Becoming a Printing Machine Technician: Job Description & Salary

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A printing machine technician's median annual salary is $35,100, but is it worth the training requirements? Read real job postings and see the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a printing machine technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Working as a Printing Machine Technician

Printing machine technicians, also known as printing press operators, operate and maintain various types of printing machines, including letter and letterset presses, offset lithograph presses and flexographic presses. Find out the pros and cons of being a printing machine technician and figure out if you are a good fit for this type of job.

Pros of a Printing Machine Technician Career
High school degree or GED may be sufficient to begin your career*
Good career option for those with artistic ability*
Most training takes place on the job*
Jobs can be found in many locations*

Cons of a Printing Machine Technician Career
Declining job opportunities (4% projected decline from 2012-2022)*
High-pressure job with tight deadlines*
Night shift, weekend and holiday work is sometimes necessary*
Operating a press can be mentally and physically demanding*

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

Job Duties and Career Information

Printing machine technicians maintain, operate and prepare printing presses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they handle print materials in three stages: prepress, press and finishing. The exact job duties depend on the type of material being printed. There are a handful of general skills most printing machine technicians have. For example, you will need to be knowledgeable about different shades of colors and how printed material is supposed to look before you print it. You'll also need to be able to perform basic maintenance and cleaning work on a press.

Career Path and Education

Most printing shops are looking for machine technicians with some formal training in the field. The BLS indicates that most employers are interested in printing machine technicians who exhibit a combination of traditional print training and some knowledge of digital printing techniques. Some prospective technicians complete an associate's degree program that teaches them basic printing practices and then seek professional experience through work as an assistant or apprentice. Technicians with an interest in design or management positions often pursue a bachelor's degree in graphic design.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS projects that the employment of printing machine technicians will decline by 4% between 2012 and 2022. However, there will be a number of senior technicians retiring, creating job opportunities for new technicians. The BLS also notes that technicians who receive postsecondary training and have sharp computer skills will be among the most desirable job candidates in the industry. In May 2014, the BLS indicated that printing machine technicians earned a median annual salary of around $35,100.

What Are the Requirements?

In addition to your high school (or higher) education and hands-on training, many employers require new technicians to undergo a formal apprenticeship or work as assistants to experienced technicians before they take on their own projects. If you plan on working in a commercial printing shop, a formal apprenticeship typically lasts around four years. Some apprenticeships include additional school courses. Specifically, you will also need:

  • Good communication skills
  • Knowledge of production processes and raw materials
  • Strong customer service skills
  • Attention to detail
  • The ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure

Real Job Listings

Many employers are interested in technicians who are able to work in a team, lift a minimum amount of weight and work long shifts. Some employers also prefer technicians who have previously worked in industrial jobs. The following jobs were available in April of 2012:

  • A New York-based company is seeking a printing machine technician to work a color printing press overnight. The successful candidate should have experience running a six-color press. The company also prefers a technician who has experience with coating and automated sheet feeding technology.
  • A flexographic company in Minnesota is interested in hiring a printing machine technician with professional experience and mechanical skills. The company prefers a technician who has a background in narrow Web operations and demonstrates leadership abilities. The successful candidate should also have excellent communication skills.
  • A printing machine technician is needed by a printing company in Pennsylvania. This employer would like to hire a technician with at least five years of experience and good organizational skills. A computer-proficient technician is preferred, and the successful candidate must be able to lift at least 70 pounds.

How to Stand Out in this Field

Since this occupation has few formal educational requirements, obtaining an associate degree or bachelor's degree can be beneficial for distinguishing yourself from other job candidates. Another good way to separate yourself from other technicians in the industry is to demonstrate your ability to retrain and consistently learn new technology. For example, technicians familiar with one-color presses often train to operate four-color presses. Being knowledgeable about the maintenance and operation of new forms of printing technology may also be helpful. If you wish to advance into a management and cost estimator position, you may consider professional certification.

Career Alternatives

Perhaps you've decided that a career as a printing machine technician is not a good fit or you want a job with a positive employment outlook. If so, there are some related occupations you may be interested in pursuing.

Metal and Plastic Machine Operator

You might be interested in working in a different type of manufacturing process. In that case, you can find machine operator positions dealing with metals and plastics in a number of industries. You may either set up machines for manufacturing purposes or operate machines during the actual production process. In either case, the BLS expects job opportunities for metal machine setters and operators to increase 6% between 2010 and 2020. In 2011, the BLS indicated that metal and plastic workers earned a median annual salary of around $32,000.

Construction Equipment Operator

If you are more interested in operating heavy machinery than you are in the printing field, you may look into working as a construction equipment operator. These technicians control heavy machinery and operate and drive construction vehicles. According to the BLS, job prospects for construction equipment operators are due to grow by 23% from 2010-2020. In 2011, the BLS reported that these individuals earned a median salary of around $42,000 per year.

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