This February saw 21 provinces in China hiking their minimum wage, many by double digits. Inland provinces like Henan, Anhui, Sichuan, and Guangxi saw the largest hikes, ranging from 22% to 35%. Manufacturing hub Shenzhen, which had the biggest one-time wage hike of the past 19 years in March 2011 (20%), now has its minimum wage further increased by 14%, to 1,500 yuan (or $240) per month. (So say good-bye to the good old days of cheap Chinese labor.)

In fact, from 2006 to 2010, the average minimum wage in China went up 12.5% per year, and it is set to rise yearly by at least 13% leading up to 2015. The only pause in this upward trend was in 2008, when minimum wages were frozen to help exporters survive the global financial crisis.

The pledge to double the 2010 minimum wage within five years, according to the Chinese government, is made in the name of fairer income distribution and higher living standards—which is good news for the nation’s 1.338 billion people.

Feeling the Pinch

Needless to say, with profits plunging, many Fortune 500 companies now dread looking at their bottom line. Goods exported back to the U.S., for instance, are going to be pricier, raising fears of impending inflation in a fragile economy. Consumers, of course, are not happy. (It is ironic that the same people who decried China’s unfair pricing are now worried about the impact of costlier goods from China.)

For print suppliers, especially those with big facilities and a huge workforce in China, wages are not the only factor at play. Land prices in China have gone up dramatically in recent years, feeding into the booming real estate market. More environmental and safety regulations have been introduced and enforced. Today, suppliers have to follow the Chinese government’s national policy to improve living standards while meeting more environmentally friendly management, quality control, and corporate social responsibility standards. All these come with a hefty price tag. Yet it is hard to transfer the costs to clients, simply because they have all along been absorbed by the supplier.

So who could blame any supplier for entertaining the thought of exiting China and seeking countries with cheaper labor such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, or Sri Lanka? But would these countries offer the same kind of efficiency and broad-based supply chain? The answer is complicated.

Moving inland to cheaper provinces instead of fighting for labor, materials, and land in the coastal manufacturing regions also makes sense to some, but then one has to deal with the long (and often more expensive) process of shipping finished products to the U.S. or Europe. Infrastructure and logistical support in the hinterlands are still not top quality. A better solution would be for more adventurous suppliers to consider retaining their main manufacturing base in China while setting up a smaller operation elsewhere in Asia, thus defraying a bit of the high cost while testing the water (and having a backup facility) elsewhere.

A Changing Labor Market

Perhaps most problematic is that, despite having 1.338 billion people, the working population in China is aging and shrinking due to the one-child policy. In fact, the country’s working population is expected to peak in 2015.

Rising living standards in the countryside and the government’s focus on developing inland provinces also mean that fewer people will migrate to the coastal cities for work. In time, China’s interior will improve and fight with coastal cities for manufacturing opportunities and skilled workers. As it is, the pool of farm workers heading to the cities to find work is no longer growing as rapidly as it was five or 10 years ago. And as China industrialization improves, skilled workers will continue to be in short supply. Even now, the 150 million migrant workers are insufficient to meet demand.

In the present global economic slowdown, which sees China’s economy growing at 7.6% in the second quarter of this year—the slowest in three years—its labor market may finally ease up a bit. Higher-skilled workers are going to benefit from this, as manufacturing and service sectors will snap them up. However, with Beijing increasing severance payments and pushing for higher wages for skilled workers, companies are still going to face the same problem of more expensive human labor on the production floor.

Automation to the Rescue

There is a strong case for “automated” workers, or “humanoid robots”: they have no need for a retirement fund, medical coverage, or insurance policy, all mandated by the Chinese government for human workers. It would be money saved, especially when one has to deal with workers in the hundreds of thousands.

“Automated” workers also don’t take public holidays or weekends, and do not head back to their hometown for the major Chinese New Year holiday, never to return. Some factories can lose 30% to 40% of their workers in this manner. “Automated” workers means no more worries about attrition or, for that matter, about recruiting new staff, training them, and trying to maintain productivity and quality throughout production. And no more spending weeks before a holiday scheduling manpower and then worrying about workers not returning. Obviously, there isn’t the need to provide dormitory facilities or food to robots (although there is the periodic tuning, recalibration, and maintenance).

For print suppliers, automation and mechanization is the key to consistent quality, higher efficiencies, and fewer manpower headaches. Many have already automated much of the manual production process. Sensors, frequency counters, and conveyor belts on production floors form the basic automation process. More complex automation, such as inline processes—inline aqueous/UV varnishing, inline folding/gluing, inline trimming, etc.—is meant to reduce human errors and man-hours while increasing efficiency, productivity, and quality.

