conceptualization for clients. “This unit has been instrumental in creating our own stationery line, which focuses on niche markets and nonpaper items. It is set up to fully utilize our product knowledge and printing expertise rather than to use up idle capacity. We now have products targeted at teenagers, and another line of high-end items for business executives. Nearly 2,000 items have been designed and developed.”
Over in Shanghai, its packaging business is expanding with investment in two new 6-color KBA presses. “One of the presses is capable of UV printing, enabling printing on metallic, PVC, PET and many other non-absorbent stocks, and these presses are supported by state-of-the-art equipment and workflow, such as Bobst die-cutting and box-gluing machines and Esko-Graphics prepress workflow. This line-up enables more eye-catching printing effects, such as dripping varnish and white ink printing, and value addition to our clients’ products. Fifty Shades of Grey: Inner Goddess—A Journal, for instance, has UV inks printed on bonded leather on the new press,” says Wong, explaining that “kick-starting C&C’s packaging business in Shanghai makes perfect sense, as it is China’s business hub with the strongest market growth.”
More integrated and competitive printing services are the future, and “these can be achieved through eliminating waste in the supply chain and further automating our processes. At the same time, our DAM solutions are set for beta-testing at several Hong Kong publishing houses before they are offered to overseas clients. We will also expand our representation in the Scandinavian and southern European markets by adding new offices and extra resources,” adds Wong.
The new high-tech production floor defies the skepticism shown by (most) industry counterparts about digital printing. Two inkjet web presses—HP T300 and HP T410, both first installations in Asia Pacific—are up and running, and more digital presses are due to come in. An HP Indigo 10000, for instance, installed in May to coincide with the Print China exhibition, will go live this month to cater for covers beyond A4 size. “We now offer a complete Indigo line, from web printing to inline finishing, that includes a W7250 to support print on-demand and short-run high-end STM books,” says global business director John Currie, adding that the T410 press caters to larger trim sizes while providing flexibility with its offline book finishing capabilities (whereas the T300’s inline Muller Martini Sigma finishing system is restricted to perfect-bound books). “Our newly installed Hunkeler Horizon offline binding system further broadens the finishing range to wire-stitched booklets and section-sewn high page-count titles.”
While much has been said and debated about inkjet print quality, Currie says that “such issues have been resolved by the new HP A50 pigment inks and A51 printheads, as well as the broader selection of optimized papers in the market. Sappi, StoraEnso and New Page, for instance, have added inkjet grades for book printing. However, the comparatively lower cost of offset manufacturing in this region has slowed down the adoption of digital printing, which is a pity since digital inkjet technology brings so much to the table with its short-run and rapid stock replenishment capabilities, which will reduce warehouse inventory and free up capital.”
CTPS’s Digiprints division currently has the largest and most diverse inkjet and Indigo capacity in China. “Integration with customers’ software systems will be an integral part of our services in supporting print on-demand. There is also an opportunity to be a third-party fulfillment services provider, which will set CTPS apart as a pure PSP [print service provider],” adds Currie.
As for its lightweight printing division, two Heidelberg presses—XL105 and XL106—have been installed to focus on short runs between 500 and 1,000 copies. “These new hybrids provide higher production efficiencies and lower wastage while supporting the demand for short-run orders from the higher-ed and STM segments,” says CEO Peter Tse, who has brought in consultants to look at the company’s MIS and ERP systems. “We want to be a world-class company with best practices. Our past focus has been on lean manufacturing. But now, with the new presses and technology, our work processes need to be aligned with the advanced workflow. Having a JDF/PDF standard, which is applicable to both our offset and digital systems, for instance, will enable us to achieve greater cost savings and higher efficiencies while removing redundancies.”
Revisiting print broker Jade Productions at its Quarry Bay office after a 12-year break, PW gets a rundown of what has changed. “We now have 11 staff in Hong Kong and one Shenzhen-based sourcing specialist. James Binnie, our company founder, serves as the chairman and is mostly based in the U.K. We also have a sales representative, William Graham, in South Carolina,” says managing director Ken Kong, who has been with the company since 1990. “Throughout the years, Jade Productions has remained a small but efficient firm focused on doing the best we can to help clients from different parts of the world.”
