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The Creel Deal

June 1999
Las Vegas is the home of Creel Printing, a heatset web and sheetfed commercial printer that's betting heavily on the payoff of digital prepress.


BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO


Las Vegas. The most infamous desert oasis. A city that never sleeps. Towering casinos, massive neon billboards, throngs of vacationers, glittering wedding chapels. Decadent, opulent—and a few other descriptive dents. No wonder legends played here: Sinatra, Elvis, Creel.

What's that, not familiar with Creel? Creel Printing just happens to be one of the largest commercial printers in Nevada, operating in the shadows of Las Vegas' most famous casinos—Bally's, Harrah's, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Circus Circus, Luxor and many more.

Yet, amidst all this extravagance, Creel Printing is anything, itself, but extravagant. This general commercial printer, which specializes in high-end catalogs, publications and promotional materials, is very well grounded. Allan Creel, the namesake and visionary of this family owned printing concern, is the primary reason for the company's confidence, prudence and steadfast productivity.

Creel, the man, is mild-mannered, thoughtful, extremely pleasant and considerate. A silent power, Allan Creel obviously is a significant force to be reckoned with if the company's standards are compromised in any way. At the same time, he's a champion to his employees—some 160 workers operating a company that, like the city in which it resides, does not sleep.

Creel Printing operates 24/7, generating $60 million in annual revenues between its Las Vegas headquarters and a second facility in Southern California, the recently acquired Frye & Smith, located in Costa Mesa. The Las Vegas plant does approximately $40 million in sales annually. Nine sales representatives work both locations, selling Creel's printing capabilities nationally.

Creel Printing reports that roughly 25 percent of its business is captured locally in Las Vegas, primarily consisting of convention materials. The remaining 75 percent of Creel's business consists of clientele from around the United States, largely in the form of magazines, catalogs, promotional materials and advertising.

Creel, the man, would also operate 24/7 if his human condition did not require him to rest. Putting his family before his company, however, is paramount to this seasoned graphic arts veteran. The son of a Chicago-born linotype operator turned entrepreneur, Creel's father established the firm in Las Vegas in 1953. Genuine, patient—yet formidable—are the personality traits that Allan Creel recalls as being most striking about his father.

Keeping the business all in the family, Allan Creel's wife, Debbie, is chief financial officer, and his oldest daughter, Christy Creel, is in sales. Creel has three other children. The two youngest Creel children currently attend colleges in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and are strongly considering joining the family business after their graduations.

On the outside of the Creel clan—but integral to Creel's corporate family—is Tom Lesher, president at Creel. Creel, the man, describes Lesher, the president, as the "driving force at Creel." Humble to the nth degree, Lesher—whose enthusiasm and support of customer service rivals none, in Creel's perception—brings 35 years of printing experience to Creel Printing, where he oversees all printing operations, in addition to Creel's direct mail and Digital Color Network (DCN) operation. Skip Mitchell is another player on Team Creel, serving as vice president of sales and marketing. Gary Kasufkin is vice president of finance for the family operation.

And then there is Barry Harvey, Creel Printing's digital prepress visionary. Over the past three years, Harvey has redesigned the commercial printer's electronic prepress effort, creating Creel's DCN operation, which utilizes a host of digital front-end solutions. Harvey is vice president of operations at DCN.

Creel's DCN, a complete electronic prepress facility, was established in-house as an independent subsidiary of Creel Printing. It operates on Macintosh, PC and UNIX platforms, working on Windows NT Color Central. This allows DCN to be a digital control hub for all client requirements, including total pagination and trapping. DCN can also provide custom-engineered telecommunications at client-based locations, including Digital Art Exchange (DAX) , WAM!NET and the Internet. Preflight innovator Markzware's FLIGHTCHECK is the preflighting solution of choice. Screen's TaigaSPACE is the workflow of choice.

"We tested Screen's TaigaSPACE workflow system against other UNIX platforms, and it was one-and-a-half times faster, with superior trapping," Harvey says of Creel's workflow system. "Most important, nothing can match Screen's T-RIP. It's so fast, we run 90 percent of our jobs through it, and it's smoother and faster than anything else."

