Paper Matters Blog
Careers in Print: Do You Enjoy Your Profession?

Melinda Arnson

Some people enjoy their profession so much that they find ever-increasing ways to stay involved. Melinda Arnson is one of those people. Melinda is employed full time with a printing company as a print estimator and also works a couple of evenings a week as an instructor at her alma mater, Ferris State University.

Melinda teaches in the school’s Graphic Media Management department.  In her class, students learn the business side of the printing business as well as details of actual print production.

Melinda has spent her entire career in the printing business. Even as a child she enjoyed discovering how things fit together. She helped her father when he fixed the cars because she liked working with her hands and during her high school days, she had the opportunity to try her hand in Graphic Arts through the Career Center. There, she found that printing allowed her to use her creative and logic skills together. Those skills continue to serve her well today in her role as a print estimator/project manager.

What education or training is required to be qualified for this position?

Estimating for Print does not technically require any specific certification or degree – anyone can learn it.  It’s often an entry-level position where a person new to the organization or even the industry can learn as they go.

Most companies, however, seek people with experience in printing as printing is a hybrid service/manufacturing industry – properly identifying process steps integral to formulating costs requires knowledge of the technical aspects of printing.

What type of schools offer the training? 

Local trade schools at the high school level often offer some sort of program in which students can become familiar with the printing process from graphic design through different types of printing (offset, digital, serigraphy, etc)

There are also colleges such as Ferris State University in Michigan; Univ of Wisconsin Stout; CA Polytechnic and others.  These colleges offer programs with various degrees.  Ferris, for example, offers 2-year Graphic Communication Associates Degree as well as a 4-year Graphic Media Management Degrees.  Ferris also is augmenting its program with specialized skills for specific markets like Printing for Packaging. show that as of 2019 these programs turn out around 3,000 graduates entering the industry.

What are the physical demands of the work?

Estimating positions usually require working with a computer most of the day – so it’s a lot of sitting.

Are there safety issues to consider for this type of career?  What are they?

There are rarely safety issues in this type of work – unless you consider a situation where an estimator may need to venture out into the production area.  As with any other production worker, one should not be in those areas without closed-toe shoes.  Depending upon the type of work done, there may be requirements for things like hearing protection, hairnets or removal of jewelry or hanging clothing if one is going to be out in the production areas.

Do you work shifts? What is the typical shift requirement of an entry level person?

Generally, people working in estimating work normal business hours.  8a-5p M-F

What are the things that you most enjoy about your workday?  What is rewarding about what you do?

For me, I became interested in print at a young age.  It was primarily the ability to operate different machinery that caught my attention.  As I got more involved in printing, the technical artistic aspects (graphic design and such) made it even more interesting.  At that time, shooting film and laying out negatives from which plates were made was still a big part of the process (the time before computers) so that went away, but as I’ve grown into the industry the part I like best is assisting companies to develop a communication piece, a package for a product or some sort of tool to use for communication and seeing that out being used in people’s hand.  As I’ve gotten more into packaging, I like to walk about stores and see what products are in the packages I recognize as having been ones I may have had a part in producing.

Printing, as with anything, is really a large process that contains many smaller processes to create a product from beginning to end. A good Estimator person is detail-oriented and organized.  It helps to understand as much about all the little process steps as possible to ensure you ask all pertinent questions from what a customer expects as an outcome (to ensure things like the proper substrates, inks and coatings are used) to ensure the delivery is made properly.  I am very detail-oriented and I enjoy learning new things.  The need to be organized and detailed fits with my personality very well.

What kind of basic interests or skills fit well for this position?

Working with computers.  Most estimating systems are either based on a proprietary type of system build for the print industry or they are a custom-built system that might use Excel for calculations.  No matter what is used, one must be comfortable with common computer programs.

Curiosity – the more curious you are about how the process works and why this works, the more you will learn and understand what is needed to properly manage your work.

Responsibility – taking ownership of your work and your knowledge will stand you in good stead

What are the most demanding requirements of the position?

The ability to keep track of ever-changing priorities is difficult for some.  Keeping projects organized and information accurate in a fast-moving environment can be difficult.  Accepting the need for feedback to more accurately estimate printing projects is necessary – enjoying learning and growing is a must.

What is the income range from beginner to seasoned person in this type of position?

Many companies separate the estimating function from other ‘Front of House’ types of steps such as customer service and production planning.  I have worked for some companies who combine the estimating, quoting, customer service and production planning operations into a single position.

An entry-level position might start out around $18 an hour or up to $47,000 a year.  However, if the position includes more than just estimating, the wage should be commensurate with responsibilities.  Years of experience, ability, geographic location can all affect pay.

What changes do you foresee coming in the next 10 years that might affect this type of work? It could be advancements in technology, a demographic shift that creates more or less opportunity, etc?

The printing industry has gone through a great deal of change in terms of technology and technology will continue to change at an increasing rate.  So, if you like things that change a lot, this would be it.  Most printing companies are no longer just a single print method but must offer traditional offset services as well as digital, large format, inkjet or other types of services to remain competitive.

For the printing industry in general, the availability of workers throughout the industry with experience is at an all-time low.  I’ve heard it said the average age of press operators is 55.  This means there is a distinct lack of people with the ability to step up and run presses.  As I said earlier, shows about 3,000 people graduating from college programs with print-specific degrees, which supports the sense in the industry that experienced people are not available.

Twenty years ago, the idea/thought was that with the advent of computers, print would die a quick death and be gone completely.  The company where I worked, made changes by investing in digital printing and beginning another business strictly for what was expected to become the new printing business – basically on-demand print products using laser/digital printing technology.  It was thought that within a year the presses would not have a use and they would go away completely.  A few years later, the new business was absorbed back into the old – offset printing as we knew it hadn’t died.

Throughout the last 20+ years printing has declined and, in many ways, continues to decline.  The definition and classification of printing with the government likely contribute to this seeming decline, though the offset printing industry does seem to be holding its own.  There are new companies starting now and new offset presses are being installed.  This would seem to point to a resurgence in the validity of print.

I think one of the largest things that will affect the industry is that during the great economic boom after the war, many small print shops opened, or existing small shops began to grow.  Many companies are now second and third-generation family-run businesses.  The past 20 years have seen the growth of mega-corporations through consolidation. We now see that the publications industry is controlled pretty much by 2 large companies.  Consolidation in other segments is a factor as well.

The industry is increasingly moving towards a flatter organizations with less middle management – this affects the roles people have and the responsibilities each position requires.

I don’t see a lot of change in the need for these ‘front of house’ positions really going away – but changes in technology will mean a continued need for individuals in this role to learn the different needs and aspects of new and different printing technologies.

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