Why print books in Korea?

Chinese pricing and tariffs

Traditionally illustrated book publishers have looked to China as a source of affordable, top quality print solutions. Yet with the current U.S. administration hiking up trade tariffs, printing costs are on the rise. Adding to this, growing labor costs across China have inflated prices further. Net result: publishers are looking at significant bumps in their bottom line.

For publishers printing journals, calendars, school notebooks, and many other printed paper products, that cost is jumping from an additional 10% to 25%. That’s pretty significant. Books, as strictly defined, have been exempt from tariffs, but looking at recent announcements this may not be the case for much longer. If only there was another option…


China Shipping
Korean partners

Cue South Korea

In the last few years a viable option has emerged in South Korea. Whereas Korea has been significantly more expensive than China in the past, Four Colour has developed a small core of experienced, high end printing houses, capable and willing to step in and step up. “We’ve printed in Korea for over 10 years, while of course maintaining our relationships in China,” says Four Colour Print Group President George Dick, who just toured our printing partners in Korea and China last month.

“There are a number of good reasons to work in Korea. Our Korean partners have invested more in new technology than the Chinese, partly because the Chinese facilities are underutilized. Korea is also taking advantage of the labor saving features of their new presses. Traditionally, Korean labor costs have been higher, but that gap is narrowing quickly. Korea has caught up with both the pricing and quality of Chinese printing."

Printing Partners
George in Korea
Art of resistance
Print partners
Seoul Printer
South Korean Printed
George inspection
Printing in Korea
Korean Dinner
Korean Printed

Speed and deadlines

In our experience Koreans move at a quicker pace than Chinese plants. The new presses have faster setup times and there is usually no waiting on queue for production. The books are ready within 10 to 14 days from when the files are submitted and approved. George also points out that “Korea is only 10 days from West Coast, once the ship sails. Our domestic shipping network can move freight across the US quickly to meet strict deadlines.”

Sales Director, Paul Reber also remarks that “the cost of uncoated woodfree paper is cheaper in Korea. There is no worry about tariffs and taxes from Korea, which is a free-market democracy not under trade scrutiny.

High quality fumigated pallets

Domestic capacity

Publishers might also consider moving projects back into the hands of US printers, but domestic market is experiencing a lot of capacity issues. Larger printers have been gobbling up smaller ones, and many others have simply closed shop. All this has left large gaps into production capacity. While the cost may not always be an issue for printing locally, many publishers simply can’t find printers capable of handling the demand. 

Eric Taylor, our Midwest Territory Sales Manager notes: “Three of the major US printers have closed doors recently. The others who remain in business are being flooded with orders. Turnaround could be anywhere from 8 to 10 weeks, so currently it’s often almost the same schedule printing domestically as it is in Korea.”

Restricted Books

Chinese restrictions

Korea also lacks many restrictions existing in China. As George explains, “there is a lot of content that China will simply not print, what we call ‘objectionable content’ which may include images ranging from nudity to maps, certainly anything to do with the Dalai Lama or Taiwan. And the Chinese authority has to approve some of these projects, which can cause further delays.”

In conclusion

Many of Four Colour’s high profile clients print in Korea. These publishers range from notable University Presses like Duke and University of Washington Press to graphic novel powerhouse Fantagraphics. And these books aren’t printed in Korea only because of their content. Tilbury House, a notable Children’s Book publisher whose “Astronaut Annie” was recently flown into the International Space Station by SpaceX as part of the NASA affiliated Story Time From Space program, prints many of their books with us in Korea.

As Eric points out, “Our Korean partners have come to the same level as Chinese printers. The quality is there. The turnaround is there. And the price is definitely there, when you can print all the way in Korea as opposed to printing domestically, a quarter mile away, and you still gain a tremendous amount of savings going overseas.”

If you’re interested in discussing Korean printing options, give us a call. It’s a viable, reliable, underutilized option as we’ve successfully demonstrated for well over a decade. As Eric says, “There is a great deal of trust. If something goes wrong we can fix it. We have long standing relationships that guarantees that. The future is very, very bright working with our Korean partners.”

And our clients agree.

Printed in Korea

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