Printing Press Operator

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Printing Press Operator


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. As we comfortably lie sleeping in bed, printing press operators are hard at work, printing the latest news off the daily press. All other press operators are not on as tight a deadline.

Since there are so many different types of printing processes, the printing press operator's job varies depending on the type of text he or she operates. Each system requires different, specialized skills and an operator may work with letterpress or offset lithography, for example. More modern forms of printing are ink-jet used for specialty printing, illustrations and designs on plastic and other materials besides paper.

Web presses are the system 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. On the other hand, small shops usually have more traditional manual presses

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, large rolls of paper automatically feed between the cylinders, which print text and images from metal plates onto both sides of the paper. It is the printing 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 printing 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 printing 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  
Printing 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 printing 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 a printing 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, as in some work environments, meeting deadlines can be very stressful. Large pressrooms can be very noisy therefore, workers need to wear safety ear-protectors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Printing press operators work for rapid printing services, newspapers, magazines, publishing companies, advertising agencies, silkscreen shops, 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 printing 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 printing press operators is to get into sales of printing products or services.

  Educational Paths  
There is no direct educational route to becoming a printing press operator. Most have completed secondary school and many take courses in printing in college or at a technical institute. Printing 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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