Graphic and printing equipment operators run sophisticated machinery to produce materials for publishers, printers and paper producers. Read more to learn more about job growth, earnings and training for graphic and printing workers before deciding if this is the right career for you.
As a graphic and printing equipment operator, you'll set up and run printing presses and related equipment to produce books, cards, posters and publications, among other types of materials. You might use traditional plate and roller processes or plateless techniques like ink-jet and digital printing. Many graphic and printing equipment operators receive on-the-job training, but employers generally prefer to hire workers with apprenticeship experience or postsecondary education.
As a printing operator, you could work for book, newspaper or magazine publishers, as well as commercial printers. You might also find a job with an advertising or public relations firm.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for printing press operators are expected to decline by 4% from 2012-2022. Overall, digital formats and a decreased use of print-based materials will have a negative impact on job growth. As of May 2013, printing press operators earned a median annual wage of $34,920 (www.bls.gov).
Although an apprenticeship or on-the-job training can prepare you for a job as a graphic and printing equipment operator, more and more workers are learning the craft through formal education programs in printing technology, graphic communications technology or printing equipment operations. Programs are available at the certificate or associate and bachelor's degree levels and can be found at trade schools, colleges and universities. In addition to learning about traditional printing methods, you'll be trained in the use of new techniques like desktop publishing. You'll also learn how to cut and collate printed materials, layout and format publications, run printers and proofread.
Prepress processes, such as the preparation of images and text, will also be covered, along with topics in color theory, digital imaging, offset printing and photography. Continuing education is essential and can help you stay current on new types of equipment and processes.
Knowledge of computers, machinery and electronics is key to working in this field. As a press operator, you should also have a flair for color and design, as well as strong math and mechanical skills. Good eyesight and the ability to communicate effectively are also important. Remaining calm in stressful situations will help you avoid the costly mistakes that can occur in the publishing industry.