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Craftsmanship Brings Print to Life

Exhibiting creativity and originality, Allegro Print’s entry “George’s Anatomy Book”, won the hearts of judges who eventually awarded them a special recognition award.

At the Asian Print Awards 2019, Singapore printer Allegro Print took home the Gold for Design Excellence for their entry, “George’s Anatomy Book”. The entry was specially singled out by the judging panel for its exceptional print quality and outstanding design work.

Judging for the entry proved an interesting process. The entry scored high across the board, and judges had a difficult time pinpointing it as winner in several of the categories. Eventually the judges deemed it so special that it earned itself its own category. As such, the George’s Anatomy book was also awarded the Special Judges Recognition.

Perhaps what was most surprising was that Allegro Print is a first time entrant to the competition.

“Before this we’ve never had the time to look through what we’ve done because we’ve been busy printing. This time we got encouraged because this particular book has won multiple awards including the D&AD award, which is a well recognised international competition. When this opportunity to participate came up this year, we thought we would give it a try,” said Ho Yeow Liang, executive director of Allegro Print Pte Ltd.

The client for the project is a Singaporean design agency, Couple. The book was an annual report for the Lien Foundation, an organisation that supports charity work in Singapore. Given to its donors, the book is highly sought after and limited edition. With the particular project, the report delivered the content through the interesting concept of anatomy, life and death, and cradle to grave.

Encased in an acrylic cover, the book entices anyone to pick it up and flip through its contents. A series of eye-catching illustrations referencing pop culture, accompanied by tactile feel of the paper and perfect print invite the reader to continue turning its pages.

“There’s many aspects and surprises to this book. The book even has glow-in-the-dark print. To a lot of people this is just a book. But for people with an eye for design, you can understand how hard it is to produce this book. This book cannot be automated at all,” said Ho.

Perfection in the Details

“This project took about a year to come to fruition. Before the final product, I think we did about 10 mockups maybe. A lot of the techniques are new and have not been done before,” said Ho.

One of the techniques is the manual rounding of the edge of the book: “Initially the acrylic cover is square edged. However, we found that with the square edged, it became too sharp and not too nice. We tried it with a rounded back, and it turned out more beautiful,” said Ho.

“However, the book now has a square-edged finishing that does not fit into the new rounded back of the casing. All binding has to be square-backed; once its machine bound, it comes out squared automatically. To make it rounded, we had to do a lot of trial and error,” explained Ho. “When the book was freshly bound, the glue is hot, and it’s a bit flexible still. We took it out immediately, did a clamp with a special mould to make it round. That’s how we were able to fit it perfectly with the acrylic casing.”

Ho emphasized: “That is just one aspect of the craftsmanship of the book. It’s not just machine-made; there’s a lot of manual work involved. Every single piece is handcrafted.”

According to Ho, the printing on the acrylic casing was also individually handcrafted. Initially the team wanted to mass print the image of “George” on the acrylic. After a few tests, the team realized that some of the images were unable to completely cover and align with the image underneath on the book.

“Perhaps a little bit of the bottom image might show. It’s imperfect already. This is not acceptable. It does not finish well, the alignment is off,” said Ho. “So we literally took each individual book, put it in the individual casing, and printed it piece by piece. All 2,000 books.”

A Niche in Handcrafting

“When it comes to the more difficult things, our clients tend to look for us more often because we’re able to give them advice and work closely with them on what is possible and what can be done,” said Ho.

“Most of the time, the industry is automated. Automation is for productivity, but it cuts down on the creativity. With automation you are limited with what the machine can do, but in the process a lot of creativity has been lost,” Ho continued.

“Craftsmanship has value for us. We felt that in order to bring back the love of reading books for people, creativity plays a very important game. With books such as this, you cannot just read them online. It’s not the same. With such a book on hand, you gravitate to wanting to pick it up, touch and feel it and read the book. This is all lost online,” said Ho.

“This is where creativity plays such an important role. And that’s the fun part and the strength of our company. We’ve been able to come up with this book with a lot of handcrafting, trial and error, and that’s how we’ve been all along,” said Ho.

The Colour Experts

Allegro began 20 years ago as a colour management company with a small team of six. The main clientele were overseas publications for museums and galleries from Europe and the US. In 2002, Allegro purchased its offset machine – a Heidelberg.

“We went into offset for one reason; we believe colour management will become a sunset industry due to digitalisation. Due to our background, Allegro has strength in colour management. This is why a lot of museums and galleries love working with us,” said Ho.

Ho recalled the when Allegro first worked on the inauguration book for Singapore’s National Gallery. The team personally visited the exhibits and did colour correction on the spot to ensure that the artworks match what would be printed.

“We also asked them how and where they want the book to be read - in a gallery setup? Daylight? The colours will differ based on that too,” said Ho. “We bring to the table our ability to consult on colour. We can advice them on the paper to use as well, for example we can propose different papers depending on what sort of mood do you want the book to have.”

What’s next for Allegro Print?

“Creative work is our branding and niche, but of course, we also do a lot of bread and butter work, with standard finishing. That is where the volume is,” said Ho.

At the awards, Allegro also won a Silver in the self-promotion category. Their entry is a promotional catalogue for the company’s web-to-print product, Layerplay Wallpaper.

“We want to do more tech-driven things. My big dream is to bring the company to be more tech-driven, for example with web-to-print. We are venturing into that direction and working to create something a little different for that,” Ho concluded.


First published in Issue 12/2019 of Print Innovation Asia.

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