What Is a Press Operator?

Research what it takes to become a press operator. Learn about education requirements, job duties, career outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Visual Communication degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Press Operator?

A job as a press operator requires you to manage a printing press, among other duties. Operating and managing a printing press involves adjusting settings like ink distribution, press speed and drying temperature. You would also need to be able to mix ink and ensure that press machines have plenty of ink and paper prior to a press run. After press runs you would need to clean the press and its components. You may also be in charge of creating press plates. A short summary of this career is provided in the table below.

Education Required Technical certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Broadcasting, film
Key Responsibilities Operate and maintain various printers; troubleshoot printing problems; proof and correct images
Job Growth (2014-2024) -12.5%*
Median Salary (2015) $35,240*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Training and Skills Do I Need?

You are likely to receive on-the-job training and specialize in a specific type of press. Types of printing presses include digital, screen printing, gravure, flexographic, small offset and large sheetfed presses. A press operator often begins by learning to help set up and maintain the press by loading, unloading and cleaning the machine. Some apprenticeships are available, but according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they are becoming less common; postsecondary training programs are more frequently available (www.bls.gov).

A postsecondary program generally leads to a certificate or associate's degree; most take 18-24 months to complete and include an internship or hands-on component. Courses include chemistry, color theory, physics and electronics. Mechanical abilities and mathematical aptitude are also important skills in order to calculate the materials needed for the job.

What Are My Job Duties?

As a press operator, also known as a printing machine operator, you prepare a printing press for a print job, operate and monitor its progress, and maintain the machine so it functions properly. Presses vary greatly; some use traditional methods, such as letterpress or lithography, and some use plateless methods, such as digital or ink-jet printing.

In order to prepare a print press, you install the printing plate, ink the presses, load the appropriate paper, and make adjustments as necessary. While a print job is running, your responsibilities include continuous monitoring to ensure the ink and paper is stocked and the press is functioning as expected. Additionally, any problems that arise must be quickly corrected so as not to waste paper and ink. Once the job is completed, you clean the press and make any necessary repairs.

A press operator can experience significant amounts of physical and mental stress. There are often deadlines to be met; the rooms and machines are often noisy; and the shifts may be varied.

Where Could I Work?

You might find a press operator job in the printing, newspaper, paper manufacturing, advertising or public relations industries. Many jobs in printing and newspapers are located in large metropolitan areas, such as Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Cincinnati.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Print binding and finishing is another career in the publication industry that involves working with industrial machinery. But rather than working with machinery that prints publications, these workers operate the machinery that trims and binds book pages. A large majority of these professionals only have a high school diploma. Outside of the publishing industry, drilling and boring machine operators also use industrial machines that cut and trim products. Like with printing presses, these machines have settings that need to be adjusted, such as speed. These professionals may also get by with a high school diploma, yet many have a postsecondary certificate or some college education.

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