Learn about printing press technologies and careers in printing. Find out about classes, apprenticeships and degree programs that can prepare you for work in the printing industry.
Books, magazines direct mail and packaging are just some of the publications and products that rely upon printing press technologies to reach the hands of consumers. In general, the process consists of three steps: preflight or prepress, output and binding or finishing, which can include cutting, folding and trimming. Traditional printing specializations include gravure, letterpress or lithographic processes. Digital or plateless processes are quickly becoming the industry standard.
After you've completed on-the-job or formal training through an apprenticeship, degree or vocational program, you may be qualified for a job as a prepress, printing or bindery operator. As a graduate of a bachelor's degree program, you may also be considered for a position as a printing or pressroom manager.
As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a prepress technician was $37,440 in May 2013, while printing press operators earned $34,920 as of the same month. As of May 2012, binding and finishing workers were paid a median annual wage of $29,480.
Employment opportunities for all printing workers, including prepress, press operators and binding and finishing workers are expected to decrease between 2012 and 2022 nationwide. In particular, prepress technicians will experience a 13% decline in opportunities during this time. Automation and electronic publishing and print-on-demand will have a negative impact on job growth. Computer skills, completion of a formal training program and the ability to use database-management software may improve your job prospects (www.bls.gov).
In the past, many printing workers received their training onsite or through apprenticeships and vocational programs. However, due to advances in technology, completion of an associate or bachelor's degree program may be required before you can begin on-the-job training. As most pre-press work is performed on the computer, you should also be familiar with basic graphic design principles and common industry software programs.
You can begin your study of printing press technologies by pursuing an associate degree program in graphic arts or design with an emphasis on printing. Some schools offer programs specific to digital graphic and printing technology. In addition to the study of graphic communication, the curriculum can include training in paper and ink technology, digital imaging and publishing, pre-press techniques and typography. Expect to complete pre-press and presswork projects; internships are likely to be encouraged or required.
Advanced-level training may be found at schools that offer bachelor's degree programs in graphics and imaging technology, printing press technology or printing management. Program emphasis is on the creative, supervisory and technical aspects of the industry. Curricula may vary according to the field of study. For example, a 4-year program in digital media might include courses in print production and quality control, computer graphics and visual design.