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Become a Master Bookbinder: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a master bookbinder. Research the training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the printing industry.

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Do I Want to Be a Bookbinder?

Bookbinders operate print machinery, cut printed sheets, organize pages, check pages for quality and bind pages together, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They assemble books, but they may also work with manuals, pamphlets, magazines, brochures or other printed documents that need to be bound or folded. Some bookbinders work for printing companies that produce large quantities of books.

More experienced workers, such as master bookbinders, may work in supervisory positions at printing companies. The work can be tedious, but also involves skill and craftsmanship. However, jobs in the field are predicted to decline over the 2012-2022 decade, mostly due to evolving technology in the book business.

Job Requirements

Entry-level bookbinder applicants may only need the equivalent of high school diplomas to find employment, since workers receive most of their training on-site, according to the BLS. Master-level bookbinders pursuing management positions, however, may need postsecondary degrees. The following table shows some of the basic requirements for this career:

Common Requirements
Degree Level GED or high school diploma, but postsecondary degrees are recommend*
Degree Field Graphic design or bookbinding*
Experience 3-4 years' experience working with printing and binding tools (cutters, case makers, laminators, three knives, stitchers, folders and binders), proven experience supervising others and 3-4 years managing printing projects**
Key Skills Highly organized, able to notice minute details, self-motivated, capable of multitasking, team player, able to manage time efficiently, comfortable working under deadlines, communicates well with others and able to learn new skills**
Computer Skills Knowledge of digital printing software programs*
Technical Skills Knowledge of cutting, stitching and bookbinding machinery**
Additional Requirements Willing to work extended hours, holidays and weekends, as needed*

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),* August 2012 job postings on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com.**

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

According to the BLS, the minimum requirements to become an entry-level bookbinder include a high school diploma or GED. High school courses in mathematics are necessary for aspiring bookbinders, since print workers often use mathematical formulas to determine paper cutting measurements. Other high school courses that could prepare print workers may include classes in computers, art, graphic design and mechanical technology.

Step 2: Learn about Bookbinding

The BLS reported that commercial bookbinding involves workers completing three major steps: print preparation, actual printing and binding. Smaller organizations often hire professionals who can perform the duties required for all three steps. Larger printing companies tend to hire different workers for each part of the process.

Professionals who specialize in bookbinding tend to focus on the last part of the printing process. Job duties often include cutting or folding pages, monitoring print quality, compressing pages together and preparing pages for binding. Bookbinders usually learn several methods of binding, including sewing, stapling and gluing the pages to the binding cover.

Step 3: Find Entry-Level Employment

Newly hired bookbinders may spend anywhere from one month to one year learning the skills of their profession, according to the BLS. In the beginning, employers often have entry-level workers complete nontechnical tasks, such as cleaning, moving printing supplies and stocking machines with paper. Over time, entry-level employees learn technical bookbinding skills, including how to use cutting tools, methods for selecting paper, quality control techniques and how to use binding machinery.

Success Tip:

  • Build plenty of diverse experience. Job postings listed in August 2012 on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com for master bookbinders showed that employers wanted applicants with 3-4 years' experience in the printing industry. Many of these employers preferred workers who had training with different types of equipment. Entry-level workers may want to request training on each piece of equipment to make themselves more marketable later on.

Step 4: Take Additional Training Courses

Professionals who want to learn about the art of specialty bookbinding can enroll in bookbinding vocational programs or individual classes. Some vocational programs may take a few years to complete. These programs include classes about binding materials, modification tools, book repair techniques and conservation strategies. Individuals may also learn about historical techniques for bookbinding, leatherwork and more advanced conservation techniques, such as preserving older paper from further deterioration. Individual classes may focus on any one of these topics in more detail.

Success Tip:

  • Consider a bachelor's degree program. Although a bachelor's degree is not necessarily required for employment as a bookbinder, master bookbinders may require an undergraduate degree for advancement into supervisory positions. The graphic arts technology management bachelor's degree program may prepare workers for this career field. This program includes coursework in production management, graphic technology software programs, digital publishing, quality control, print media monitoring and personnel management.

Step 5: Become a Master Bookbinder

Bookbinders who gain enough work experience and additional training can become master bookbinders. Related job titles found on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com in August 2012 included lead bookbinder and bookbinder machine operator. These positions often included managerial duties, including project management, team training and interdepartmental communications. Professionals interested in book conservation may consider looking for bookbinder positions at libraries or museums.

Success Tip:

  • Take continuing education courses. Printing technology has moved from old-style lithographs and printing plates toward digital printing technologies. As upgrades and new technologies come out, print workers will need to learn new techniques. The BLS recommended that bookbinders keep up with technology changes and continually pursue retraining programs, as needed.
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