Pressing Machine Technician Degrees: Associate, Training & Online Info

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What will you learn in a pressing machine technician degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate degree and potential careers.
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Studying Pressing Machine Operations: Degrees at a Glance

Pressing machine technicians, better known as printing press operators, run and maintain various kinds of printers. You'll prepare printing presses for orders by inspecting and adjusting press plates, printer rollers and inks, as well as perform test runs and examine proofs for errors. Operators use various tools, such as hammers and wrenches, to repair a machine's mechanical equipment. While your duties can differ by the type of press that you operate, in many facilities, you'll also manage cutters, multi-color presses, drum scanners and digital copiers.

High school graduates can complete training on the job or though an apprenticeship. In your training, you may begin by cleaning, loading and unloading presses before gaining enough experience to work alone. You may also be able to gain training through a certificate program. An associate degree program can expose you to design software, digital pre-press and image editing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a 1% decline in the number of operator jobs from 2010-2020 due to the decrease in printed materials.

Certificate Associate
Who Is This Degree For? - Aspiring printing press operators looking for fundamental training for entry-level positions - Individuals seeking a broad education of the printing, publishing and design industries
- Experienced print production professionals interested in improving their skill set
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Press operator assistant ($43,000)**
- Bindery technician ($32,000)**
- Printing press operator (including digital, lithographic, flexographic, letterpress, gravure machines) ($34,000)*
- Desktop publisher ($37,000)*
- Print production coordinator ($53,000)**
Time to Completion 1 year full-time 2 years full-time
Prerequisites High school diploma High school diploma
Online Availability Not at this time Some courses might be available online

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (November 2012 figures).

Printing Press Operator Certificate Training

One way to receive training in a short amount of time is through a certificate program. You can find press operator certificate programs through community colleges, typically through their graphic arts or industrial technology divisions. You'll gain an understanding of the day-to-day procedures of an operator by learning about ink levels, color mixing, press plates and cylinders. The curriculum also addresses the setup and maintenance of the presses in preparation for various electronic and paper publishing. Certificate programs typically focus on one type of printing such as flexographic or lithographic offset press operation.

Pros and Cons


  • A certificate program could provide increased skills sets and more exposure to various printers and design software than learning on the job
  • Obtaining formal education demonstrates to employers that you're trained for the field
  • Certificate programs can be completed in under a year


  • Training usually occurs on the job, so a postsecondary certificate may not be necessary
  • The employment outlook for printing press operators isn't expected to rise through 2020*
  • A certificate may only permit you to work as a printing assistant

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

In a printing press operator certificate program, you'll learn basic set up, run and repair techniques for various printed materials. Most of these programs delve into graphics-related topics, such as layout and design, photography, illustration and image editing. You may have an opportunity to manage a print production order from pre-press to customer delivery. You'll develop time management and problem-solving skills, which are important in meeting deadlines. Course topics like the following may be covered in a printing press operator certificate program:

  • Offset production
  • Graphic arts fundamentals
  • Electronic publishing
  • Four-color process

Online Training Options

Learning how to operate, fix and maintain a printing press involves learning through demonstration and hands-on practice in a traditional classroom or through practical learning. Online learning is rarely an option; however, you may be able to find a distance learning program focusing on a particular type of printer. In this option, you won't typically gain a broad understanding of the industry.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Printing press operators perform a vast number of job duties, from lubricating the press parts and checking ink levels to adjusting press plates for different print jobs. If you want to remain competitive when you finish this certificate program, you should seek out opportunities for hands-on training. While many employers provide on-the-job training for prospective printing press operators, it's beneficial to present yourself as an experienced applicant by completing practical instruction while enrolled in school. You could also build your knowledge of print layout, Macintosh operating systems and design software to stay competitive among other workers.

Associate Degree in Printing Press Operation

Printing press operator programs at this level are designed to prepare students for transition into more commercial design and digital media careers. Common majors for prospective printing press operators seeking an associate degree include printing and publishing and printing technology. These programs emphasize photography, typography, finishing, digital pre-press and color management. These 2-year programs include general education courses such as English, algebra, technical writing and economics. You'll be tested on how to solve print problems from various presses and will need to demonstrate knowledge of digital equipment.

Pros and Cons


  • Obtaining a degree may expand your employment choices in the graphic design and print production field
  • You'll gain a broad preparation in the design elements that create a finished product
  • Many desktop publishers have an associate degree; you may need this credential to compete for a job


  • Associate degree programs focus less on maintenance of the printing machines, which may be a required part of the job
  • A degree isn't necessary to work as a printing press operator
  • Most printing press operator training is performed on the job and led by the employer

Courses and Requirements

Associate degree courses in a print technology-related program focus on the media that's used before and after an item is printed; some classes have accompanying computer lab sessions. These programs prepare operators for the transition into digital printing work. The repair and maintenance of the printing presses themselves isn't covered in as comprehensive a way as in standalone courses or certificate programs; however, some programs cover newspaper operations. Among the courses available, you could take some of the following:

  • Bindery and finishing
  • Color imaging
  • Graphic communication
  • Sheet-fed offset press
  • Web-fed press
  • Print shop safety and environmental issues

Online Training Options

If you like the convenience of learning from anywhere the Internet is available, there are varied online training options for the printing field. Some colleges offer standalone design courses for relevant software programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Other schools may offer courses supplemented with access to online features like syllabi, exams and discussions or allow some courses to be completed online through an associate degree program.

Getting Ahead with This Training

As a future printing press operator, you'll need to gain insight into the modern techniques of the printing and imaging processes. By completing an associate degree program, you'll learn about digital pre-press components, such as fonts, photography, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and graphics creation. Associate degree programs can help you transition into careers in desktop publishing, page layout and digital imaging. You could also consider earning a 4-year bachelor's degree in a related field like graphic design for more exposure to the print field.

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