Digital printing takes it a step further by eliminating the plating and tooling process, requiring even less manpower to work on the press. With computer-controlled input followed by inline folding, trimming, gluing, and casing-in provided by postpress equipment such as those from Müller Martini, the process of producing a customized book from start to finish may be completed within minutes.

Robot Nation

China’s fascination with humanoid robots has already started. According to the International Federation of Robotics, by 2013 the country will leapfrog over Japan to become the world’s largest robot market. It is not surprising, then, that Kuka AG, Europe’s largest maker of industrial robots, has ramped up its production capacity in China from 1,000 units in 2010 to 5,000 this year. If the automotive industry provided its previous clients, now Kuka is seeing orders coming from semiconductor, electronics, and food and beverage manufacturers. Its #1 competitor, Swiss manufacturer ABB, saw demand for its robot arms go up 20% last year.

Robots are no longer solely for manufacturing floors. There are at least four restaurants in China that are staffed entirely by robots that greet, wait, and cook. Gone are the days of surly waitstaff and grumbles about tips. So the next time you step into a restaurant in China—or a print production floor—do not be shocked to see clones of Star Wars’ droids greet you with a monotone “Welcome, Earthling” and show you the way to the meeting room. Given the way computers are going and technology is evolving, it is really just a matter of time.

Meanwhile, let’s hear from some suppliers about their quest for higher efficiencies and productivity (mostly through automation), new solutions, and value-added services.

Asia Pacific Offset

Asia Pacific Offset marks its 15th anniversary this year. “Most of our management worked for Mandarin Offset, which folded following a major Reed Elsevier reorganization in 1997. We knew that our service and experience would continue to have value, and so Asia Pacific Offset rose from the ashes,” says president Andrew Clarke. “We have been extremely fortunate in having a team that always goes above and beyond the call of duty to deliver the best. Our clients certainly like to know who they are working with, and many have collaborated with the same team for the last 15 years due to a very low attrition rate.” As a special anniversary gift for clients (“and a nice way to showcase our abilities beyond books”), a commemorative bento box containing thank-you cards with various finishes, coasters, and a notepad has been created.

Sales in continental Europe through Asia Pacific Offset’s Barcelona office have continued to grow. “The euro crisis has presented some opportunities as publishers look for a wider variety of suitable sources. On the other hand, the U.S. market is steady, and the demise of Borders has had less impact than expected. Print runs are definitely much lower compared with three to four years ago, but reprints are more frequent. There is also a lot of pressure to improve schedules,” adds Clarke.

With Chinese wages rising, Clarke’s team has taken numerous measures to keep production costs down. “We make a practice of offering the most efficient trim size when quoting, and suggest alternative papers and assembly options to reduce costs. A lot can be achieved with ink on paper using creative designs, so we work with clients to use the most cost-effective materials in the most creative ways.” Using uncoated paper for full-color books, Clarke says, is still a popular trend. Publishers are also paying close attention to book sizes and consolidating work with a few qualified printers to increase efficiency. “Asia Pacific Offset considers itself an extension of the publisher’s production department. That collaboration is even more important now that everyone is trying to do more with fewer resources,” he says.

Despite the challenges, Clarke finds printing a wonderful career. “I know I speak for myself and my colleagues when I say that. We certainly do not get bored. The variety of work is amazing, with publishers and designers raising the bar every year with new and innovative concepts. Last year, for instance, we produced a remote-controlled book with wheels. We have certainly witnessed many changes in the industry—mergers, acquisitions, and new entrants—with familiar faces constantly popping up in new and exciting roles. Our world is small, and relationships paramount.”

C&C Offset Printing

The purchase of two HP Indigo 5600 digital presses at the recent Drupa fair and previous investments in digital printing are part of “a strategic decision to explore and strengthen new markets,” says assistant general manager Kit Wong, who now oversees all sales and marketing activities related to C&C
Offset Printing. “Combining digital and conventional printing greatly reduces the shortcomings of each platform, thus providing the best of both worlds. Digital printing seems to be more advantageous and flexible, with the ability to enter segments other than book printing, such as commercial printing and packaging printing.” One of the new Indigo presses is already up and running, backed up by an extended binding line, in C&C’s Shenzhen plant.

