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How to Become a Printing Machine Operator: Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a printing machine operator. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in printing machine operations.

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Do I Want to Be a Printing Machine Operator?

These operators run the equipment used to produce newspapers and books and also print on plastic and other materials. Production workers must understand how to load paper and ink into the machinery and how to make adjustments to attain a high standard of print quality. They are also tasked with maintaining supply inventory records and taking steps to reduce waste. A certain amount of stress may be involved when striving to complete jobs within established deadlines and ensuring that safety standards are met.

Job Requirements

Although a degree is not required, an associate's degree in a field such as print technology might be beneficial to job applicants. Optional certifications are available. The following table describes the common qualifications and requirements that employers listed in job postings for printing machine operators during October 2012:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Not required, but some employers desire an associate's degree
Degree Field Print technology
Certification Not required, but certification programs are available
Experience Prior press experience preferred
Key Skills Color differentiation, basic math, customer service, oral and written communication, attention to detail, problem solving
Computer Skills Desktop publishing, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Illustrator skills
Technical Skills Mechanical aptitude with printing equipment
Additional Requirements Ability to stand for several hours

Step 1: Research the Occupation

Though a college degree is not required, printing machine operation is a specialized occupation and potential employees should have a basic understanding of the requirements before entering the field. The job has specific physical requirements, with employees often required to be able to stand continually for at least an 8-hour shift. Printing machine operators also often work 2nd or 3rd shift hours, including weekends. The work often takes place in a production environment, which can be noisy and sometimes hazardous.

Step 2: Earn an Associate's Degree in Printing Technology

Printing machine operators can learn skills through on-the-job training or apprenticeships. However, some community colleges and technical schools offer vocational training, such as 2-year programs in printing technology or graphic communications technology, which may be preferred by employers. These programs prepare students for entry-level positions in the modern printing industry through courses in design, typography, digital media and binding.

Success Tip:

  • Develop required work skills. Before being officially employed and going through training, an aspiring print machine operator can develop several useful skills. Oral and written communication skills are necessary to understand what work needs to be done and when. Being detail-oriented and having good vision allows a print machine operator to locate any mistakes and then fix them before anything is printed. Learning to perform quick mathematical calculations allows a press operator to figure out how much supply inventory is needed for any printing job.

Step 3: Train on the Job

Even with formal postsecondary schooling, printing machine operators require a period of worksite training, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Formal apprenticeships may take several months to several years. Individuals can receive supervised hands-on instruction on how to match ink colors, control press speed and troubleshoot equipment failures. On-the-job instruction is useful for operators who work on more than one type of printing press; for instance, on both one-color sheet-fed presses and Web-fed lithographic presses. Occasional skill updates are also necessary in order to stay current with the latest technology.

Step 4: Earn Certification

Professional organizations such as the Gravure Association of America (GAA) and the Flexographic Technical Association offer press operator certification programs that can help validate skills and technological knowledge. Some programs are available online. Completing a certification program can attest to an operator's abilities to improve print machine efficiency and productivity as well as product quality and customer satisfaction. The GAA offers modules that cover topics such as pressroom safety, inks, troubleshooting, fingerprinting, and dryers, among others.

Success Tip

  • Continue education through public workshops. Continuing education through seminars and workshops can help operators stay on the cutting edge of developing print technology and machinery. These workshops typically only last 2-4 days and can sometimes result in additional certifications.
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