If you are interested in professional printing, there are careers available that deal with every step of the printing process: from the beginning operation to the finishing and binding stage. Training for a career in printing can be learned on the job or through an associate's degree program, which is becoming more preferred by employers.
Most printing jobs fall within one of three broad categories. Each category correlates to a part of the printing process, either prepress, press or postpress. Prepress technicians prepare the work to be printed--for example, a graphic designer might work on a prepress team ensuring that the document is properly designed for publication. Training requirements and potential for advancement vary greatly within the different areas. Though most employers only require a high school diploma for entry-level positions, an associate's degree is often preferred as the world of printing is becoming more and more entwined with computer-based technologies; candidates with computer skills are becoming more desirable.
|Career||Prepress Technicians||Printing Press Operators||Print Binding and Finishing Workers|
|Required Education||An associate's degree might be requested||High school diploma||High school diploma|
|Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)*||-21%||N/A||N/A|
|Median Salary (2018)*||$40,410||$36,220||$32,890|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Unique jobs in each of the three stages of printing exist. Below, we will examine what goes into becoming and being a prepress technician, a printing press operator, and a print binding and finishing worker. An associate's degree may be requested of prepress technicians, but a high school diploma will suffice for the other two positions.
The first stage of the printing process involves both professional and technical workers. Graphic designers, proofreaders and typographers prepare files of images and text to be printed. Platemakers, screenmakers and other prepress technicians upload files and program or manually prepare printing machines. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median salary of $40,410 for prepress technicians and workers. From 2018-2028, employment for these workers was expected to decline by 21%.
Production positions are highly technical. They require a strong knowledge of the printing process and are responsible for the physical operation of various types of printing machinery. Job titles include:
- Offset press operator
- Digital press operator
- Web press operator
- Material handler
- Ink maker
- Machine adjustor
- Job technician
Printing press operators, according to the BLS, earned an annual median wage of $36,220 in 2018.
Other Printing Careers
In the postpress stage, binders and finishers are responsible for cutting, sewing and gluing finished print jobs for distribution. Support staff commonly found in the printing industry includes customer service representatives, sales associates, truck drivers and human resources managers. Print binding and finishing workers made a median salary of $32,890 in 2018, per the BLS.
Education Requirements for Printing Jobs
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a majority of printing production jobs require only a high school diploma, since most training is acquired on the job (www.bls.gov). It is standard within the industry for new hires to come in as helpers and work their way up to positions of more responsibility. However, because so much of the process is computer-driven, technical training or an associate's degree is preferred for entry-level positions. For students aspiring to professional, managerial or administrative positions, a bachelor's degree is recommended.
Community colleges and vocational schools commonly offer programs in printing technologies. Certificate and diploma programs typically require core coursework related to the following topics:
- Printing methods (flexography, lithography, gravure, etc.)
- Conventional and electronic prepress methods
- Offset presswork
- Digital printing
- Introductory communication
- Computer literacy
Specialized certificates in techniques such as silk-screening or electronic imaging require additional courses in the area of concentration. Likewise, associate's and bachelor's degree programs require a broader range of study and often include graphic design, advanced computing, business communication and bindery/finishing coursework.
Prepress technicians are involved in the first step of the printing process, preparing projects and files and the printing machines. A career at the press stage deals with highly technical aspects of the printing process and the different physical parts that are involved. Finally, working in the postpress stage of printing entails preparing, and possibly shipping, the finished products.