“The slow economy has not stalled our investment,” Wong notes. “In fact, we have just installed one KBA six-color press with a varnishing unit and added another perfect binding line. We have spent nearly $15 million on press and postpress machines in the past 12 months. To keep pace with new technology and retain our competitiveness, we have to continue investing in new machinery in both our Shenzhen and Shanghai facilities to increase efficiency and productivity. This and our move into digital printing are strategies to cope with changing market demands.”

Proactive thinking has also led C&C to offer DAM (digital asset management) services and set up a wholly owned company named Swank Culture. Adds Wong, “Our DAM solution provides a platform for all types of digital assets, including JPEG, MP3, and PDF files. These assets are stored and retrievable via secure access. Our system supports user-defined content tagging, making the assets highly accessible to the publisher and authorized users. We also support cloud-based deployment to achieve unlimited scalability and ease of use. Apart from the standard DAM functionalities, our solution also includes tools for e-book production together with an OPDS server that provides an out-of-the-box e-sales channel for the iPad.”

Swank Culture, on the other hand, aims at the high-end stationery and gift product markets in both Hong Kong and China. “Designed to blend culture and quality, the products will be developed and made locally,” says assistant sales and marketing manager Ronny Woo.

There have been some changes in management in recent months. Managing director Ken Lee, now heading the Shanghai plant, focuses on growing the printing and packaging business there; he remains in charge of C&C’s overseas businesses. Deputy general manager Ivy Lam has moved over to C&C Security Printing to assist digital and offset printing clients who are looking into using security printing in their projects.


More than a year after installing Asia’s first HP T300 inkjet web press, CTPS continues to beef up its digital printing capabilities. The recent Drupa exhibition, for instance, saw CEO Peter Tse purchasing two HP T410 web presses and two Indigo presses (W7250 and 10000). The W7250 with a Hunkeler finishing line for hardcover production is expected to go live in August, while the T410 installation is scheduled for the last quarter of the year, both to be placed in a 2,500-square-foot retrofitted area. “Our T300, which interfaces with the Muller Martini SigmaLine, is geared for softcover production, whereas the T410’s reel-to-reel configuration will give us more finishing options, such as case, loose-leaf, PUR binding, and wire-stitching,” says global business director John Currie. He also sees improved efficiencies with the T410’s faster speed of 600 feet per minute.

For now, Digiprints, the company’s digital division, aims for the regional markets. “We foresee that the inkjet and Indigo printing applications will meet almost all that a publisher needs: inkjet for softbound and wire-stitched textbooks, and Indigo for STM and professional publications. As it is, Indigo is well tested in the journal segment,” adds Currie, acknowledging that the heavy investment in digital printing has certainly raised the company’s profile and made it a major digital print provider. “The plan is to maintain our proven traditional book production while adding digital services to enable new verticals such as customized and personalized publishing.”

Although China remains competitive in low print runs, Currie says, “rising wages will further erode the price advantage enjoyed by offset printing. Using T300, for instance, we can produce 200 to 1,000 copies at comparable prices.” However, he finds that inkjet digital printing is mostly adopted by higher-ed publishers, who recognize the financial advantages of reduced inventory with short-run replenishment, with the main advocates coming from the finance and supply chain side rather than from production. “Some publishers who have analyzed warehousing costs have also come to realize that measurable and tangible savings can be achieved by moving a larger percentage of their projects into digital printing.” To create greater awareness among regional publishers, CTPS held a seminar on digital book production trends and the future in February. Among the speakers were print consultant Tim Cooper (of the Consulting Garage) and HP experts.

Meanwhile, CTPS’s lightweight offset printing business remains reasonably stable, adds Currie. “Although STM and Bible projects from the U.S. continue to shrink, as anticipated four years ago, they are replaced by new business from the BRIC countries. However, it looks like the euro zone crisis, coupled with Russian ruble and Brazilian real losses against the greenback, is going to cause us to reshuffle our portfolio yet again.”

Hung Hing Printing Group

The current preference is for designs with less handwork, according to Matthew Yum, Hung Hing’s executive chairman. But he is unsure if this is the result of higher Chinese wages driving up production costs or simply the slow global economy at work. “With the Chinese government mandating minimum wages, which vary from one province to another, wages have gone up 15% to 20% every year,” he says. “On top of that, suppliers have to bear the additional and rising cost of retirement, housing, medical, insurance, and other benefits.” Asked about the option of transferring costs to clients, Yum says, “Wages were very low 15 to 20 years ago, and it was not a practice of print suppliers to factor labor costs into their quotations. So doing it in these hard times is really not advisable.”

