Technology has taken much of the guesswork out of the print manufacturing process, in which most workflows can now be accomplished with push-button or point-and-click simplicity. Efficiency, quality, and speed are constantly improving with each new plating system, press model, ink additive, or paper coating. But with every advantage that comes from these better—albeit commoditized—goods and tools, the need for business differentiation and service personalization looms larger and more urgent than before. This makes business conditions both easier and harder.
Running a print business nowadays is essentially a battle with rising costs, shorter runs, and the demands of faster time to market and increased regulation. It is a top-of-mind branding and marketing competition. And, in recent months, geopolitical events have also had major business consequences for many print suppliers in Hong Kong and China.
Disruptive Market Forces
Fallout from the Brexit referendum, especially a devalued British pound, is one immediate challenge for print suppliers that service U.K. publishers. “Certain segments of book production will revert to the U.K., following a similar path taken by European publishers when the euro declined last year,” CTPS global business director John Currie says.
On the other hand, Currie says, the sliding Australian dollar “does not have a severe impact on educational book projects, since their domestic production costs are traditionally on the higher side.” However, he adds, “the potential move by the Australian government to lift parallel import restrictions may have far-reaching ramifications, with low-cost imports and piracy problems coming to mind.”
The wider scope of requests for proposals initiated by multinational publishers has also given large printing entities the leeway to drive down global manufacturing prices. Overcapacity in the U.S. and China, Currie says, is another contributing factor. “It is just as well that CTPS has taken these potential market changes into consideration and adapted its operations to specialize in short-to-medium runs,” he says. “The shift to digital printing, as evidenced by the focus at the recent Drupa exhibition, further supports our repositioning and adoption of ink-jet printing.”
Meanwhile, book manufacturing is becoming more commoditized. “Publishers are merging, and leveraging their purchasing power to solicit better prices,” says Matthew Yum, the executive chairman of Hung Hing. “Often, they are consolidating their print supplier base while allocating volumes to fewer printers. For conventional trade books and basic children’s titles, the pricing levels have less room to move up, therefore resulting in thinner margins for printers.”
And, with publishers asking for more regulatory compliance in areas such as safety, environmental protection, sustainability, and recycling, there are additional financial burdens on printers. “Smaller suppliers are finding it hard to comply, with many exiting the printing industry after financial investments far outweigh potential returns,” Yum says. “So now there are fewer big, reliable, and quality print manufacturers around.”
Digital World Beckons
Any print supplier, big or small, in Hong Kong, China, or elsewhere, would be shortsighted to disregard the unstoppable digital (and mobile) movement. Across the globe, people are toting their smartphones and tablets everywhere. They play Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, and now Pokémon Go. They also read e-books and digest information on their devices. So the print business of today (and tomorrow) has to move forward, and into digital—be it producing hybrid print-digital products and solutions, or adopting digital printing technology to some degree. It is unavoidable, and therefore futile, to resist.
Digital and mobile offer new opportunities that are always expanding and changing. For Hung Hing, enhancing client engagement and collaboration to generate new product ideas has led to the establishment of an innovation hub, where designers and paper and construction engineers create unique book and packaging concepts to suit customers’ needs and preferences. “Several patented technologies—such as Touchcode and Bridging Book—have emerged from this hub, and these are now driving a host of new product offerings from Hung Hing,” Yum says.
The basic game plan, Yum says, is to merge physical and digital to attract children and help them retain their learning experiences. “As a major producer of complex children’s books and novelty titles, we remain confident that the children’s segment will continue to expand. Bridging Book gives us the avenues to parlay our printing and packaging expertise into an exciting melding of the paper-and-pulp and digital worlds that will significantly enhance the values of our clients’ products for children.”
The CTPS game plan is to leverage the proven and widely accepted QR code technology to provide a secure and seamless link between printed content and online learning management systems while collecting consumer data and protecting copyright. It is about helping publishers add digital elements and segue into online learning without doing away with the old standby, the printed book. (For more on this patented technology, see “Introducing Phygitalbook,” below.)
