The last time PW visited Bright Arts at its King’s Road office, the color-separation industry was fighting for its survival. The demarcation distinguishing color-separation houses, prepress bureaus and printing companies from one another was disappearing. Digitization and prepress/scanning workflow was appearing in design houses and printing facilities, threatening to take away what was left of the industry. That was in 2004. Since then, many color-separation companies have been consigned to history, but Bright Arts, by capitalizing on its operational strength and market reputation, has survived. PW talks to sales director Johnny Leung (formerly of Universal Colour) about what is currently happening in the company (and the industry in general).

What is the secret of Bright Arts’ survival?

We just focus on doing our best and avoid being distracted by news of yet more printers going into prepress services. This is like waves: we cannot stop them from coming, but we can choose which one to surf. We know that prepress is not a field that guarantees success simply because one has the financial resources to purchase the technology. Bright Arts’ success comes from 30-odd years of experience, and no equipment or technology can replace that.

Experience aside, have you developed new services or technology to strengthen your company’s leading position?
Improving our services and making clients happy is our motto. To this end, we have developed software for interpolation and a metallic/fluorescent color channel to ensure better interpretation of data and color during the separation process. We are also looking into printing books in small runs using CTP press proofs or digital proofs with manual binding. Then there is our new service in reproduction of Chinese paintings.

What can you tell us about Chinese painting reproduction?

Many people, especially businesses, are interested in scrolls of old and famous Chinese paintings. But the originals are way beyond most people’s budget, aside from the fact that such paintings are usually museum property. Most reprints, however, tend to look fake. I can’t tell you much about the methodology behind our new service, as it is a trade secret. Suffice to say that the Hong Kong Printers Association awarded us a Digital Printing Award in 2011 for developing this technology.

Did you make any major investment of late?

We purchased a new large-format flatbed scanner, Cruse Synchron 185ST-1100, about a year ago. It can handle sizes up to 40 x 60 inches with quality that is comparable to that of a traditional drum scanner.

Any interesting or challenging projects in recent months that you would like to tell PW readers?

There are many such titles. One is a bestselling children’s book with a center gatefold featuring a 70-inch illustration. In the old days, we would take shots of it, since traditional scanners were not built to handle such sizes. But using the camera meant losing the details and vibrant colors. The Cruse scanner solved this problem, and the result was impressive. Another interesting project was a book with neon colors that the publisher wanted to print using Hexachrome (CMYK plus green and orange). After reviewing the file, we recommended that our client adopt Bright Arts’ unique software and ink combination instead. We used five colors, and the result was more than satisfactory. Our client saved a lot on the printing cost as well.

What is the biggest change in the color-separation industry?

Clients now often cite cost as their top concern, resulting in quality being compromised. We see that clearly reflected in the choice of proofing and even printing stock. Rare is the publisher who uses high-quality grade 1 paper for printing nowadays. Everybody is going for the lower grades. Similarly, if publishers insist on using cheaper inks, it is difficult to achieve a wide color gamut. It is sad because the artist would have spent countless hours to produce the artwork, yet it cannot be faithfully reproduced due to cost concerns putting limitations on the ink, paper or color separation—and a part of the magic is lost.

How good are the present color management systems or scanning processes of most printing companies?

They are barely sufficient from a color separator’s point of view. But I expect a breakthrough from one of the main players in digital printing that will allow more accurate color separation in the near future.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges for Bright Arts in the next 10 years?

Labor cost and the Chinese renminbi are constantly rising—these are the two biggest issues. We also cannot ignore the impact of electronic media such as e-books on the publishing industry, which will trickle down to the color-separation industry. Simplifying our company structure and coming up with new services and software are ways to survive in this tough business environment. We want to maintain business stability while looking for niche markets by carefully taking the next step or making an investment.