Narrow Web Profile: Blake Printery

By Kathleen Scully and Jack Kenny | July 19, 2005

A West Coast team of flexo masters keeps winning awards, and keeps winning awards.

When a team works well, the results can be amazing. The people at Blake Printery in San Luis Obispo, CA, know this. They have more than two dozen awards to show for it. And that's only for the flexo division of the company, and only in the past couple of years.

Blake Printery has been in business for more than a half century, but its presence in the narrow web label market is recent. The bulk of the company's output is in offset and letterpress printed products. For a couple of years the flexo operation was called CALabel, but now has been absorbed fully under the Blake name.

The CALabel operation came roaring onto the flexo scene in the late 1990s, mainly because the right people were hired to run the flexo division. Gil Dulong and David Hoydal have created a name for themselves in the industry as masters of flexo press and prepress operations, and they have all those awards to show for it.

The company was founded in 1949 by Emmons Blake as a one-man shop in San Luis Obispo. His son, Dick, joined the company in 1970, and so did Michael Glavin. The two young men became partners in producing ultra-high-end wine labels on sheet-fed offset equipment. This was in an era when California wines were beginning to emerge as world class beverages, and the wineries wanted that status to be reflected in the labels that adorned their bottles.

In search of flexo
Blake and Glavin wanted to be in the flexo business, and made some unsuccessful attempts over the years. But in 1998, they joined forces with Terry Fulwiler, CEO of Wisconsin Label Group, Algoma, WI, to create the 50-50 joint venture that came to be known as CALabel. The new division gave Wisconsin, which operated about a dozen companies at the time, a foothold both on the West Coast and in the booming wine business. It gave Blake Printery an entrée into the hot flexographic community.

The next step was to find good people to oversee the new division. In Hoydal and Dulong they found the people they were looking for. The two had made a name for themselves in the industry at RotoColor, based in Hayward, CA. Hoydal came to work at CALabel in late 1998, Dulong followed shortly thereafter. Dulong, the pressure sensitive plant manager, is the press room guru; Hoydal, the art director of the pressure sensitive division, is the prepress mogul.

Not long after the start of the joint venture, Wisconsin Label merged with Superior Label, of Mason, OH, creating a powerful presence in the industry known since as WS Packaging Group. In February of this year, WS acquired the assets of Blake Printery, and has discontinued use of the name CALabel. WS now operates printing, converting and related businesses in 17 locations throughout the US.

Today Blake Printery employs more than 100 people. The pressure sensitive division started with only a few people, but had 10 by the second year, and about 14 today.

Boutique wines
The division was established to focus on the high-end wine business, and still does. In the beginning 100 percent of their work was wine labels, but today 15 to 20 percent is in other product segments, such as food, non-wine beverages, and health and beauty.

"We're dealing more with boutique lines of wine," says Hoydal. "The big wineries use glue-applied labels because of the volume. Often, a new brand will start with pressure sensitive, and then when it takes off they will go with glue-applied. So we are able to keep the business in-house. It's a very successful combination."

Blake Printery's pressure sensitive division is outfitted with two flexo presses, both of them Gallus EM 280s (formerly Arsoma), one with eight print stations, one with 11. These machines are equipped for full UV flexo ink printing, plus hot and cold foil application, rotary screen, embossing, diecutting, sheeting and stacking equipment. Company-wide, Blake produces products using offset, letterpress, rotary screen, and gravure printing.

Press operator Dave Rountree at the Gallus EM 280 Nathan Behrman operates the Rotoflex inspection rewinder. Max Herndan makes plates for the flexography division.

Dies are supplied by Wilson Manufacturing, and foil stamping dies by I.Kela. Anilox rolls come from Harper Corporation, and Water Ink Technology is the main supplier of inks, all of which are UV curable. Inspection, slitting and rewinding is performed on a Rotoflex VLI 330 equipped with a ProVision I.

At the beginning, the short runs were very short — from 5,000 to 40,000 feet, Dulong says. In the past year they've seen increases to a point where runs can range from 80,000 up to 300,000 feet. The major substrate they use — about 95 percent of production — is paper.

Printing wine labels gives the company many opportunities to excel, and many occasions to feel pride. They keep winning awards from the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute (two in 2001) and from the Flexographic Technical Association. Out of seven entries submitted to the FTA this year, five are award winners. Perhaps the ultimate achievement is the global honor: They won two (count 'em, two) World Label Awards this year.

One label they are proud of is from Stolpman Winery. "It's spot color on metalized paper with a mixture of transparent and opaque metalized colors," says Dulong. "In general we're proud of our ability to print on uncoated stock, such as estate papers. They are a moving target, and have a lot of inherent variables."

"The level of support at Blake is intense," notes Hoydal, "from sales and customer service right through to shipping. Everyone's goal is to make the customer happy.

Dulong and Hoydal offer high praise for all of their co-workers, particularly prepress assistant Bill Crook and press operator Jim Davis. "None of this happens without great people working at every level of the company," Hoydal adds. "Blake Printery asked a lot from employees to quickly learn and accept a new and unfamiliar printing process, and the whole company stepped up to make this a world-class flexo printing operation."

Who are these guys, anyway?
You have to watch these two. David Hoydal and Gil Dulong have been working together since 1993 — Gil a self-educated printer, and David a graduate of California Polytechnic Institute. They are fast friends, and knew early on that their high standards of quality were the same. When they show up at industry events, you know they're going to go home with more awards.

Beyond the quality standards are the skills, Gil's press-side innovations and David's prepress prowess.

"We've committed ourselves to a career together," David says, "and in the industry. We've agreed to be a team."

"It has all been about printing a pretty picture and loving what we do," observes Gil. "We would not be where we are today without each other's support and expertise."

"The level of teamwork between prepress and press is as tight as it gets anywhere in the industry because of Gil and me," says David. "It is seamless."

Blake Printery
2222 Beebee St.
San Luis Obispo CA 93401
Contact: David Hoydal
Toll free: 800-234-3320
Web site:  www.blakeprintery.com
E-mail:     dhoydal@blakeprintery.com

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