Augmented reality (AR) has received a tremendous boost from the Pokémon Go craze, which has fueled imaginations, pushed AR into the mainstream, and revved up development of such technology. C&C Offset, for instance, has focused on this in recent months, offering publishers sophisticated AR content and app bundling solutions to further jazz up story lines.
Domestic Market Growth
For now, the U.S. economy is holding steady and there is optimism that it will remain positive for the foreseeable future. But the forecast for many pockets of Europe remains pretty gloomy.
Despite its slowing economy, China is the “in” place for many print suppliers and publishers. “With higher education, income, and living standards, Chinese consumers—especially young parents—are becoming more demanding on products they purchased for their kids,” says Leo Paper director Alvin Lai, whose company has already started taking a proactive approach to penetrating China’s domestic market. “They want products that are not just functional, but also safe for use, value-added, licensed from brand names, and educational. Most of these demands and expectations now rest on the manufacturer’s shoulders.”
The children’s segment, Lai says, “is set to grow aggressively now that the government’s two-child policy is in place, and the emphasis on education remains stronger than ever.” He adds: “The sheer size of the market, its purchasing power, and the large print runs followed by quick reprints are magnets for publishers and manufacturers, or anyone thinking of entering the Chinese market. Of course, turnaround times are much shorter than those for the export destinations—but we are prepared for that. Our long-established relationship with overseas publishers and brands means that we are well placed to serve as a bridge for local Chinese publishers wanting to explore and connect with these overseas publishers for licensing and co-publishing opportunities, and vice versa.”
In other words, local knowledge coupled with global capability draw the best of both worlds. For Leo Paper and eight other major exporters featured in this report, decades in the business have proven their dexterity and success in plying their trade and navigating economic hiccups, geopolitical risks, and industry bumps. The current shifts and challenges are simply opportunities for them to reshape operations and retool strategies to remain relevant, stay competitive, and keep ahead of the pack. These suppliers have already considered the best paths and marked their road maps, and they are raring to go.
Shenzhen-based Artron (a play on the words art and electron) was established in 1993 to serve the arts industry through digital technology. Currently, it has 3,000 employees, eight sales offices, three production facilities (in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen), 31 printing presses, and 108 postpress machines. Even though only 20% of sales come from overseas markets, Artron is the print supplier of choice for many international publishers of coffee-table and illustrated books, museums, art galleries, photography agencies, architectural firms, and luxury goods companies. It has garnered nearly 500 international printing awards, including 57 Bennys, over the years.
But Artron does much more than print books. Art+, for instance, conducts digital asset management for Chinese artists and their works and offers artwork authentication and online and offline exhibitions. Then there is Artron.net, a platform for the Chinese arts industry that boasts two million members and eight million daily visitors. Another business unit focuses on high-fidelity replication services for calligraphy, paintings, and various artworks. In fact, Artron has well over 100 art experts and advisers on call to help with its various units.
Arts incubator is perhaps a label more suitable for Artron. Aside from the print manufacturing floors at its purpose-built Shenzhen headquarters, there are unique spaces dedicated to an art library (50,000 titles and counting), a bookshop (with a special Taschen section), a café, a mobile art gallery, lecture halls, and theaters. (During PW’s visit, Conqueror Paper was holding a stationery design competition while Steinway Spirio held its China launch press conference at the facility.)
Given the company’s specialization in art titles, large-format books are nothing new. But its large-format print-on-demand service delivered via Screen’s TruePress Jet SX digital inkjet press is unique. Showcased POD titles at this year’s London Book Fair included a collection of works by the renowned photographer Peter Lik (see Project Showcase).
“Our operation revolves around the slogan Beauty of Art, and the inclusion of large-format POD service is just another way to deliver that beauty to all walks of life,” overseas sales manager Jim Gao says, adding that e-books and changing reading habits have certainly affected the art book segment. “With the Internet, readers do not have to rely on printed books to obtain their information. But while we see lower print runs—and this occurs across all book segments—we are also seeing clients such as Taschen and Phaidon coming in with more new titles. So there is a balance somehow.”
