Pros and Cons of Becoming a Prepress Technician
Prepress technicians are highly trained professionals who use a variety of technologies to bring graphic designers' and clients' ideas to life. Take a look at some of the pros and cons to see if becoming a prepress technician would be the right career choice for you.
|Pros of a Career as a Prepress Technician|
|Printing industry is largely domestically-based**|
|Work anywhere: printing is the geographically dispersed industry in the United States**|
|Training as a prepress technician will help you acquire transferable skills*|
|Generally quiet working conditions*|
|Cons of a Career as a Prepress Technician|
|Employment of prepress technicians expected to decline dramatically (13% decline from 2012-2022)*|
|Evening, holiday and weekend hours*|
|Work can involve the use of hazardous chemicals*|
|Production deadlines can be stressful*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Printing Industries of America.
Prepress or preflight technicians use photographic or digital procedures to covert text and images into finished pages and prepare them for printing. Working from sketches or with electronic files, technicians alter and position text and images according to a graphic designer's or a client's specifications. In cold-type print technology, some technicians still use chemicals and ultraviolet light to transfer photographic images to metal or offset printing plates. In a more advanced technology, prepress technicians utilize a direct-to-plate or computer-to-plate method where visual information is transmitted right to a printing system without the use of film. Prior to printing, prepress technicians will review the job specifications, inspect images for imperfections and confirm that all electronic files are complete and correct. Prepress technicians are also responsible for adjusting, cleaning, maintaining and repairing their equipment.
Career Prospects and Salary Information
Prepress or preflight technicians can work for a variety of employers in the printing, publishing and packaging industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the states with the highest employment levels of prepress technicians are California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. The BLS projects that employment opportunities for prepress technicians are expected to decline by 13% between 2012 and 2022. In May 2014, the median annual salary for a prepress technician was $37,000, with the highest compensation levels found in the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as reported by the BLS.
What Are the Training Requirements?
An associate's or a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a vocational certificate in prepress or offset technology is the usual minimum requirements for obtaining a job in the industry. Degree programs can be found at community and 4-year colleges, and the associate's-level design curriculum typically includes classes in graphic design, composition, page layout and production art. Students also receive training in the use of computer software programs, such as Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop), Acrobat and Quark. Those with previous experience in other printing technologies can obtain the skills they need by taking individual classes in graphics imaging. In addition to computer and design skills, prepress technicians should have:
- The ability to communicate clearly, both orally and in writing
- Basic math skills
- The ability to manage multiple projects and meet deadlines
- Customer service and interpersonal skills
Real Prepress Technician Jobs from Real Employers
The following job postings from April 2012 give you an idea of what kind of opportunities you might find as a prepress technician. Knowledge of current industry software and work experience are essential requirements, but educational credentials can vary - everything from a high school diploma to a graduate degree.
- A large format printer in Las Vegas, NV, advertised for a prepress technician to prepare digital files in a fast-paced environment. A high school diploma was the minimum educational requirement, but the posting stated that candidates should have 2-5 years of experience and be proficient in the use of Adobe Creative Suite.
- A visual communication company in Chicago, IL, offered an opportunity for a prepress operator who had completed some college coursework and had 2-5 years of experience. Flexibility, good judgment and a sense of urgency are some of the personal attributes this employer looked for in a candidate.
- A packaging company in Illinois needs a prepress technician with a 2-year degree and at least one year of experience. Candidates would anticipate any design problems in advance, perform preflight operations and produce printing plates.
- A Rhode Island manufacturing plant had an opening for a meticulous, detail-oriented and mechanically skilled technician with 2-3 years of experience in the prepress field. The job description did not specify a degree, but the posting stated that in addition to an in-depth understanding of color reproduction, press layouts and impositions, candidates should be open to learning new and emerging technologies.
- A direct marketing company in Pennsylvania needed a prepress technician with a graduate degree in an unspecified major and at least three years of experience. This person would handle production workflow, meet production schedules, maintain equipment and create the layouts for quick-turn projects.
How to Get Ahead in the Field
High school students can begin preparing themselves for a degree program in graphic design and a printing career by taking classes in studio art, computer art, graphic design and photography. Printing Industries of America, the world's largest graphic arts trade organization, offers a special student membership. On this organization's website you can find an interactive guide to production and graphic design careers, a bookstore and information about internships and scholarships (www.printing.org). Printing Industries of America is also a resource for working technicians who want to learn about new advancements in printing technology, stay informed about the state of the industry and research current opportunities in the field. Some of the services they offer include custom training, public workshops and webinars.
Students and technicians may also want to consider specializing in flexography, the fastest-growing conventional printing process. In this process, relief printing plates with raised images are used to reproduce images on a variety of materials, including corrugated containers, foil, gift wrap, newspapers, plastic bags, textiles and wallpaper. Training opportunities can be found through community college graphic imaging programs and some professional organizations such as the Flexographic Technical Organization (www.flexography.org).
Other Careers to Consider
If you're interested in working in the print field, but want to pursue a career with greater projected job growth, consider becoming a graphic designer. Graphic designers use images and words to communicate ideas, entertain the public or sell products. Their designs can be based on images, logos, symbols or type. A bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related field is usually the minimum requirement for entering this field. At the entry level, many employers prefer to hire candidates with internship experience.
According to the BLS, employment opportunities for graphic designers were expected to increase by 13% from 2010-2020, or as fast as the average for all occupations. However, the BLS also projected a dramatic 61% increase in job growth for those working in computer systems design and related services. Graphic designers in printing and publishing will see an increase of two percent and a decrease of four percent respectively. The median annual salary for graphic designers in May 2011 was $44,000, as reported by the BLS.
Desktop publishers use computer software to design and format the pages for books, brochures, newspapers and other materials that will be reproduced in print or online. An associate's or bachelor's degree program in a graphics major or equivalent experience in the field is one of the ways to prepare for this job. From 2010-2020, the BLS projected a rapid decline of 15% in the number of employment opportunities for desktop publishers as more of us take to designing our own print materials and other professionals assume responsibility for this type of work. In May 2011, desktop publishers earned a median annual salary of $37,000, as reported by the BLS.