Yum initiated a wage increase of 17% for his 4,000-strong Heshan factory well ahead of the government mandate, as he deemed it necessary to raise his staff’s living standards and close the income gap. Moreover, “the factory is expanding and taking up more work, especially those requiring lots of hand assembly,” adds Yum, who is seeing more FSC projects (“but not PEFC, which is still not very popular”) and a slight recovery in U.S. business in recent months. The facility recently obtained the BRC (British Retail Consortium) certification, which enables it to handle products with indirect food contact. “Equipment upgrades, workflow and productivity improvements, quality maintenance, and further automation are ongoing at all of our four paper product facilities.”

The laid-back executive chairman acknowledges the need to be more proactive in selling his team’s new product concepts and other ideas to clients to help them develop new businesses. His team, for instance, ended up selling to a Korean publisher 12,000 copies with an adapted design of a solar system pop-up book that they developed. “We have shown the concept to some American customers and are waiting to hear back from them,” Yum says.

His younger son, product development manager Nicholas Yum, on the other hand, is involved in mobile apps and Internet-enabled solutions. He has developed BelugaBloo, a platform for interactive children’s apps. “We want to help small children’s publishers promote and sell their apps, which will also indirectly push their print titles. With Hung Hing as their print partner, they get a complementary service to adapt and turn their titles into mobile apps and also promote them.” Just before the 2012 BookExpo America, Hung Hing closed a deal to preload the BelugaBloo app store in all units of the newly launched tablet Kurio, starting with the July shipment.


Striving to find the best possible manufacturing solutions globally has led FSC-certified Imago to set up offices and partnerships in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and India, in addition to its well-established presence in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Singapore. It also has offices in Europe, and its U.S. operation serves North and South America. “Whether it is a cookbook, board book, art book, Bible, or book-plus, we find the right plant to fit a customer’s project. Given the rising labor costs in China, currency fluctuations, and tighter schedules, having a global vision is very important,” says Howard Musk, v-p of Imago USA, whose team recently partnered with a high-end Asian art book printer to strengthen the company’s offerings in the museum/art book segment. At present, 60% of Imago Group’s total sales come from Europe and the U.K.; the rest are from the U.S. It has 150 staff, including 14 in New York and another four in California.

“One of our unique strengths is in sourcing kits and books with components. We have a large team in Shenzhen and Hong Kong solely dedicated to sourcing and product development. Another of our strengths is in finding solutions for unusual printing and binding concepts by leveraging our staff’s depth of knowledge and experience in Asia and the U.S.,” says regional sales director Linda Readerman. Rising labor costs have not resulted in her clients cutting corners or downgrading paper. “It is quite the opposite, as we get requests for distinctive finishes and materials to make really outstanding books. The increase in e-books seems to have publishers looking at print books differently. In the Bible segment, for instance, we continue to source for new binding materials to differentiate our clients’ products from others in the market.”

In terms of products, Imago’s iSee Guides, launched at the 2012 BookExpo America, heralds its entry into the digital world. Its powerful visual recognition software, with mobile apps branded and customized for the publisher, links print books with enhanced digital content. “We are also offering this product as a marketing platform through which readers and book buyers can obtain more information about the books or authors via book trailers, author interviews, and such,” says Musk.

Training and consultancy is another Imago service for publishers. “We tailor our services to exactly what the publisher needs. We have offered training courses on color management and safety testing for children’s products to publishers as well as help them with risk assessment for upcoming projects,” adds Readerman. “We also offer a subscription-based newsletter, ‘Safety PIN [Publishing Industry News],’ which is edited by our independent safety consultants.”

Leo Paper

Sustainable development has been one of Leo Paper’s core values. Last year, it built a new carbon emission reporting system based on ISO 14064 and PAS 2050 standards, enabling it to provide clients with globally recognized data on product carbon footprints. “Our third Sustainability Report was published this year, and it was verified independently by the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency,” says managing director Kelly Fok. “Now corporate stakeholders can have a better understanding of our initiatives and efforts in areas such as sustainability and corporate social responsibility.” Fok’s team is now “working on wide-ranging plans covering energy, carbon and waste management, green innovation, and environmental conservation.”

