A reduction in a prepress workload of 30% – Blair Labeling installs Esko Automation Engine QuickStart for Labels

Marco De La Vega, CFO at Blair Labeling with his employee Bianca Saavedra – he comments: “Our prepress artist is very capable and can figure out most issues without help.” (Source: Esko)

In order to create an effective workflow, Denver-based Blair Labeling installed Esko Automation Engine QuickStart for Labels inside a week. By automating prepress processes the print shop was able to reduce its manual prepress workload by more than 30%, for feeding its five flexo presses and new digital press.

By Rosina Obermayer


Since 1986 Blair Labeling, Inc. (Blair), a minority-owned business, has been providing multi-coloured, prime, promotional and industrial pressure-sensitive labels as well as decals, tamper evident constructions, thermals, patterns, tags, hangers and card products.

In addition to working on the presses, the staff of 20 performs die-cutting, perforating, punching, lamination/UV coating and graduated screens in-line. Blair also has a full service art department capable of providing graphic design and prepress services.

Step by step to automation tools

A few years ago, Blair was using a workflow system that was very difficult to operate. “When we were doing custom trapping, for example, we were manually creating pull-backs on the white undercoat. It was a nightmare,” remembers Marco De La Vega, CFO at Blair Labeling.

There was a slow transition to Esko tools. “We liked working with Esko because their tools were built into Adobe Illustrator, not as separate software. Once we had some experience, we looked at automating our prepress, and decided to invest in Automation Engine QuickStart. The pre-configured, easy-to-use workflow solution addresses the key challenges that constrict throughput and cause inefficiencies in label manufacturing. It includes tasks such as packaging preflighting, checking barcodes including a full quality report on the barcodes, trapping, step-and-repeat, Smartmarks and control strips as well as automated job reports,” Blair’s CFO adds.

Jay Cartwright, pressman at Blair Labeling, working on one of the five flexo printing presses for labels (Source: Esko)


Easy integration

“The integration was seamless; probably one of the easiest I’ve ever been involved with,” remembers De La Vega. “I thought we would need months to set this up and I even called an outside company alerting them that we may need their help for emergencies. However, we never used them. It was all installed and in full production within a week.”

“I spoke with Esko a week before our installation. I told them what we do and our process.” notes De La Vega.  The company then visited us and configured Automation Engine QuickStart for labels at the US-based label print shop.

Esko installed the workflow, configured it to specific parameters, database queries and the smartmarks Blair required and trained De La Vega and his artist on how to operate the pre-configured workflows. Within one workday, De La Vega was comfortable with the system.

Conclusion after three months

Blair has been working with Automation Engine QuickStart for about three months. “One of the primary problems we had was managing products. I particularly love that now I can search our product database and use it as a reference—not necessarily just for art. I can easily search for a product, based on a key word on the label. The system pulls up everything.”

De La Vega continues; “We can find the job ticket of the last time we ran a job, which shows us if there were any changes – the most up-to-date version of the product. For example, we have a customer that has the same flavoured product, but different nutritional copy. It was previously error prone because it was tough to know what copy to use. This system now shows me the correct proof and approved changes made to the copy across the entire board.”

De La Vega was also looking for a system that was foolproof. He confirms that, 98% of their jobs can be done automatically. “We manually work on 2% of our jobs that involve difficult tasks, but this is the work we would want to do, anyway,” he adds. “Our prepress artist is very capable and can figure out most issues without help. We do not require a workflow expert.”

Automation Engine QuickStart has effectively eliminated an artist. “I was working on art for all of my accounts; 30% of our business. Our artist completed 70% of our workload,” says De La Vega. “I am now removed from the system and she does it all.”

On average, Blair processes about 20-25 individual jobs per day. Each job has three to four pieces of artwork on it. Since they added their digital press – around the same time they installed their Esko workflow – the number of jobs has not increased: they have just moved more accounts over to digital to help accommodate the demand on the flexo presses. “The number of copies has increased per job. Per die size, we run anywhere between 20-35 pieces of artwork on digital,” considers De La Vega.

Bianca Saavedra, is still doing artwork for label production but the installation has effectively eliminated an artist. “I was working on art for all of my accounts; 30% of our business. Our artist completed 70% of our workload,” says Blair’s CFO marco De La Vega, “I am now removed from the system and she does it all.” (Source: Esko)

Growth expectations by digital printing

”Overall we anticipate 6% growth over the previous year, while platemaking has decreased 10% because of our digital press. As a result, we expect to grow while also realizing cost savings. We select multiple pieces of artwork and the system steps them out. It used to take a long time in prepress. I would attribute this to the efficiency measures taken in prepress as well as moving a lot of work over to the digital press.” Outlines Blair’s CFO.

Blair prints labels for bottles on their digital press for a company that, in two months, has required 86 different products. Blair likes to gang the products and run different labels concurrently. “Whatever five products require the same quantities and two around,” explained De La Vega the time savings. “Before, we could only print labels of the same product. Even with only fifteen minutes development work per file, the time adds up. It has allowed us to remain competitive, assuring us that art time is covered in the cost.

Blair has eliminated a number of operator errors. “The system does exactly what you tell it to do. It will knock out work and show it to you. Before, working on step & repeat, I would sometimes pull the wrong copy. Now the system shows us the correct artwork and, of course, with the correct parameters, it will print correctly,” says De La Vega.


“Automation has helped us become very productive—and it has been easy to do. And, as we grow more familiar with Automation Engine QuickStart, we continue to grow and implement new capabilities,” concludes De La Vega. “If I were doing this again, I would install Automation Engine QuickStart, and would be willing to risk my job on its reliability. I am confident that there is nothing the system can’t do.”

This experience article was first published in the print issue NarrowWebTech 1-2018. You can find the whole issue as download in our shop: shop.gk-techmedia.com

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