About half of Jade’s current sales come from the U.S., with the U.K. and Australia making up most of the rest. “Many of our clients outside the U.S. participate in co-edition arrangements with American publishers and distributors, and in general we are seeing more traditional stationery items such as diaries. Handwork projects naturally command better margins, but the competition is more intense. Frequent reprints are now commonplace,” adds Kong, pointing out that many children’s book publishers are developing more book-plus projects as a way of countering the popularity of digital media. “The doom-and-gloom prediction is par for the course in any given sector, but Jade can assist publishers to avoid, or at least soften, the impact.”
Nearly 30% of Jade’s business is taken up by novelty projects, with conventional books accounting for the rest. Ten years ago, the reverse was true. “Clients were more confident in doing larger quantities then, since it meant a lower unit cost. Budgets were less tight. Today, print runs are much lower, development and manufacturing time are compressed, and commitment often comes at the very last minute. We have to become adept at handling smaller quantities much more quickly and efficiently,” says Kong.
According to Binnie, it is now rare to find a printer that does not have direct contact with overseas customers. “Print brokering firms do not have a fair deal, as some printers think that having a middleman would hurt the margin. That is definitely not true in most cases. A responsible and responsive broker makes life easier for both printer and publisher, and as such print brokers are very much an essential part of the industry. To me, Jade has always been more of a consultancy firm than a broker.”
The popularity of e-books plays a big role in reducing the volume of business, adds Binnie. “While we firmly believe that print books will not die, publishers will continue to be conservative in their print orders, which makes costing more challenging, until the market share between digital and traditional books become clearer.”
A brand-new division, HH Deluxe, which caters to publishers looking for rigid and folding carton box solutions for boxed book sets or packaged novelty book products, seems tailor-made for Hung Hing Group’s packaging business. “Our European sales network, established through an alliance with Toly International, together with our own U.K. office has in-house creative teams to recommend innovative packaging solutions. Our U.K. team, for instance, offers 3D conceptualization and box sampling, while final dummy making and color proofing are done through our China factory,” says senior international sales manager Christopher Yum, whose team has participated in major luxury packaging trade shows in the U.S., U.K.. and Continental Europe. “Packaging ideas and solutions for luxury products, branded goods and cosmetics are applicable to book products. It is a matter of choosing what works best.”
With Rengo Japan joining as one of the group’s shareholders, there are also new opportunities to serve the Japanese paper market by tapping on Rengo’s established reputation in point-of-purchase (POP) print and display accessories. Japanese designs have gone beyond traditional construction concepts, explains executive chairman Matthew Yum. “Their innovative in-store displays often incorporate pop-ups and other out-of-the-box novelty items such as a child-size pirate boat constructed of paper. In the past, these projects were impossible due to cost constraints. The HH-Rengo partnership has opened up the Japanese display advertising market for us.”
Its BelugaBloo platform, meanwhile, offers existing and new clients the capability to produce both physical books and mobile apps targeting the children’s market. “Creating greater awareness among publishers in this segment through coordinated marketing initiatives and cross-selling activities would hopefully drive the demand for both formats,” says product development manager Nicholas Yum. The BelugaBloo app is preloaded on the Kurio tablet (for children up to age 10 years), which has sold about a million units. “Our team is constantly exploring ideas and innovations to enhance our publishing clients’ paper products. One way is to incorporate digital experience where appropriate.”
Given the many activities going on at Hung Hing, the question of operational expansion comes up. “There will always be argument for and against large-scale production. We serve some of the largest publishing companies in the world, and they require their vendors to have sufficient capacity for them so that they in turn can efficiently serve their customers. So, while semi-automation is a solution, not all processes in novelty book manufacturing can be automated,” explains commercial director Richard Lim, pointing out that there is ample room for growth and profitability improvement in the long term as the print industry consolidates itself.