Early this year, Leo Paper became a fully certified Target-owned brand-packaging supplier following its audit by GMI (Graphic Measures International). Given GMI’s reputation in the packaging industry, this certification affirms Leo Paper’s manufacturing and packaging capabilities and quality standards. Additionally, its zero waste vision, proactive green initiatives. and smart manufacturing solutions have earned it the Best Green ICT (Adoption—Large-Scale Enterprises) Silver Award. “In the last quarter of 2011, we scored a remarkable 4.9 marks out of 5 for the Hong Kong Corporate Social Responsibility Index, which evaluates companies adopting the ISO 26000 standards. These achievements can be attributed to our commitment to sustainable development and product quality and safety, as well as our people-oriented policies,” says general manager Alvin Lai, adding that Leo-MTS (Heshan Leo Metrology and Testing Services Co.) has passed the reaudit of the China National Accreditation Board for Conformity Assessment, received an updated accreditation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for ASTM F963-11, and is certified by the International Safe Transit Association for handling transportation packaging tests.

Leo Paper has expanded its range of services this year to include luxury packaging. “We showcased our Leo Luxe products at the U.K. Packaging Innovations Expo in February and EMPACK 2012 in the Netherlands. We will exhibit our innovative value-added packaging solutions at more events throughout the year,” adds Fok. He also points out that more clients want to use the digital space as they rethink their business model and seek to monetize existing assets without cannibalizing their core business. “Our clients’ understanding of the e-book market has increased dramatically in recent years. Since we launched our FamLoop prototype, a digital platform for children’s books, late last year, there has been keen interest.” (For more on FamLoop, see Projects Showcase on page 14.)

Meanwhile, Leo Paper has handled more than 280 ARIUX (Augmented Reality Interactive User Experience) projects from the book and greeting cards industries. “Several projects involving licensed content have print runs above 100,000 copies, with reprints in the pipeline for the year-end festive season,” adds Lai.


“In Europe, where our main markets are, price points have not moved at all, despite escalating production and shipping costs. Add currency exchange to the equation, and it means that existing titles simply cannot be manufactured for sale at previous price points. But since the market can’t take price increases, the solution is to create new titles in order to maintain the price,” explains director Sarah Shrimplin. Consequently, less expensive processes (such as replacing embroidery with four-color printing) have to be used to cut costs.

Requests for FSC or PEFC products are therefore rare, except for “the odd one or two customers who have to adhere to their corporate policy. Even then, no one really wants to pay for the more expensive FSC or PEFC materials, because it would raise even more discussions about price points,” Shrimplin says. “Basically, products are being simplified to keep costs down. But the harder part is dealing with the market—the cost negotiations, shorter turnaround time, smaller production runs, and tighter cash flows. Everybody wants better prices with better payment terms and more bang for their buck.”

New safety regulations—such as the 2009/48/EC Toy Safety Directive (TSD), which came into effect in July 2011—are giving the toy manufacturing segment more work and headaches. But after 15 years in the children’s segment, with 10 years specializing in the novelty end of the business, Shrimplin still finds the industry interesting. “The novelty part—the many new ideas and designs that come to us every year—keeps our work from getting stale. Needless to say, however, it is the reprints that are keeping the business going.”

With two kids at home as guinea pigs for Locomotive projects, Shrimplin gets inspiration from seeing the delight combined with intuitive and instinctive learning that children exhibit when shown something new and intriguing. “My awareness of toy safety regulations and ideas of what make children tick are definitely enhanced since having my own kids. As a parent, I learn that no two kids are the same, and a product that excites me or one child may fall flat with another child. Applying this principle to work and keeping an open mind when dealing with novel projects could very well lead us to the next best project for the company.”

Asked whether her industry segment should be called plush-and-plastic or nonpaper, given the types of materials used, Shrimplin says, “We prefer either paper-plus or nonpaper products, as plush implies furriness, but many of the materials we use are neither furry nor plastic.”


For general manager Annie Wong, growth will come from “book-plus, diary, and high-end limited editions, as a lot of clients have diversified into these products. We also see a growing demand for projects with complex designs and sophisticated packaging that require extensive handwork. To meet these demands, having top print quality and fast turnaround is crucial. So aside from G7 certification, we have also invested in a PressSIGN system to strengthen our color management capabilities, as well as an online proofing system to reduce production lead time.”

Increasing productivity and reducing wastage, she adds, is the key to combating rising labor and material costs. “We review production and fault reports in a timely manner and discuss them with the responsible personnel to work out a preventive action plan. We also review our planned material usage against actual usage to determine the reasons for any variance and take immediate corrective action. It is critical to get the right things right the first time. For instance, we conduct quality checks on each production process starting from plate output and not wait until we get the printed sheets or finished products to do so. This also helps motivate our workers and improve efficiency.”