At DCN, which consults with local dealer Nelson-Keystone on the latest digital technologies, scanning and imagesetting are delivered by way of a Screen (USA) SG-8060 drum scanner, supported by one four-page Screen 3075 and one eight-page Screen DT-R3100 external-drum imagesetters, capable of resolutions to 4,000 dpi or stochastic screening. Digital proofing is done using a Polaroid 2540 digital proofer and a Hewlett-Packard four-color blueline. The recent addition of a Fujifilm PictroProof system has also bolstered Creel's digital proofing power. Color calibration is controlled by way of X-Rite technologies.

Powerful Solution
Perhaps Harvey's biggest accomplishment, to date, is Creel's work with Wright Technologies. Early last year, he wanted to dramatically compress creation and production timeframes at DCN. But Harvey knew that a hodgepodge of desktop publishing applications, linked by an array of workflow arrangements, was not the most effective approach. Harvey wanted a powerful solution that could deliver high-speed imaging, illustration, text and page layout—all in a single, integrated application.

Harvey determined the best solution for Creel was Wright Design from Wright Technologies, which allows users to open and edit files bigger than 100MB over a LAN or WAN in near-real time, right up to the printing process—which was just what Harvey wanted for DCN.

"Talk about power," Harvey enthuses. "With Wright Design, the impossible is now possible. What used to be a deadline nightmare, like a rush job for a 500MB file, is now realistic from a production standpoint." He cites the following example to illustrate the production performance Wright Design has brought to Creel's DCN operation:

* Imagine you have an urgent deadline. You must begin processing a 500MB poster at 6 p.m., minutes after the client has just called in a last-minute revision.

* With Wright Design, the ad agency, located 20 miles away, can open that 500MB file located on DCN's image server. The agency can then make the last-minute change directly on the high-res file, in near-real time.

* The corporate client can then approve the change via a remote, on-screen soft proof, which can zoom to the desired pixel level for added scrutiny.

* Within 15 minutes of the initial call to DCN, the new-and-improved version of the poster is ready to go. DCN can then continue its production cycle on the 500MB job.

"Obviously, our clients are completely thrilled," Harvey reports. "Revisions that, in some cases, could have taken a half a day or more can now take minutes," Harvey reports. "Wright Design has absolutely changed the way we create, share and publish content-rich documents. It provides us with an unprecedented, competitive advantage and up to a 10x productivity gain."

Harvey credits Creel and Lesher for giving Creel Printing the encouragement and freedom to investigate and implement efficient networking technologies, such as Wright Technologies' Wright Design, and digital output solutions, such as its Screen imagesetting systems.

At present, Harvey is also investigating a computer-to-plate workflow for Creel. He is cautious about thermal platesetting at present, but plans to weigh the pros and cons of both non-thermal and thermal digital platesetting alternatives. Creel Printing is currently in intense discussions with Screen and several other platesetting technology providers regarding digital platesetting, as well as digital proofing.

"From a technological standpoint, we believe the industry is now at the point for us to move into digital platesetting," Harvey says. "We've been studying the area for some time, and our feeling is that the quality and performance are there. We want to purchase a high-resolution platesetter that can image a circular dot on non-prebaked metal—the virgin dot is very important to us to retain our sense of quality. Screen (USA), for example, is one platesetting manufacturer that fills that bill."

Beyond Creel's emphasis on its DCN direction, the pressroom in Las Vegas is also positioned for some new additions. Three web offset presses will soon join Creel's current team of presses, which includes one five-color and one eight-color Goss Hantscho Mark 16 heatset web presses, one six-color Zirkon 6611 heatset web and one six-color Komori Lithrone sheetfed press. Creel also operates several MAN Miehle sheetfed presses. In the bindery, Muller Martini feeding and stitching systems join Stahl folders and McCain stitcher-trimmers in bringing production full circle.

Creel's Philosophy
What does Creel, the man, think of Creel, the company? While Allan Creel may not be a technologist at heart, he appreciates the value of investing in leading, even bleeding, edge technologies to empower his company. "I leave the technology to the technology guys," Creel states. "I trust that they will make the right decisions, based on our objectives as a growing printer and digital asset manipulator, and our established relationships with both suppliers and customers.

"Originally, this company was solely a sheetfed operation, then we moved into heatset web offset printing. We're expanding our digital prepress abilities, as well as our finishing operation," he continues.

"Our pressroom and prepress are expanding. We expect that, for Creel Printing to evolve, we'll have to keep making digital investments that will continue to push the limits of our production capabilities," Creel says. "This is business today; this is progress."

Sounds like Creel, the man, and Creel, the company, know how to place a winning bet.
 

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