Over the next 12 months, Artron is focusing on several expansion plans, including cross-border mergers and acquisitions to grow its international presence. “Then there are internal exercises to increase automation and tighten overhead controls so as to be more efficient and leaner to fit the shifting marketplace,” overseas business development director Ivan Lee says. “We are expanding our overseas business, and we are looking into different methods of achieving that, including partnership deals with like-minded companies.”
Despite the popularity of mobile apps and online platforms, adopting new technologies is always a daunting task for printers and publishers, assistant general manager Kit Wong says. “We need to go digital—to be in step with changing times and tech-savvy consumers—but we also want to keep printed books and retain the habit of reading content in such format. A deft balancing act is required, and it needs to be done.”
C&C’s digital shift is focused on furthering consumer engagement by enriching user experience. “Our first step is to unlock the potential of interactive print products using augmented reality (AR), which is not something new that has just appeared on the horizon,” Wong says. “But the technology itself has moved beyond those early days of 3-D flying dragons or creatures. Recent AR developments have enabled it to work with iBeacon, sound and object recognition, as well as GPS. In recent months, interactive print applications using AR have become more sophisticated, and so has AR-related content.”
With publishers keen on extending the shelf life of their titles, the applications of multimedia and transmedia content are in play. “This mindset has helped us—and other printers—in offering suggestions to mix technology with print,” Wong says, pointing out that “a good story can be told in different ways that are complementary: in printed format, as films or games, or recreated as theme parks. More can, and should, be done to printed books to give them a new lease of life to attract a whole new audience.”
Children’s book publishers in Hong Kong, Wong says, are eager to try out innovative storytelling style. The 72-page Hong Kong’s Hundred-Year Transformation board book (by Sunya Publications), for instance, incorporates AR onto selected spreads to relate the stories of the island’s historical buildings. “It is essentially a journey through old Hong Kong that combines print and interactivity,” Wong says. “The warm response from readers and educators has turned this title into a bestseller, and this tells us that we are on the right track with regards to AR applications.”
Responding quickly to customer inquiries is yet another way to increase engagement and enhance experience. “It is not just about fast turnaround in printing production any more. The demand for fast and immediate quotation is also increasing, and so C&C Offset is responding to this by working on a mobile-based quotation app that will fulfill initial inquiry for offset printing of hardcovers, paperbacks, and magazines. We will further develop the app to address other project types and more complex inquiries,” says Wong, whose company is now an official Lego supplier.
The push to enhance solutions offerings has seen CTPS recently launch Phygitalbook, a patented technology to seamlessly link printed books with online and digital learning. “Through our partnership with i-Sprint Innovations, a Hong Kong–based technology company specializing in banking and financial information security, we now have a scalable and cloud-based solution to prevent counterfeiting, detect parallel importing, and personalize learning,” CEO Peter Tse says.
In the past few months, Tse and his team have worked with several publishers to beta test Phygitalbook on learning management system (LMS) interfacing and piracy. “The initial results are promising, with scaled-up adoptions expected by the end of this year,” Tse says. “Publishers especially are drawn to the back-end data analytics part of the solution, where we can offer customized reports based on purchase behaviors, access patterns, geolocation, and so much more.”
POD and short-run programs for regional educational publishers, which are based on the reduced-inventory model, are gaining traction. “This has given us a 30% growth in our digital book printing business. By combining cover printing on Indigo presses with inkjet Web printing for text pages, we have shortened the average manufacturing period for perfect-bound and section-sewn case-bound books from about three weeks to a maximum of seven days,” global business director John Currie says. “This growth and the increasing file traffic have resulted in a continuous upgrading of our ERP [enterprise resource planning] and cloud-based interface.”
Now equipped with electronic data interchange, inventory control, and end-to-end project tracking, CTPS’s year-old cloud platform gives complete visibility of content feed (down to specific service and content suppliers), production flow, lettershopping, and logistics. The on-demand process, Currie says, “is now extended to extracting specific content for customized titles, a service that perfectly fits journal publishing.”
So, though lightweight printing has always been the niche segment at CTPS, the extended solutions have enabled it to delve into sensitive and time-critical commercial and financial print projects. “There are now fewer lightweight print suppliers capable of special binding and finishing that are essential to high–page count STM books and Bibles, and we are leveraging on this expertise while building our POD and short-run capabilities,” Currie says.
