6 Oct 2016
Printing Industry in Hong Kong
- Trends in the printing industry are often brought about by advent of technology. In recent years, the general trend is to combine printing with various prepress and post production, so as to improve accuracy and reduce time and cost.
- Hong Kong printers are equipped with advanced machines. Many have introduced computer-to-plate systems, equipment for security printing, as well as latest machines to enhance digital printing capabilities.
- Another trend is environmentalism, with the use of environmentally friendly supplies.
- Hong Kong is one of the major printing centres of the world. Thanks to its free flow of information and freedom of the press, a large number of local and international newspapers, journals, periodicals and religious books and textbooks are printed in Hong Kong.
Printing is a supporting industry to publishing, advertising and various light consumer goods industries (toys, food, cosmetics etc). Most of them are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Hong Kong. Printers in Hong Kong produce a wide range of printing materials, including books, booklets, brochures and leaflets, and paper and paperboard labels, advertising materials, commercial catalogues, calendars, postcards and greeting cards. Some specialise in the production of higher value-added/high tech printing products, such as children's novelty books with pop-ups and additional objects, cheque books, passports, bills and statements, securities and prospectuses etc. that require considerable skills, substantial capital investment and confidentiality.
Overseas customers are increasingly looking for faster turnaround and shorter delivery time in order to maximise return through smaller but more frequent orders. Hong Kong printers are known for quality, quick delivery, competitive pricing and ability to cope with short-notice printing jobs. The quality is comparable to that of the US, Germany and Japan, the pioneers in printing technology. Hong Kong printers are also known for their inventiveness and willingness to find solutions to production problems.
Major printers are relocating the production to the Chinese mainland with purpose-built plants. Such development has changed the workflow and logistics and greatly improved the efficiency and output quality. The ability to meet high quality requirements has allowed Hong Kong to become a major printing and publication centre in the world, despite the increasing price competition from mainland printers. With the rising labour cost on the Mainland, printers go for more automation and mechanisation. More complex automation can also reduce human errors while increasing efficiency, productivity and quality.
Hong Kong's excellent telecommunication networks are great assets of the industry. In effect, publishers in Hong Kong can quickly access information from various parts of the world, an advantage of vital importance to time-sensitive publications. With proximity to the mainland market and a high degree of freedom of the press, Hong Kong has attracted many international publishers/news agencies (especially media firms) to set up regional centres here. The Financial Times, The Economist, The International New York Times, etc, are printed in Hong Kong and some are shipped into China for distribution.
Printing is an industry with constantly updating technology. The ability to catch up with new production techniques is thus crucial. Hong Kong printers are equipped with advanced models of laser-setters, electronic colour scanners, electronic page-composing systems, digital printers, automatic finishing systems and one to five-colour printing machines. Many Hong Kong companies are equipped with lamination machines, die-cutting, paper-cutting, shrink-wrapping, folding, hot-stamping and binding machines, etc. to keep the production process in-house to ensure a quality product. They have also introduced computer-to-plate (CTP) systems, equipment for security printing, as well as latest machines to enhance digital printing capabilities.
To reduce operation costs, local printers (mostly larger sized) have shifted a major share of their operations to China. However, they maintain their Hong Kong offices to receive overseas orders. They are also increasingly making use of high tech to cut costs, e.g. overseas buyers could place orders from abroad through broadband connections, given they are confident with Hong Kong printers’ reputation and wanted to maintain their long standing business connections. The clumsy processes of specifying requirements, enquiries, checking the sample draft, amending information, confirming order etc. could all be finished online. Also, production processes are being automated with computer systems. Printers are increasingly making use of information technology to manage production processes.
Performance of Hong Kong’s Exports of Printed Matter ^
A large share of the export business is attributable to orders received directly from overseas countries. This also includes orders from major international publishers in Hong Kong. Export orders are mainly handled by larger printers or dealers, who have established business relationships with overseas customers. In an effort to capture overseas business, large Hong Kong printing companies have established offices overseas.
