Printing Press Operator Careers: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of a printing press operator career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a printing press operator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Printing Press Operator

Printing press operators oversee the machinery that sets words and pictures onto newspapers, books, magazines and all types of printed materials. Explore the pros and cons before making a decision.

Pros of Becoming a Printing Press Operator
Does not require formal postsecondary training*
Variety of training options*
Can work with a wide range of printing press types*
Opportunities for advancement*

Cons of Becoming a Printing Press Operator
May work nights, weekends and holidays*
Working conditions can be noisy and demanding*
Working on deadlines can be high pressure*
New technology may require retraining*
Employment is on the decline (a projected decrease of five percent)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description

Although the details may vary depending on the type of equipment, operators of traditional printing presses will usually install plates, add ink, load paper and adjust presses to specifications. You'll also monitor presses as they run to check for paper jams, ink levels, speed and temperature. Newer digital presses have automated some of these processes, but the press operators still must check for printing imperfections and maintain the equipment to safety standards with the help of computerized and electronic monitoring systems.

Being a printing press operator can be physically demanding. You'll generally stand or walk most of the time. You'll also have to work in close proximity to loud machinery. Working with the press machinery carries a risk of injury, although automation has made this less of an issue than in the past. Print jobs usually must be executed quickly, so the work can be stressful. Some printing press operators, especially at newspapers, work nights, weekends and holidays. They may also work overtime in special circumstances.

Career Prospects and Salary Information

The number of jobs for printing press operators was expected to decline by about five percent from 2012-2022 due to new technology that requires fewer press workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Increasing prevalence of online publications will also add to this decline. The decrease in jobs will be especially noticeable in newspaper and magazine printing presses. The BLS reports that the median salary for a printing press operator was approximately $37,200 as of May 2014. The middle fifty percent of them made between about $28,820 and $47,200.

What Are the Requirements?

While most printing press operators learn on the job, some employers prefer to hire operators who have completed apprenticeships or training programs through vocational schools or community colleges. Some schools offer degree programs in printing technology, while others offer individual courses. Schools may offer these degree programs in combination with apprenticeships at local employers. Other schools have printing labs on campus where students can gain practical experience.

Whether trained on the job or through formal education, novice printers start out learning how a press works. As their skills develop, they move on to more advanced duties. Even after you gain experience in press operation, you will continue to be retrained periodically to learn new technologies and refresh your skills.

Useful Skills

Printing press operators must possess basic computer skills and the ability to learn to use the software associated with digital printing. You must have some mechanical ability as well as sound math skills. Additionally, you'll need to have good eyesight and color vision.

What Employers Are Seeking

Experience on specific types of presses is the most common request of job postings for printing press operators. Many job postings also emphasize manufacturing experience and mechanical ability. Here is a sampling of what real employers were looking for in March 2012:

  • A printing company in Tennessee was looking for a printing press operator with 2-5 years of experience to work the second shift. The ad called for someone who could operate a 4-color sheet-fed press.
  • In Ohio, a company needed a computer-literate, mechanically inclined printing press operator with two years of experience in manufacturing. The job posting called for someone who can lift at least 50 pounds and is proficient with computers.
  • Another Ohio firm needed someone with at least five years of experience to run a 6-8-color press. The ad said the ideal candidate would be willing to work any shift. The press manufacturer would also provide some training.
  • In Minnesota, a company was looking for a press operator with experience in narrow web operations. The person should have strong leadership ability, mechanical aptitude and communication skills.

How to Stand Out

Although many people become printing press operators with no formal training, a certificate or an associate's degree from a vocational school may give you a leg up in the field. You can also upgrade your skills by taking online courses from organizations such as Printing Industries of America. Operators trained in running more than one type of press may be more valuable in the job market, so you may benefit from gaining experience with a variety of different press types. As you gain experience in this occupation, you may learn to operate more complicated equipment and can also be placed in to supervisory roles.

Earn Certification

You can further demonstrate your skills in this field by earning certification. Several professional organizations offer certification for printing press operators. Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) is a three-level educational program that leads to certification from the Flexographic Technical Association. Printing Industries of America also offers certification to graduates of the organization's training programs who pass a skills and knowledge test.

Other Career Paths

Bookbinder

If you like the notion of delivering the printed word to consumers, but don't think operating a printing press is right for you, perhaps bookbinding is a better option. Bookbinders add finishing details on books, such as stitching the pages together and adding covers. They may restore antique or rare books or bind limited editions. You do not need postsecondary education for this career, and you will likely learn the skills you need after being hired. Employment was projected to decline at a rate of three percent from 2010-2020, according to the BLS, an effect of increasing popularity of digital books. The best job opportunities will likely be in commercial printing. The median salary for all types of bookbinders was approximately $29,000 as of May 2011.

Prepress Technician

Another option in this field is to work in the prepress phase of printing. Prepress technicians create images of pages and get them ready for the press. They may produce metal plates for an offset press or send electronic files to a digital press for printing. Prepress technicians usually hold associate's degrees, certificates or diplomas in printing technology, though you might also earn a bachelor's degree in graphic design or communications. The BLS predicted that jobs for prepress technicians would decline by 16% from 2010-2020 and that these professionals earned a median salary of approximately $37,000 as of May 2011.

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Full Sail University

  • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
  • BS - Media Communications (Campus)
  • B.S. - Graphic Design

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Hennepin Technical College

Fox Valley Technical College