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.

Career Information At a Glance

A job as a press operator requires you to manage a printing press, among other duties. A short summary of this career is profiled 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 (2012-2022) -4%*
Median Salary (2013) $34,920*

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.

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