Photoengraver Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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Learn about a photoengraver's job description, salary information and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a photoengraver career.
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Pros and Cons of a Photoengraver Career

Photoengravers are a type of prepress worker. A decline in job growth is forecast for prepress technicians and workers, and salaries for photoengravers are often low. However, if you decided to pursue this position, you would have varied education and training options as well as a variety of potential employers. Consider the pros and cons of becoming a photoengraver to help you make an informed decision about your career.

Pros of Becoming a Photoengraver
Job preparation may be done through a college program or apprenticeship****
Independent work environment****
Work may be available in different fields (newspapers, magazines, etc.)****
Employers can range from small businesses to large corporations****

Cons of Becoming a Photoengraver
Negative job growth expected for printing workers in general (projected decline of 16% from 2010-2020)*
Below average earnings (median salary of around $35,000 as of 2012)**
Job involves exposure to hazardous chemicals***
May require frequent overtime****

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **, ***U.S. Treasury, ****State of Michigan.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a photoengraver, you would work in the prepress stage of the printing process. You would utilize photography and developing equipment to produce metal printing plates, which would contain the text and images to be printed. You also might use specialized hand tools to create a raised printing surface on these plates. Other job duties could include making machine adjustments, positioning plates, checking the quality of the finished engraving work, cleaning equipment and mixing chemical solutions.

Although you'll likely work as part of a printing team, much of your work will be done independently with only some supervision. Your work environment should be inside with adequate lighting and ventilation. Working under deadlines is common, and you may be required to put in overtime hours. Some positions require membership in a union.

Job Growth and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 16% decline in employment for prepress technicians and workers from 2010-2020 ( This projected decline was due in part to a reduction in the number of printed materials in the market as more publications move to online formats. According to, the median annual income for a photoengraver was around $35,000 as of April 2012.

Career Skills and Requirements

Photoengravers usually need to complete a postsecondary program at a community college or technical school or complete an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship programs typically last 3-5 years. In one of these programs, you might learn about preparing negatives and printing plates, using light correctly, handling chemicals, blueprint reading and film stripping, as well as paper and ink characteristics, safety procedures and color creation.

To work as a photoengraver, you need skills that include:

  • Basic mathematics
  • Attention to detail
  • Manual dexterity
  • Good eyesight

How to Maximize Your Skills

Whether you decide to complete a college program or an apprenticeship, there are steps you can take to maximize your skills. For instance, you might choose to gain additional experience through an informal apprenticeship or mentorship. Additionally, you might shadow a prepress worker on the job, take tours of various printing companies or volunteer in a prepress department. Becoming familiar with the different types of printing and production processes also could be beneficial.

Other Careers to Consider

Perhaps the biggest drawback of a career as a photoengraver is the projected continuing decline in employment. Due to this decline, new positions are not likely to become available, severely limiting the number of opportunities for new applicants in the field. Considering this, you might decide to enter a related, yet more promising, field. Possible alternative careers include metal and plastic machine workers and graphic designers.

Metal and Plastic Machine Worker

Machine workers set up equipment that is used to cut and form plastic and metal materials. This job requires operating and adjusting the machine settings, lifting materials onto the machines and removing, testing and measuring the finished products. Machine workers are expected to see 6% job growth in the 2010-2020 decade, which is slower than average, but better than the prediction for prepress technicians, according to the BLS. No formal education is required and on-the-job training is the most common way to prepare for this career. The BLS reported that, as of May 2011, metal and plastic machine operators earned a median annual wage of around $35,000.

Graphic Designer

Another job in the printing industry that is expected to see better employment growth (13% from 2010-2020, per the BLS) is graphic designer. This job typically requires a bachelor's degree, but as of May 2011, it had a median annual wage of around $44,000, according to the BLS; this was significantly higher than the salary of a photoengraver. Some job duties are similar to those of a prepress worker, such as preparing images, text and other materials for printed publication. Additionally, graphic designers create original designs by hand or computer for use in advertising, print and online publications.

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