In order to expand business networks, explore market opportunities, and promote company image abroad, Hong Kong manufacturers and distributors may participate in trade fairs and study missions organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), such as the Hong Kong International Printing and Packaging Fair. HKTDC also organises from time to time study or match-making missions for Hong Kong manufacturers to visit specific markets for exploring business potential and establishing new business relations. Other important fairs include Drupa, IPEX, etc.
Many trends in printing pertain to the advent of new technology or production techniques. Filmless printing, such as computer-to-plate (CTP), is becoming mature. With CTP technology, images can be transmitted onto a zinc plate directly without the process of colour management and making colour separation films. This development can shorten the prepress production time and produce more defined images.
Digital printing enables direct imaging - texts and graphics going directly from the computer to the printing machine without the use of plates. This shortens production time and cost, and improves speed and accuracy. It is easy to operate and suitable for printing small quantities with flexibility, short lead time and customisation (e.g. advertisements and personalised direct mailing, tickets). Digital printing also enables the development of personalisation in packaging.
Ultraviolet (UV) printing technology is a growing trend. Instead of having solvents in the ink that evaporate into the air and absorb into the paper, UV inks dry through a photomechanical process. Through this method printers can work in a clean environment.
Some printers are also offering the “total solution”, including auxiliary services like design, data-processing, translation and editing and electronic publishing etc. Some large printers have developed vertically, such as manufacturing or trading paper, or forming strategic partnerships with suppliers, in order to reduce the effects from paper price fluctuations and allow the company to have better control of material supplies. In other cases, certain work processes, such as colour separation, which used to be subcontracted out, now tend to be internalised. This is made possible by new equipment, which incorporates and automates more prepress or finishing functions. This would not only help printers achieve scale economies, but also have better control on quality and streamline production processes.
The Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) was concluded in June 2003 and subsequently expanded in following years. All products made in Hong Kong, subject to CEPA's rules of origin, enjoy duty-free access to the Chinese mainland. Detailed information is available from the following hyperlink:
General Trade Measures Affecting Exports of Printed Matters
The US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) requires manufacturers and importers to show their products intending for children under 12 do not contain harmful levels of lead and phthalates. The regulation has also affected products such as children books. However, in August 2011, the US Congress passed an amendment to the CPSIA that exempts ordinary children’s book from third-party testing.
The EU’s new toy safety Directive (Directive 2009/48/EC) came into effect on 20 July 2011. Any books falling under the definition of a toy will have to be compliant with the new Directive if sold on the European market.
Children books are becoming more sophisticated as children do not only read books, but they may also listen and talk to them, use them to build models or solve puzzles, or even play with soft toys that are housed inside the book.
Traditional printed products are required to have innovative designs to meet the needs of various market segments. For example, everyday items such as calendar can take different forms from desktop models to large 3D wall calendars. Higher printing quality is required, thus 5-colour/7-colour presses are being introduced.
Holography is a method of recording and reproducing the complete image of a three-dimensional object. This method has only been used for certain purposes, such as the use on credit cards. But technology improvement has made mass production of holograms possible, and they are being used on various forms of packaging, including labels. Separately, changes in the operation of the distribution sector have also resulted in an increasing demand for bar code printing.
As publishers pledged to be more environmentally friendly, print-shops are pushed to use more environmentally friendly supplies, e.g. recycled paper and synthetic paper (which may affect printing quality and needs adjustment on printers’ part), UV ink and ink based on beans (which would reduce the use of chemical solvents in cleansing). The chemical-free plate system is introduced, which does not require the use of chemicals. Although the use of FSC or PEFC-certified paper remains relatively small, it is increasing fast. Some printers are also exploring new types of environmental friendly paper such as bamboo paper.
More products could now be printed in printing machines. Fabric printing (on polyester and silk, for example) for making fabric posters has been introduced. Commercial wallpapers could now be printed. Plastic products like desk pads, mouse pads are also printed.
It is predicted that the adoption of 3D printing technologies will revolutionise the manufacturing sector. 3D printing technology will become increasingly low cost and support cheap and rapid prototyping processes. The incorporation of 3D printing technology may create innovative printing products.