Addressing critical shifts in the print supply chain—increased manufacturing costs, lower print runs, and shorter delivery times, for instance—is the goal for the company’s next phase of operational changes. “The emphasis is on achieving a much more streamlined and vastly improved printing/binding workflow, where manual finishing tasks will be reduced by 30%,” Tse says, pointing out that “replacing older printing presses with newer and more efficient ones has given us the same level of output but with significantly less resources. Add key performance indicators coupled with incentive schemes, and we are able to support our company’s growth despite continuing macroeconomic challenges.”
Bridging Book, Hung Hing’s patented technology in merging print with digital elements, has been winning clients near and far. The first Bridging Book title, Meet the Animals, launched at the 2015 Hong Kong Education Expo, is now a part of a five-volume English language-learning series. The same concept has been adopted by California-based Stages Learning Center for the series Link4Fun. “Bridging Book brings technology into the learning field by integrating iPad apps with print books,” product development manager Nicholas Yum says, adding that “every turn of a page in Link4Fun brings a child’s imagination to life. Whether it is about animals, colors, or food, the interactive nature of this series helps the child to master words quickly while enjoying the learning process.”
Beluga, the brand behind Bridging Book, also teamed up with Listen Culture, the exclusive licensee for National Geographic DVDs and Blu-ray discs in Taiwan, to combine reading with videos. The first title, Flying Monsters, is on pterosaurs. Each page offers interesting facts about the reptile while the synchronized video plays on the iPad. There is also a 3-D augmented-reality coloring page at the end. More titles—covering subjects such as classical music, wildlife, and nature—are on the drawing board.
On the packaging side, Hung Hing’s partnership with shareholder Rengo Japan continues to gather momentum. “Employee exchange program between Rengo Japan and our office has accelerated ideation for product innovation for the Japanese market, and we have brought some of these unique ideas to our international clients, as well,” executive chairman Matthew Yum says. (Hung Hing, by the way, has business units dealing with book printing, product packaging, corrugating, and paper trading, and remains one of the very few print suppliers to offer such integrated services.)
Last year, Rengo launched its patented one-touch point-of-sale (POS) design, Rakkupa, with Hung Hing handling sales, manufacturing, and distribution for markets outside of Japan. “One early breakthrough came when Nissin Food adopted Rakkupa as their key POS displays for launching their new instant noodles in Hong Kong,” Yum says. “They saw the advantages of being able to set up Rakkupa POS displays from flat packs within minutes at retail shops and promotional sites. We have received many favorable responses to the Rakkupa concept from our international clients.”
Meanwhile, the need for faster time to market has seen the establishment of an in-house design team at Hung Hing’s Eastleigh, U.K., office. “This setup enables prompt response to clients’ design requests and faster prototyping, which in turn has given us a bigger foothold in the U.K. luxury packaging business. New clients such as Lush Cosmetics have definitely benefited from the shorter turnaround, with our onshore prototyping team offering services such as box cutting, laser cutting, and hot stamping,” says commercial director Christopher Yum, who is closely monitoring potential fallout from the Brexit referendum on sales and costs.
The slow and steady U.S. economic growth in the past few years has been good for Imago. “Industry statistics and our clients are telling us that print is on an upswing, and we do see it with publishers looking to make their books more interesting with unusual cover treatments or interactive elements for content pages. These requirements really play to our strengths as a production services company,” president and CEO Howard Musk says. “There is some digital fatigue going around, because we are seeing nonpublishing clients wanting to create unique promotional products in print,” he adds. “In fact, we are currently producing a pop-up book for a software company!”
Imago’s goal, Musk says, is to provide a complete range of products and manufacturing services, from illustrated books, kids novelty, kits, and sourcing all the way through to lightweight printing for reference works and Bibles. “The wide-ranging products that we produce, as well as the many locations that we operate in—both from sales and production standpoints—give us a deep knowledge base to draw on to provide clients with creative solutions,” he says. “We have never thought of ourselves as just a printer. We are an extension and additional resource to a publisher’s production department.”
