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Scanner Operator: Job Description & Requirements

Keep reading to see what scanner operators do. Find out what kind of training and education are required. Get details about career prospects to decide if this field is right for you.

Career Definition for a Scanner Operator

Scanner operators, also known as prepress technicians, combine their knowledge of design and technology to prepare customer images for printing. While once responsible for the processes involved in producing printing plates, the tasks previously done by scanner operators are now primarily done with digital imaging technology.

This new technology receives digital images or converts images to a digital format and sends them directly to the printing plate without the complicated photographic transfer process. However, some mediums, such as photoengraving and lithography, still require a scanner operator to oversee plate making. Scanner operators are responsible for monitoring film exposure and its transfer onto the metal plates that will replicate the image during the printing process. Scanner operators also maintain quality controls that ensure the customer gets the finished product he or she envisioned. These tasks include checking for color consistency and flaws in the film.

Education Has typically completed coursework in graphic communications; certificates, associate's and bachelor's degrees available
Job Duties Oversees plate making, monitors film exposure and its transfer onto the metal plates, maintains quality controls by checking for color consistency and flaws in the film
Median Salary (2018)* $40,410 (prepress technicians and workers)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* -20% (prepress technicians and workers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Employers typically look for job candidates who have completed coursework in graphic communications. This field is highly specialized and prospective scanner operators will learn about press operations as a whole, with special attention given to digital applications for the prepress stages. Certificates are available in press operations, digital prepress, and desktop prepress. An Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science in Communication Arts degree program is another option. A Bachelor of Science in Printing Management program is also offered and prepares candidates to take on management positions after graduating. Courses in this field include digital file preparation, digital typography, and color management.

Skills Required

A scanner operator must be detail-oriented and able to meet deadlines. In addition, good listening skills are needed since a scanner operator must listen to customers' requests and use his or her technical knowledge to turn the customer's vision into a finished product.

Career and Economic Outlook

A job as a scanner operator is highly specialized. Made nearly obsolete by advances in technology, their skills are used in rarer productions such as lithography and engraving. However, experience with these techniques can be helpful since, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employers prefer job applicants with both formal training and a working knowledge of the printing process. The BLS reports that the employment of prepress technicians and workers is projected to decline by 20% from 2016 through 2026. Prepress technicians and workers earned a median annual salary of $40,410 in May 2018 (www.bls.gov).

Alternate Career Options

Similar career choices within this field include:

Graphic Designer

A graphic designer creates images that include pictures and text to meet the needs of colleagues and clients who seek to convey a particular message or vision. Graphic designers can work by hand or with computer software programs. Advertising, marketing, and public relations departments or companies often rely on the services of graphic designers. The BLS reports that in 2016, 18% of graphic designers were self-employed; employment growth is projected to be 4% from 2016 to 2026. The BLS also reports that graphic designers earned median pay of $50,370 in 2018.

Machine Setter

A machine setter works in manufacturing and gets a machine ready to run a job. Machine setters install the necessary cutting tools and do a small run to test the settings and make sure they're accurate. They may make minor repairs or adjustments, such as sharpening a surface, before the machine operator steps in for the full production run.

Machine setters usually have at least a high school diploma. Postsecondary certificate programs are available. Machine setters also usually get on-the-job training. Industry certification is available. The BLS predicts that the number of jobs for metal and plastic machine workers will decline by 9% from 2016 to 2026. These workers received a median salary of $36,080 in 2018, per the BLS.


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