Graphic Arts - Pre-Press

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Graphic Arts - Pre-Press


With the eye of a designer and the technical ability to use machinery and advanced computer programs, graphic pre-press operators design layouts and assemble text and graphics into page formats for printing, using computerized typesetting and image assembly. From logos and brochures to books and print commercials graphic pre-press designers are involved with it all.

There is a second set of workers in this group referred to as printing press operators. Printing press operators prepare, operate, and maintain the printing presses in a pressroom. The duties of press operators vary according to the type of press they operate. There is offset lithography, gravure, (the recesses on an etched plate or cylinder are inked and pressed to paper,) flexography, (a form of rotary printing in which ink is applied to the surface by a flexible rubber printing plate with a raised image area) screen printing, or letterpress. Offset lithography, which transfers an inked impression from a rubber-covered cylinder to paper or other material, is the dominant printing process that operators tend to use.

It is the job of the graphic pre-press operator and the printing press operator to make sure everything from the correct colors to the correct fonts are accounted for and ready to print. They are the last line of workers before the magazine, brochure, newsletter or poster is finished, so they must be especially aware of any inconsistencies in their work. Mistakes made in pre-press can cost thousands of dollars to the business or client if they have the wrong color scheme or missing text.
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  Average Earnings  
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Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Graphic pre-press designers and printing press operators must have an interest in technical work such as typography. Graphic pre-press operators need an interest in art and design and the knowledge to create these images with computer software. These workers need an eye for detail, a good knowledge of the English language and good eyesight. Pre-press workers must also be methodical in their work, and have a high degree of concentration and patience.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Develop visual concepts
  • Prepare layouts and finished artwork; choose type size and style and visual composition of photographs and illustrations
  • Manipulate images and type to meet production and design requirements using a variety of computer hardware and software
  • Produce and process images
  • Electronically scan, separate and color correct images
  • Prepare various printing media including letterpress, offset lithographic plates, gravure cylinders and flexographic plates or blocks
  • Input, transfer and manipulate and manage electronic data for various output devices including typesetting systems, scanners and multimedia systems
  • Provide maintenance as needed for the machines
  • A typical day will find pre-press operators performing many different tasks. From the graphic pre-press operator who may design and lay out a brochure or poster to the printing press operator who will prepare the correct mediums for printing, the days of pre-press operators are always different. Most pre-press technicians will work in clean, air-conditioned areas with little noise. They tend to work eight-hour days, however they will work longer hours when required to meet deadlines. Pre-press operators employed by newspapers may work evenings, weekends and holidays

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Graphic pre-press operators and printing press operators are employed by commercial print shops both large and small. Some may be employed in-house by larger companies producing all of their advertising and communications.

  Long Term Career Potential  
As workers gain experience, they may advance to positions with greater responsibility. They may move into supervisory positions and graphic pre-press operators may also choose to work as freelance graphic designers.

  Educational Paths  
To work as a graphic pre-press operator or printing press operator most employers require at least a high school diploma. There are many two- to four-year programs offered at colleges that are a good way to learn about this industry and get the experience needed to find employment. Individuals may also choose to take some courses offered through vocational institutes or industry sponsored training programs.

Many workers receive training on the job, after working as helpers and demonstrating their reliability and interest in the occupation. They begin with instruction from an experienced craft worker and advance based on their demonstrated mastery of skills at each level. All workers should expect to be retrained from time to time to handle new, improved equipment.

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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