As for trends and gimmicks, Musk finds that, with cookbooks and graphic novels continuing to favor uncoated stocks, his team is starting to offer UV printing for better impact and a cleaner look. “We have also been doing a lot of books with electronic modules, and we continue to explore the latest concepts such as applying conductive inks and capacitive touch to merge print, paper, and electronics without deploying an external device,” he says.
This year, Imago is introducing a quality-checking service. “We have our own team in Shenzhen to monitor quality all along, but now we are rolling this out to publishers as a stand-alone service for projects at other vendors,” Musk says. “With schedules getting increasingly tighter, there is simply no time to rectify mistakes without lost sales if the problem is only noticed upon receipt of goods at the warehouse. Our staff, with the training and experience specific to the publishing industry, is able to help to avoid such incidences.”
The Imago team in China also offers local print suppliers assistance in preparing themselves for export work. “Prepress, which is one area where many of these factories have little experience, is our strong suit,” Musk says. “Our Shenzhen-based technical director has done a lot of work in ensuring our suppliers are up to speed with ISO proofing and printing standards. And, as the U.S. agent for Bright Arts, we can provide color correction and both digital and traditional wet proofing for projects requiring stringent color management.”
The Internet, which has turned the world into a global village and made it smaller, “is also changing my client profile,” managing director Ken Kong says. “In the early days, only major overseas publishers armed with big orders sourced from Hong Kong. Now, they place big volumes only if the total savings are considerable. But, thanks to the Internet, even smaller clients are open to offshore manufacturing as long as they are getting the same, or even better, quality offered by their domestic suppliers, and the savings are well worth the longer shipping lead time.”
The Internet has also helped attract new types of clients to the print management company. “Previously, almost all of our projects came from established clients with fixed publishing programs requiring standard formats,” Kong says. “But we are now seeing more work from self-publishers or corporations that want products for public relations marketing. They have sporadic publishing schedules with unique titles that are irregular in formats and material usage. These potential clients with no standardized buying patterns—season- and formatwise—are not those that big printing companies are interested in courting. So this is a niche market, and we are putting more attention in this direction where a smaller operation with a flat hierarchy has a major competitive advantage. Overall, such interesting client combination warrants the need to continuously refresh our ideas and realign our operations. It certainly keeps us nimble and focused—and that is good for the growth of this company and our staff.”
Even as print runs continue to shrink, Kong does not see the need to source for digital printing yet. “Over here in Hong Kong and China, if you know where to go, there is no price advantage in printing digitally for quantities above 150 copies,” Kong says. “Conventional and smaller printers are getting more aggressive with their pricing for smaller runs all the time. But digital print suppliers are looking to lower the running costs. If they can achieve that for the 150-to-500-copy range, then the impact on conventional printers would be considerable.”
A personal touch and long-term relationships continue to define Jade’s business. “Each project that comes through our door is something unique and deserving of our utmost attention,” production director Chan Hon Kwong says. “We are here to offer advice and tips, to hold hands, and to steer a project to its completion. Along the way, we make friends, and establish relationships and great collaborations. While making money is the purpose of a business—and ours is no different—nothing is more satisfying than seeing a finished project in a bookstore or a happy customer holding a quality product.”
Leo Paper Group
Market challenges are conspiring to drive Leo Paper to transform its labor-intensive production into one that is focused on technology-based smart manufacturing. “We are targeting different aspects of continuous workflow across the production floor to enhance efficiencies while gearing up for a highly flexible production model. The result is a higher production capacity despite having fewer machines and workers around,” director Alvin Lai says, adding that capital investment and equipment upgrading is essential to reducing long-term reliance on labor and hand-assembly tasks.
To that end, the company has replaced seven outdated printing presses with five new ones, increasing production efficiency by nearly 50%. “We also invested in new folding machines with higher capacity, which doubled the efficiencies,” Lai says. “At the same time, quality has picked up significantly, thereby reducing errors and rework. Our upgraded board book production line with enhanced gluing process, for instance, has reduced the probability of warping issues.”