The demand for environment-friendly materials at Midas has been growing, especially from large companies. “We receive more inquiries for green products today than three years ago. There are now more FSC materials available, making them more popular and cost-effective. Paper merchants are more willing to stock up on FSC paper, and this makes local sourcing easier,” says Wong, who gets about 50% of her book printing projects from the U.S. and 40% from Europe. The U.S. market, she says, will grow in the coming months, “so the percentage of business coming from this market may increase to 55% or 60%. For paper products, there is not much change in geographical distribution, as the current economic slowdown is global instead of regional.”

Of course, the booming local market is hard to ignore: “The Chinese market is potentially huge, given the rising income level and the government’s strategic development planning to boost local consumption. We are definitely looking at this market as well.”

The plan for the next six to 12 months, Wong adds, is “to continue working on our handwork skills and paper engineering with the goal of offering comprehensive product development and manufacturing solutions to meet the demand for complex projects and high-end consumer packaging from the cosmetics and food industries. More effort will be made to encourage clients to use our online proofing system to speed up production.”


Profitability, and working hard to maintain the volume of work in order to have bargaining power with suppliers, is the name of the game, says managing director George Tai. “More projects are coming from small and independent publishing houses. In fact, they make up nearly 80% of our clientele, with each spending between $50,000 and $150,000 per annum. Then we have around six to eight blue-chip companies that spend several millions with us every year.”

Clients are definitely looking for better credit terms and simpler products in order to save on development costs. Adds Tai, “Not everybody goes for fewer bells and whistles or add-ons, as sometimes these are a critical part of the product. But we do not see any increase in requests for more eco-friendly materials, as these usually come with a higher price tag. Presently, conventional printing makes up half of our projects.”

Print brokering is about maintaining the client-supplier relationship and doing better than your counterparts, says California-based national sales director Valerie Harwell, who has been with Regent for the past 12 years. “It frees the client from the parameters and limitations imposed by the specific equipment, or lack thereof, in an individual factory. It allows the client to get the most effective solutions and prices for a wide variety of formats.”

Brokering takes place within the factory relationship all the time. “Your direct printer may be great in full-color softbound books, but it may very well broker your order for rigid boxes. Brokering focuses on the relationship and plays a policing role in the factory to ensure that smaller publishers are treated fairly,” adds Harwell, pointing out that Regent, which has been in the print brokering business for 26 years, allows small publishers to get the best and most competitive prices. “The bottom line is that the relationship between the client and the printer, or broker, is what should be measured, and not whether it is direct or through a broker. Superior representation that can be trusted to be truthful, responsive, and fair is the obvious choice. Sometimes, these representatives are brokers. Sometimes, they work for the factory.”


The search for new solutions continues at WKT. This time, director Andrew Yan comes up with a lighter packing solution aptly named Airypack. “Lightness aside, another significant feature is the wraparound construction, which minimizes gluing. Airypack can be flat-packed to save space, and much of its material can be recycled since glue and surface treatments are minimal. Its two-layer pack construction also allows pockets to be inserted into the wrapper, so it is suited for special value-added items.” On average, an Airypack box weighs 35% less than a traditional box of a similar volume and design. Once its Hong Kong Green Council application is approved in September, “Airypack will be the first print/pack product to be recognized by the council,” adds Yan.

In China, WKT’s D-Tone 5040K neutral-gray color bar system has been well received. “Much has to do with the local circumstances. The economy there is growing rapidly, and the appetite for higher-quality printing is increasing. So print suppliers are searching for ways to improve quality and consistency, and D-Tone provides an economical and rapid solution to meet these needs. D-Tone is also easily understood by press operators and does not require enormous investments of equipment or training, and yet the results obtained compare favorably with what a more sophisticated and expensive solution offers,” says marketing director Jeremy Kuo. Two major Chinese printing groups adopted the system even before its successful launch at the 2011 Shanghai Print Fair. Another 12 companies are about to sign on for it.

WKT sees printing as “color cloning.” Explains Kuo, “This is a phrase we coined to emphasize what we can do for our clients. We see very high levels of customer satisfaction for our printing, which one client summed up as ‘seeing what was expected.’ In essence, it is proof matching. The industry has known for years that if proofs are made to a consistent standard and the subsequent printing also meets that standard, the end result will match. They must match. The two standards generally used today are G7 and Fogra, and we can work to either one. So if both proofing and printing meet the same standard, there isn’t a need for us to see the proofs. We can match them. It makes all the talk about soft proofing redundant. In others words, we are color cloning.”