POSKAD: Winson Press

The Tan family prints.

Even in highly hooked-up Singapore, print – or printing, at least – is not dead. Here, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal Asia, and coffee table books are sent to the press, with international publishers drawn to our local printers' quality and rates.

Amidst these lofty imprints, product packaging is a humbler if necessary niche. One such specialised printer is Winson Press. The award-winning business, located at Kolam Ayer Industrial Estate's Kallang Way, counts amongst its clients Eu Yan Sang and Haw Par Healthcare, of Tiger Balm fame.

Within their 21,000 square feet of industrial space, there exists a mechanical elegance and quotidian artistry to this family business of setting ink on paper.

Founded in 1965 by Mr. Tan Hock Beng, Winson Press originated as Winson Advertising, specialising in graphic design. Fortuitously, Mr. Tan also stuck two small printers in the backroom, where single-colour brochures and boxes began to be churned out. His son, Mr. Tan Jit Khoon, grew up cutting and gluing these boxes, and is today Winson's CEO.

In 1998, Winson invested half a million dollars to enter the labeling business. Then, the recession struck. “It was a mess. I couldn’t look for sales and I had to spend on renovation,” the younger Mr. Tan confesses, crunching out the exact financial figures from memory. “I don’t know how we pulled through, but we are lucky to be still around.”

Today, a walk around the press turns up finished proofs for products ranging from lorazepam, the drug, to lapsang souchong, the tea. Winson also prints condominium brochures and slightly quirkier reading material – a French monograph about Polynesia, for instance, or stacks of booklets entitled “Essays of Warren Buffet”.

While Winson's products may not be works of art, the printing process is still intensely meticulous. After all, labels and packages might be disposable, yet in their ephemerality are designed – and printed – to stay in the consumer’s mind.

It all begins in the pre-press studio. Resembling an office in its fluorescent lighting and pastel walls, here is where accurate proofs are produced. Mr. Tan whips out a colour rendition demonstrator, housing three identical pictures displayed under different light sources. “Everyone has their version of midnight blue,” Mr. Tan says, underscoring the importance of a standard lighting reference and Pantone codes.

Once approved, the proofs move to the factory floor, where they are polymerised onto aluminium printing plates. These 1 micrometre-thin plates are cleaned, inspected, and mounted on Winson’s cluster of sheet-fed printing presses – the Mitsubishi Diamond 3000 LS-4s and LS-5s.

These grey-beige steel monoliths are offset printers, whose plates transfer their print onto a rubber ‘blanket’, which is then squeezed between a cylinder and the sheet of paper. They can respectively perform 4- and 5-colour printing, on paper up to a density of 450gsm or thickness of 0.4mm, and at a rate of 16,000 sheets per hour.

For boxes and packaging, the sheets are die cut after being printed upon – a time-consuming process because most packages require custom die setting. The Diamonds can then finish each page with a water-based varnish for protection and colour retention.

The final step has the prints re-checked for colour accuracy and offset errors. They are then cut, folded, collated, and bound – on any given day, three women are gathered in this task.

Printing in this day and age continues to be fairly labour intensive, and Winson's staff of 102 still includes Mr. Tan's parents. While Winson's machinery runs around the clock, Mrs. Tan is involved in folding and cutting paper, while the elder Mr. Tan manages side tasks, or does his calligraphy.

Of the Tans' commitment to being hands-on amidst the high-tech, the younger Mr. Tan admits, “I am quite traditional, and I think that certain things just shouldn’t change.”

Images Jovian Lim

Words Lucas Ho

This article was amended on 24 October 2011.

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© 2011 Studio Wong Huzir

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