Leo Paper Group
Haptic Magic (from Greek haptikos, or “sense of touch”) is yet another innovation from Leo Paper. “It uses unique printing technology to produce effects such as sound, light and motion to enrich a product while providing interactivity,” says managing director Kelly Fok. “It can be easily integrated into a wide variety of products, giving designers the flexibility to add value to their creations. Haptic Magic makes reading and learning a much more enjoyable experience, but the end product is still a print book, which is what children’s publishers want. We can tailor Haptic Magic to fit client requirements, and provide suggestions, application ideas and solutions for product development.” A patent is in the works to protect Leo Paper’s and its clients’ interests.
Also new is FamLoop’s Agent Magic app from MotherApp, an associate company of Leo Paper that offers digital publishing solutions for children’s books. Agent Magic, a reading buddy in the form of a cute mouse, partners with kids to investigate a story. Designed based on dialogic reading—an early literacy storytelling approach—this app records kids’ responses, and a built-in sharing feature enables recordings to be shared via email, Facebook and the family network Famloop Family Connect. Coming up next is Oz Tales, an interactive story-game app that enhances storytelling and learning through game playing. FamLoop’s partners include the British Council, IMP (International Masters Publishers) and Egmont.
On the luxury packaging side, the Leo Luxe brand has participated in Packaging Innovations, EMPACK and Luxe Pack Monaco, where special finishing and value-added printing techniques such as those incorporating sound and lighting were demonstrated. “Our specially designed booth displaying numerous in-house design samples attracted many visitors,” says general manager Alvin Lai, explaining that his team uses Esko-Graphics to create 3D images based on clients’ concepts, which enable clients to view them from different angles. “This custom service reduces sampling time, proofing cost and courier charges while fast-tracking the product to the market.”
Value creation is the key to achieving mutual and sustainable partnership growth, explains Lai. “Our innovative Leo Touch series of secondary processes, for instance, was launched 10 years ago to inspire product innovation and add value and uniqueness to differentiate clients’ products in the marketplace. Today, based on the need for interactive learning and family bonding, we offer Haptic Magic and FamLoop to help clients differentiate their print and e-book businesses.”
But it is not all business at Leo Paper, the first and only printer to be awarded eco-factory status by Marks & Spencer. “We strive to minimize carbon emissions and save energy to become a zero-waste factory,” says Fok, whose management team was recognized by the Chinese government as one of 13 national role models of anti-corruption governance enterprises in Guangdong Province.
The art book Born Wild by contemporary sculpture artist Richard Orlinski (see sidebar) seems to be the type of book that will appear more often on Magnum’s production floor these days, says business development manager Anita Lam. “We are talking about print products that push the production limit—combining different types of finishing, paper and color—and are difficult to bind due to their weight and size.”
This trend, however, is welcomed by Lam, who is “seeing more clients willing to spend more on the digital platform than conventional printing. Anything digital is fashionable nowadays and therefore desirable. So it is getting tougher to find clients who are interested to explore challenging print projects and have a healthy budget to do that. Art books are one of the rare segments left where we can find such clients. Actually, this is not surprising, since designers and artists are much more particular about the texture of paper and the physical value of a print product.”
However, finding design firms or designers who have the budget to try new things, adds Lam, is just one part of the equation. “Finding clients who are able to pay on time, or able to pay at all, is the other. We are realistic about our business: while we want to be challenged in terms of production expertise, we also need to be paid in order to survive in this business. So when it comes to selecting new clients in this much improved but still fragile economic situation, we are very careful to make sure they are financially reliable, especially when a project has a hefty price tag. Maintaining our present clientele also means having to be very focused on creative problem solving. We have to go the extra mile and be a part of the client’s team by working with them to put the best print products on the shelves.”
And while a printer’s goal may be to achieve high print runs and machines running 24/7 with fully automated production, the present realities, says Lam, tend to be the opposite: high quality medium print runs. “Obviously, the print proposition has changed over the years. It is now low print runs, great service, tight budget control and higher financial risk.”
For the foreseeable future, Lam and her team are staying put at the Wang Chuk Hang facility, even though many industry counterparts have departed Hong Kong Island in search of cheaper rental. “Since we own the current site, we are not anxious to move. At this point in time, our focus is solely on developing new service lines to broaden our portfolio and see where else we can be of service to our clients.”