In 2014, Leo Paper adopted “leagility,” the integration of lean thinking and agile manufacturing, with the whole factory strategically laid out to meet specific client and product needs. “The best part of leagility is that now we have shorter makeready time and improved production speed and efficiencies,” says Henry Woo, general manager of the OEM business department. “Wastage from rework is further reduced with the implementation of new technologies and better material-matching processes. By customizing the production workflow and mixing and matching equipment usage, our response time to specific client requirements or product needs is much faster,” he adds.
The next step toward being a smart factory is to enhance the agility and data interconnectivity across production lines and logistics in the supply chain. “We have been streamlining and enhancing our operations by the application of sensing technology and the Internet of things,” Lai says. “It means having data-driven operations that are capable of exchanging information, triggering actions, and independently controlling each other. In the longer term, this transformation goal will be based on product characteristics that will in turn drive various levels of operational implementation to achieve optimal overall production.” The strategies include upgrading the company’s IT system to facilitate real-time data capture for driving corresponding actions and decisions promptly, intensifying the implementation of standardization, and continuing to reduce dependency on manual labor.
Lai says the company’s slogan, “Transforming the Future,” is as much about addressing product innovation as it is about enhancing and changing everything to do with managing the supply chain. “Swift market and product changes require equally swift response on our part,” Lai says. “Being a smart company that focuses on innovation and supply chain efficiencies is a big part in meeting those challenges.”
Traditional business principles are the heart of Magnum Offset. “First and foremost, we are here to meet and exceed client expectations, and to retain their loyalty. For our suppliers, we advocate win-win collaborations to obtain their continuous support. Internally, we strive to retain our employees—who have been with us for 10 years or more—by protecting their rights and welfare while giving them room to learn and grow within the company. This will help to attract new talents to join us,” overseas sales manager Alice Fan says. “Building a solid reputation in the industry through high standards of business conduct has been our mantra for the past 30 years, and this will remain unchanged.”
Ethics and fairness permeate Magnum’s operations. “These are not just about quoting fair prices to clients and suppliers, but also about supporting our workers and community welfare, and protecting the environment,” Fan says. “Although business is tough, there is no need to offer cut-throat prices to beat the competition. Delivering top quality, fast turnaround, and unwavering reliability makes the business.”
That reliability is one reason behind Magnum’s booming exhibition and financial business. Event newsletters, annual reports, and IPO brochures, for instance, account for nearly half of its sales. “March to mid-June, and then July to September, are our peak seasons, where most projects call for 24-hour turnaround, utmost confidentiality, and tight security. Many of these also require multilanguage editions per order, usually with personalization services,” Fan says. “These clients have been with us for more than a decade, and it is not just because of our reasonable prices. Our ability to provide accurate delivery date and logistical support, pertinent answers to technical questions, and concise prediction of process outcomes eliminate a lot of their worries. That goes a long way in building a loyal clientele.”
Ideation to help clients create new products is part of the deal. “Our China factory, which is focused on consumer goods packaging, is known for delivering sophisticated packaging to help clients elevate their product positioning and pricing,” Fan says. “We have leveraged our print and packaging expertise to incorporate elements such as LED lighting, music, and semiprecious stones into our ideas. One recent packaging project with intricate laser die cutting and LED lighting, for instance, can be reused as lanterns. So it was about producing environment-friendly and multipurpose products. This is what being a reliable print partner is all about: to further enhance and develop a client’s idea to create and make an even better product.”
The biggest news out of Regal is its installation of Scodix Ultra Pro in April. The first of its type in Asia, it puts Regal at the forefront of the region’s adoption of digital postpress enhancement technology. “Since the cover is the first thing that you see of a book, it should immediately jump out at you, making it irresistible and leave a lasting impression,” managing director Maurice Kwan says. “By using the Scodix press, I want to ramp up the ‘oomp’ and ‘wow’ factors of a book cover or a dust jacket, and help publishers enhance their titles and increase book sales.”
Kwan adds: “We can enhance postpress effects that cannot be done with traditional technology, and accomplish that with better efficiency, quality, accuracy, and consistency. We can have 3-D spot UV, spot gloss, and spot matte UV in one pass. Or 3-D gold or silver foil-stamping, and even Braille printing with Scodix Ultra Pro. Best of all, these treatments are done digitally without the usual rounds of manual handling, which translates into significantly reduced setup time and production cost.”
