Perhaps one of the industries most impacted by the digital age has been print shops. For decades, they handled all print jobs – labels, business card, promotional materials. Then came online services and new technologies. Seventy-four years later, Modesto’s Willey Printing Company (WPC) continues to evolve with the times, while adhering to its original business philosophy – expert customer service, outstanding results (WilleyPrinting.com).
Cameras, Typeface & Paste-Up
WPC was established in 1946 when F.C. (Bill) Willey formed a partnership with his son J.R. (Dick) Willey after leaving his job for the McClatchy family as business manager of the Modesto Bee and purchasing Commercial Printing Co. of Modesto which he renamed Willey Printing Company.
“People don’t realize that the print industry constantly changes,” explains Manager Scott Sauls. “In the 1940s it was letterpress, a process by which copies are produced by repeated direct impression of an inked raised surface against paper. In the 1950s it switched over to offset printing, in which an inked image is transferred from a plate to a rubber ‘blanket’ and then to the printing surface.”
Scott’s father, Jerry Sauls, was a “printer’s devil” in the 1950s – the term for an apprentice. Jerry worked at WPC for decades, became a partner in the business in 1997, and subsequently purchased the balance of the business in 2018. Back then, artwork was “pasted up” on boards. Print shops had dark rooms and large cameras to shoot images. Everything was put together manually until the artwork was “camera ready” – which became the term for “ready to print”.
As technology evolved, print shops had to make significant investment in large presses to produce the large quantities customers demanded. WPC invested in Heidelberg presses, considered the best in the world, and handled work for E&J Gallo Winery, Delicato Vineyards, Cal Relays, and countless companies throughout the region.
In 1994, after purchasing property on 13thStreet and building a much larger facility, the company moved from 1111 J Street in downtown Modesto. The expansion enabled the addition of collation, bindery and many other services for its clients.
Computers and the internet upended the print shop paradigm. “As at-home printers improved, people started doing their own small jobs,” Scott says. “And then, as online services appeared, people started to focus on price. For many print shops, it was the perfect storm – and unfortunately, they went under.”
Scott shares that his father made the decision to shift as quickly as possible into cost-efficient digital print technologies, including new Heidelberg presses. “Moving into the digital age was the game changer for us. When we decided to invest in land and digital printing back in the Dot.Com days, that kept us afloat and pointed us in the proper direction while other companies shut their doors.”
Today’s client is much more print savvy, Scott points out, and has come to realize that the quality of the printed piece is an important consideration. “We have had clients come back to us because they didn’t like the inconsistency of color, lack of attention to trim line detail, etc. which resulted in their printed materials looking sub-par. Whether it’s a label, business card, or brochure, your printed items are often the first point of contact with your customers; what do you want the quality to say about your company?”
The cost of technology has improved as well. “Digital presses are now cheaper and geared more toward the smaller markets and can involve packaging and large format printing to provide a company with a distinctive print identity. We can do a wide assortment of short run jobs cost-effectively for our clients.”
A Team Approach
It’s not just technology, however. The dedicated team at WPC is one of their unique attributes. Many of the 30-plus employees have grown with the company, and bring that depth of experience to making sure the outcome of each project is exceptional. “We have truly talented employees. Printing is still a craft, and while we can teach printing, it takes some time and experience to know a few things about paper, inks and the print process that can make all the difference in the final piece.”
Speaking personally, I have worked with the WPC team across many projects, from tech manuals to labels, to custom cut display cards. Their “old-fashioned service” merged with state-of-the art printing capabilities really does set them apart. After all, you don’t get to be one of the oldest print shops in the Valley unless you’re doing something right.