Rare is a product that boasts so many top prizes from major printing awards, but Hour25: HKU Architecture Papers, Volume 1 (see sidebar, p. 16) manages to do just that. So far, it has won seven awards, including the Benny at the U.S. Premier Print Award, gold at both China and Hong Kong print awards, and silver at the Asia Print Award. “Our team is definitely ecstatic to win the accolades, but the most important and satisfying part is being able to help a group of frustrated Hong Kong University graduates to turn their innovative idea into reality. They went from one printing company to the next, being told by everyone that it was impossible, but they did not give up. When they came to us, we stuck with them despite the seemingly insurmountable production challenges. I think this was as much a learning process for us as it was for these graduates,” says managing director Maurice Kwan, stressing that his team “does not go the extra mile with the intention of winning print awards. We do our best for every client; and if their project goes on to win awards, we treat it as a compliment and an endorsement of our quality and craftsmanship.”
Last year, Kwan and his team relocated from Wang Chuk Hang to Wyler Center in Kwai Chung. “The process took us five months, finishing one project before moving the printing press over to the new factory and quickly setting it up for the next project. Scheduling was a manic effort, as we did not want to miss any deadlines or mess up any printing jobs,” adds Kwan, who is excited about owning the factory space and not having to worry about rental hikes anymore. “This new site, at 34,000 sq. ft., is only one-third of the space we had before. But it is more efficient in terms of layout and workflow, as we no longer have machines and people on five different floors, with someone always waiting for the lift or running up and down the stairs. Operational efficiency is enhanced, and there is substantial savings in terms of energy consumption as well.”
The company’s focus remains the same, says Kwan. “It is to produce quality work, although for short runs. With the coming of the e-age, publishers are seeking a print partner that can help them not only to print but also to add value to their projects. So it is not the largest printer or the cheapest that they are looking for, but one that makes their products unique and outstanding in order to compete with digital products in a saturated market. Regal Printing, with our innovative attitude, expertise and quality, fits this special niche to a T.”
Regent Publishing Services
The book manufacturing business has been steady at Regent after the worst of the financial crisis blew over. “There has been a lot of correction in the manufacturing and publishing marketplace, but those who have survived seem to be healthy,” says California-based national sales director Valerie Harwell, adding that there is enough business out there to maintain a positive outlook for the short and medium term in the industry. “At first, there were no book-plus projects, presumably due to the economic downturn. But now people have come to realize that their products have to be more interactive in order to compete with electronic media. So book-plus is back. In fact, around 40% of our new projects fall in this category.”
As for the consolidation that has been going on among manufacturers and brokers, she points out that “this may be beneficial for companies in Hong Kong and China, but customers may not like it since it reduces their ability to leverage. Vendors that used to be separate companies are now one and the same, with overlapping sales, management and production activities. You may say that independent brokers now have an advantage.”
Regent, which has been around for nearly 30 years, sources for printing, binding, assembly and shipping services from China, and sells primarily to the U.S. market. Harwell, who has been with the company for half of that time, knows very well that “opinion about some aspects of manufacturing in China cannot be swayed, specifically doubts about quality and safety, and concerns over intellectual property infringement or sweatshop operations.” But she believes that a global economy allows American publishing houses to thrive. “It would be difficult for them to compete in the marketplace if they are paying significantly higher prices for book manufacturing than their competitors. So it would be detrimental for U.S. companies to ignore Chinese manufacturing, not vice versa.”
The assurance of quality, which is a major concern with publishers, “depends on the relationship with the manufacturer, not on the country in which it is located,” adds Harwell. “If you have a relationship with a broker, you are a much bigger customer in the manufacturer’s eyes than if you deal direct. A broker’s cumulative order volume and its established partnership with the manufacturer can assure you that any quality issues will be reasonably settled. This is only true if you are working with a reasonable partner, regardless of the country it resides in.”