But, more importantly, Kwan says, “this press can print on paper, PVC, and cardboard—up to B2 size—making it an ideal solution for books and packaging. Personalization is another advantage, given its variable-data printing capability. Just imagine: we can personalize foil stamping of names on book covers or cards. So what’s not to like?” In addition to book covers, Kwan and his team have used the Scodix press for marketing collaterals, luxury packaging, and posters.
Meanwhile, ultrashort projects requiring overnight production continue to arrive at Regal. Files for the daily newsletter for Art Basel Hong Kong 2016, for instance, started arriving between eight p.m. and one a.m. just before the show. The team printed 10,000 copies of the broadsheet—split equally between English and Chinese editions—and delivered them to the exhibition center before 9 a.m.
Though his business is about print production, “ultimately, it is about helping clients to solve their problems,” Kwan says. “As long as it deals with paper, glue, and ink, we will figure it out, and we will deliver—on time, within budget, and at the highest quality possible. At the same time, we continue to look out for new machinery and technology that can help us to deliver on our promises and meet our clients’ expectations. Be innovative and creative and do the impossible—that is our motto, and it speaks of our love and passion for printing.”
Here we survey several unique printing projects.
‘Hamilton: The Revolution’
The goal was to give this behind-the-scenes volume for the groundbreaking musical Hamilton the look and feel of the Revolutionary era by using the right combination of materials and binding technique. “We used a 120 gsm–uncoated paper that has the right shade of cream, bulk, and slight texture but can take full-color printing well,” says Imago president and CEO Howard Musk . “The leather spine was ridged, the front cover rough, and the text pages deckle-edged. We also added a case made of a smooth uncoated stock with PU imitation-leather spine.” Manufactured for Melcher Media, which produced the book for Grand Central Publishing, the first printing of 60,000 copies was sold out almost immediately. The book is now in its sixth printing, bringing the total to 775,000 copies.
Owl Virtual Reality Smartphone Kit and Lite Owl Viewer
When the astrophysicist Brian May (better known as the guitarist for the rock band Queen) wanted to do a virtual reality kit for viewing stereoscopic images on smartphones, the Jade Productions team came out with an alternative packaging suggestion. “Instead of putting additional elements—the magnetic holding plate and steel shim adaptor, for instance—in a standard sleeve, we proposed another idea,” says managing director Ken Kong. “We ended up using a window box to show a printed image of a smartphone. It clearly demonstrates how the product is used while taking away the hassles of assembling the kit.”
As for the Lite Viewer, Kong says: “It was a response to Brian’s request for a less-expensive viewer for stereoscopic images. While this is basically a product to test the market, the next step is to produce different versions of the viewer to suit different categories of Brian’s stereoscopic-themed products. The Lite Viewer will enable more people to enjoy the fun of the stereoscopic images without having to purchase collector’s editions.”
‘Listen and Learn First English Words’
Enhancing Usborne’s original idea of learning-by-touch with fun activities was Leo Paper’s goal for this particular project. “We ended up with an interactive product in a unique format for listening, learning, and logical thinking that can be applied to different subject matters in different languages,” says general manager for sales Andy Lau. “In this case, our Haptic Magic technology—covering sound, light, and motion for print—allows children to select a card, slot it into the book’s special frame, and press on any illustration to hear the word read aloud. We enhanced the touch-button sensitivity of the printed cards to suit young kids and their light touch. Aside from optimizing the product value, we turn the concept and application into one that is easily adapted to suit different titles and quickly produced to increase speed to market.”
‘The Rodder’s Journal Vintage Catalog Collection’
From receipt of files to a delivery deadline of less than two weeks, this project was one that put the Magnum Offset team to the test. “We needed to reprint 25 catalogues—totaling 500 pages—and fit them into a box that the exact dimension was unknown till we finished,” says Percy Leung of the overseas sales team. “But we had complete trust in our technical department to carry through the project. We delivered the box and its content, weighing 3.4 kg per set, well on time to meet the Christmas sales period.”
