The Asian printscape, known the world over for its decades-old offset printing expertise, witnessed a transformational shift last Friday when major educational/lightweight book manufacturer CTPS unveiled its HP T300 inkjet web press. At an open house organized by HP—in conjunction with its Now Go Digital seminar— more than 200 people from the region’s media and industry supply chain had their first look at the new technology in Dongguan, southern China.

For CEO Peter Tse of CTPS, the fully automatic T300 with Sigma binding line “is just the right investment at the right time despite the dour economy, relentless price-driven print manufacturing industry and frenzy for e-books. It shows book printers and publishers in Asia that there is an alternative way to produce books. For sure, we rock the boat because many of our industry counterparts do not think that inkjet digital printing is ready to supply mainstream just yet. However, given the adaptability and fast adoption pace in Hong Kong and China, I’m sure we would not be the only printer with a T300 for long. In the meantime, the inkjet press is inspiring all of us at CTPS to rethink our business model and services in order to capitalize on its production capabilities.”

Over the next 12 months, TSE will add a T400—HP’s latest press that was launched barely a month ago—complete with multiple binding options. He has already installed an HP Indigo 7500 sheet-fed for high-value applications including producing covers for T300-printed books. The sheet-fed press is capable of delivering 3.5 million color pages per month while the T300 is scalable up to 30 inches in web width, and prints 400 feet per minute.

Meanwhile, visiting clients and asking them to look at inkjet technology differently is the top priority for global business director John Currie of CTPS. “They must not compare it to offset lithography or heat-set web offset—though the T300 produces near-offset quality. Explaining the parameters and benefits of digital printing and inkjet is crucial to its adoption.” He adds that the investment has caught many clients by surprise simply because early indications of such investment and the actual installation were completed in a matter of months. “Overall, the response from the publishing industry has been positive. This four-color installation addresses their needs for short runs and faster turnaround time—both of which are currently not offered within the region.”

The T300 provides CTPS with “a good opportunity to expand our portfolio from a full-fledged export printer to one with regional capabilities,” says Tse, who is looking into re-branding the company to reflect its new digital printing services.

Explains Currie, “We are looking at the migration of existing portfolio into digital printing to support multinational publishers’ demand for restocking and short runs. Then there is the expansion of services to include distribution anywhere in China and Asia Pacific. These are in line with the current direction taken by the publishing industry.”

The CTPS installation is a landmark event for HP. With growth recorded at 48% per annum in Asia Pacific, and 59% in China, HP is focused on this region. As it is, China now has the largest number of Indigo digital presses outside of the U.S., with most of these installations used for the packaging and labeling industry. But the book printing business is one that HP aims to penetrate. With only 1% of the publishing industry using digital printing technology—and most of these publishers manufacturing their projects in Hong Kong/China—getting major export printers such as CTPS to install its inkjet presses is par for the course.

The technology, however, does not come cheap. The T300 that has a price tag of approximately $3.5 million. But with the publishing industry moving towards shorter runs, fast reprints, more titles and minimal inventory, the color inkjet web press strikes the perfect balance between pressing needs and acceptable quality.

As it is, two Australian printers—PMP Limited and PrintEx—will be installing their T300 and T350 presses respectively in the next couple of months while another company, Singapore-based Markono Print Media, has recently purchased a HP Indigo W7200 digital press. Adoption speed is set to pick up in the near future. Meanwhile, HP is enjoying its leading position in the Asia Pacific digital printing segment, cornering 72% of the market share.

More coverage on CTPS and HP’s digital press will be available in the Printing in Hong Kong 2011 special supplement scheduled for August 8.