Hour25: HKU Architecture Papers
E.D. Ward, A Mercurial Bear: Edward Gorey Sticker Kit
Kids can make dozens of outfits for the “mercurial” bear with more than 50 vinyl stickers and use the double-sided 7” x 10” play-area board as a dressing area. “Creating vinyl stickers that are reusable, durable, CPSIA-compliant and cost-effective can be a tricky task. A lot of prototyping and testing went into this project,” says president Andrew Clarke of Asia Pacific Offset, adding that the kit comes in a well-constructed box to keep the eight sheets of stickers in good condition for many years of fun.
‘Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings’
A limited deluxe edition of the newly illustrated epic Persian poem, this 592-page book with 500 illustrations is cased in authentic red leather with debossing and foil stamping effects. It is placed in a black velvet tray that comes with a clamshell box in printed Setalux with red foil stamping. Each deluxe copy has a uniquely signed and numbered tip-in. “This is one of the most beautiful products we have ever done, and it required meticulous attention to detail since there were so many elements involved,” says president Andrew Clarke of Asia Pacific Offset.
In September 2001, after many of the then leading soft toy manufacturers failed to come up with an acceptable design for the mass manufacture of a knitted soft toy of a TV hand puppet character Monkey, Mother and Henson called on Animal Magic. The toy, developed by Animal Magic originally for a TV advertising concept devised by Mother and filmed by Jim Henson (U.K.) for ITV Digital in 2001, was later manufactured in record numbers for Unilever after Mother successfully conceived the cross-over from the promotion of a TV brand to that of Britain’s favorite tea brand. “Monkey is one of a very few advertising characters that have eclipsed the original product and move on to advertise a completely different product. Since then, we have produced over ten million Monkey toys in different guises.”
Star Wars Super Deformed Plush (SDPs)
It all started in 2003 when Hank Rose and Alan Gordon, owners and partners of Comic Images, wanted to create a plush version of bobbleheads. “We struggled with it and found that a stuffed toy is just too light for bobblehead figures,” recalls Piers Morgan of Animal Magic, whose team went on to create soft toys with oversized heads. “Alan declared them to be ‘super deformed plush’ when he saw our original samples, and he showed our designs of Yoda, Darth Vader and Chewbacca to George Lucas. Lucas loved them, and so a new soft toy genre was born.” The Star Wars SDPs have not been out of production since their introduction to the market.
‘Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell’
Co-authored by Brian May (of the rock band Queen), Denis Pellerin, and Paula Fleming, this project comprises a 280-page casebound book and a high-quality patent OWL stereoscopic viewer (which is designed by May) in a delicate sleeve and packed into a rigid slipcase with 3D lenticular printing on the front panel. “Different suppliers worked on different components of this project. The casebound book, for instance, was manufactured in Italy, as the authors wanted to personally press-check the pages but did not wish to travel to Asia to do it. So we had to make sure the components fit together in the slipcase and sleeve that we handled,” says managing director Ken Kong of Jade Productions.
Featuring the latest pieces by French contemporary sculptor Richard Orlinski, this 40x40 cm. hardcover book comes with 246 pages and weighs nearly 6 kg. One particular eight-page section contains three parts—head, body and legs—that readers can flip and combine. Ensuring that the spine and binding are strong enough to hold the different parts is a challenge due to the book’s size and weight. “Another section, a heavy six-page gatefold, has laser die-cut lines along the fold lines, which
caused some anxiety about the pages tearing due to the weight. In total, this project took us four months to develop with barely one month left to produce 800 copies. We spent two months creating several actual size mock-ups to try and improve the overall book structure without affecting the client’s vision for the book,” says business development manager Anita Lam of Magnum Offset, adding that the book is “the culmination of different techniques and finishing options, including laser die-cut, double gatefolds, printing on substrates, spot varnishing and labor-intensive mechanics.”
‘Hong Kong Science Park’
This book comes with a 4.8-in. TV screen embedded in the inside front cover that plays a 15-minute video introducing readers to the Hong Kong Science Park. “The TV is rechargeable via a USB cable, allowing the video to keep playing without the battery going flat. This unique project won the Award of Recognition at the 2012 Premier Print Awards competition,” says managing director Maurice Kwan of Regal Printing, noting that the challenge lay in sourcing components that fit the budget and yet had the best screen and sound performance with a memory size that suited a 15-minute video.