‘Peter Lik: Equation of Time’
This photography book was Artron’s most challenging project to date. At 528 pages and measuring 50 × 68 cm, it was also Artron’s largest title to go print on demand.Nearly six months were spent studying the content and testing various materials for the book. In the end, two in-house printing techniques were deployed: Chroma Centric to significantly increase the color quality, and Sepiana Showing, which uses black, white, and four different shades of gray for the black-and-white photos. “We combined these with a mix of gloss and matte varnishing to bring out the essence of each photography work by Peter Lik,” says overseas sales manager Jim Gao, adding that “the thick volume provided ample challenges in color management and binding solutions for the team.”
‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Illustrated Edition’
“Producing multiple co-editions of this title for Bloomsbury and their customers is an honor for us at C&C Offset,” says assistant general manager Kit Wong. “The copies were printed in a secure area of our printing plant with restricted access extended only to a limited number of people. No phones or cameras were allowed into this area, apart from the client’s own designated photographer.” For this 256-page project, Bloomsbury created a YouTube video of the press pass, which was uploaded during the book launch along with a film made by the illustrator, Jim Kay, about the creation of the artwork. “Our senior press minder worked very well with Bloomsbury’s art director, and together they produced a really stunning book that is delighting old and new Harry Potter fans.”
Explore the English Language series
After the first Bridging Book title, Meet the Animals, was successfully launched last July, the client, I-Square Education, wanted to expand the series by adding four new titles with more vocabulary words accompanied by longer and more exciting content. “With the new launch set for last July’s Hong Kong Book Fair, we had around six months to complete the whole series,” says product development manager Nicholas Yum, whose team was given rough scripts and had to create every component from scratch, including the app, animation, graphics, and games. “Each title is a boxed set containing a Bridging Book, an app, an activity book, and paper-based games. Every set is unique while retaining the same style. So, Fun Trips has pop-ups on every Bridging Book page and a swipe-and-clean board, while touch-and-feel Meet the Animals comes with puzzles. Keeping the same price point as the first title despite additional development and manufacturing processes was one of the biggest challenges. But we delivered the series on time and budget, and to rave reviews.”
Origami Horses for an Art Installation
This unique project required Regal Printing to provide 15,000 glittering origami horses for the Belgian artist Charles Kaisin’s installation in Hong Kong. “Aside from having to hand fold every single piece, the major challenge was also in getting the raight kind of reflective golden foil in sufficient amount,” says managing director Maurice Kwan. “We ended up with PET paper for its strength, light weight, and recyclability, and then we electroplated it in silver and gold to achieve the required effect. Then came the tedious hand-folding part where creasing the foil was a strict no-no.” The delivery of the project, Kwan adds, “was a celebration of accomplishing something unconventional, as well as a celebration of paper art.”
Embedded QR codes on book covers and content pages are the main components of CTPS’s patented Phygitalbook technology. “Digital printing gives us the ability to differentiate the cover code on each copy to make them copy-specific. The content codes, on the other hand, remain the same for each title or batch,” says Peter Tse, the CEO of CTPS. “The encryption behind the codes, backed by analytics, provides a high degree of rights protection while offering insights into user behaviors, LMS access patterns, and other pertinent information helpful in further engaging the consumer and pushing content discoverability.”
Phygitalbook, which uses QR codes, is an alternative to the access cards inserted into textbooks or sold individually. “Replacing access cards with Phygitalbook means a 30% savings in production costs, which makes this an attractive option, especially when publishers are striving to keep costs down,” global business director John Currie says. “The diversity and flexibility of QR code technology also enables the ability to personalize user access, facilitate the print-to-online learning processes, and allow product tracking.”
Though some publishers use RFID tags to combat piracy and parallel imports, the exercise is costly and offers limited data feedback. “Phygitalbook’s QR codes, in comparison, are printed digitally, and making them work requires only our free app and a mobile device,” Currie says. “For RFID, there are outlay costs for the software, handling, antenna, and reader. Phygitalbook, in short, offers a much wider scope of applications at a reasonable cost. The data—collected and stored with bank-grade protection on our cloud server—enables publishers to better understand their end consumers, optimize direct engagement, and maximize monetization opportunities.”