Offset Press Operator

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Offset Press Operator


When people read their favorite magazines or flip through daily newspapers, they often do not stop and think about how that publication came to be. Printers take the creative output of writers and illustrators and turn it into these publications. With the explosion of the Internet, some fear that the printed medium is slowly vanishing. Despite the boom of electronic publishing, the printed word will not disappear; at least not in our lifetime.

Newspapers, magazines, books and pamphlets, amongst many other paper materials are designed, prepared, printed and finished by printing press operators. More specifically, offset lithography press operators, who specialize in a type of printing, which is the most common form in a larger press. If you can picture those large machines that print out the daily newspaper, then you know what kind of machine the offset press operator runs. The quality of the final product is a result of the guidance, expertise and craft of the offset press operator.

As people comfortably lie sleeping in bed at night, offset press operators are hard at work, printing the latest news hot off the daily press. Also called web pressing, the system is used to print newspapers, magazines and books. They are the largest, fastest and most complex presses used today, requiring a crew of operators and assistants to work them. Webs feed the paper in big rolls to the presses.

Offset lithography is a process in which images are put on plates that are dampened first by water, and then ink. Wait! Usually ink and water do not mix. Yet this ink adheres to the image area, and the water to the non-image area. The ink is distributed by a series of rollers. Then the image is transferred to a rubber blanket, and from the rubber blanket to paper. This is why the process is called offset printing -- the image does not go directly to the paper from the plates as it does in other types of printing, such as gravure.

The entire offset process occurs at an extremely high speed. Since there is the water involved, there is a risk of smudging, however printer avoids smudging by having the paper pass through a high-temperature gas fired oven. After they are "cooked," the paper runs through refrigeration rollers, which cool the paper down instantly.

The process of printing involves a number of tasks. Before operators start the presses, they need to adjust the pressure, fill the presses with ink, load the paper properly and make all final adjustments to fit the size paper to be used. Once they push the start button, it is the offset press operator's job to monitor the machine, making sure everything runs smoothly. They may occasionally need to adjust the feed and tension controls, if something goes a bit off kilter. When the printing is complete, they fold, cut, and assemble the pages.

With new technological processes, many of the offset press operator's functions are being phased out and being replaced by computers and machines. On one hand, this means that there may be a decline in the demand for offset press operators, but on the other hand, the press operators jobs will be quicker, and they will be able to perform many tasks electronically. Finally, those who work for newspapers and magazines, they often work under strict deadlines, therefore there is often a great deal of stress and pressure involved in the job. It is important to make sure that the printed material is ready for the morning delivery.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Offset press operators need to have good math and English skills. Not only do they need to make quick calculations in their head, but also, they have to figure out dimensions of paper, ink and various mixtures. Language skills are also important as some press operators act as proofreaders. They are very organized people who enjoy following set methods in their work. They also need to work well under pressure to meet deadlines. They should also have good communication skills as they work with fellow employers and customers.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Review work order to determine job specifications, such as ink color and quantity required
  • Set up and make adjustments to printing machine, such as filling ink or paint reservoirs and loading stock
  • Input codes and key in programming data on console keyboard of computerized printers
  • Operate and monitor printing machines during print run and make adjustments as required
  • Clean machines and replace worn parts
  • The hours that an offset press operator works depends on where they work. Those working on newspapers work in the middle of the night on shifts, whereas people working in commercial rapid print shops work standard nine to five hours. Operating a more traditional press can be physically and mentally demanding, for in some deadline driven work environments, meeting these can be very stressful. Large pressrooms can be very noisy therefore, workers need to wear safety ear-protectors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Offset press operators work for rapid printing services, newspapers, magazines, publishing companies, commercial printing companies and in manufacturing and other establishments that have in-house printing facilities, such as large factories and small presses.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for offset press operators? There are many associated jobs within the same industry such as a cameraperson, plate maker, typesetter or binder. Some also move into graphic and desktop design and publishing. Since they do assemble all the text and graphics, they could also do layout for magazine and newspapers. Another option for offset press operators is to get into sales of printing products or services.

  Educational Paths  
There is no direct educational route to becoming an offset press operator. Most have completed secondary school and many take courses in printing in college or at a technical institute. Offset press operators say that the best training is learned on the job. They start out as assistants or apprentices and slowly learn how to perform more complex tasks. Apprenticeships take about four years and combine some on-the-job training with classroom and correspondence courses.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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