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Careers in Print: Offset Printing Press Operator

Are you fit to fill the role as an Offset Printing Press Operator?

Ron Prevost, Printing Press Operator

Ron Prevost, Printing Press Operator

Interviewee:  Ron Prevost

Company:  Taylor Corp

Title:  Press Operator




An interest in rock-n-roll played a role in Ron Prevost’s career path as a printing press operator. He grew up during the peak of vinyl record demand with the genre of rock n roll leading the way.  The vinyl records, called albums, were packaged in a protective sleeve made of board stock.

The graphic design on the covers of these sleeves became as much a part of the sale as the music on the album.  The album covers often created as much buzz about a new release as the music that was recorded on the vinyl.

In high school, Ron started taking shop classes, including a class in offset printing. He knew that he wanted to work with his hands and when he got a taste of making art come to life on the press, he found his career.

Ron Prevost, Printing Press Operator

Ron Prevost (L) and Dylan (R) holding up a G7 calibration press form. This form allows press operators to determine what ink adjustments are needed to achieve the printing results expected by the customer.

What education or training is required to be qualified as a printing press operator?

After high school, Ron attended a trade school that offered classes preparing his career in print. Formal training for this trade is less common now but there are vocational/technical schools that offer education in this field.

The Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation is a great resource for financial support and more information about technical schools that offer courses in graphic communication.

What are the physical demands of this position?

You can expect to be on your feet for most of the workday, says Ron. The press is operated from a standing position. Most of the operation of running a  press involves use of your hands, filling ink trays, changing press plates, cylinders and blankets. You will sometimes be required to use small tools to make adjustments to the press.

Printing presses have become more automated over time in terms of the need to handle heavy volumes of paper. The heaviest lifting now is removing the empty pallet or skid that the paper is stacked on.

 Are there safety issues to consider for this job and what are they?

A printing press is a heavy piece of equipment that moves at high speeds so it’s important to pay attention. You can’t be easily distracted so while the press is operating, making cell phones off limits. The equipment manufacturers have built-in safety devices and interlocks that make the occupation safe, as long as, the press operator follows the guidelines for using the safety procedures.

 What is the typical shift requirement of an entry level printing press operator?

More than likely, you can expect a night shift as an entry level position.. Many printing companies are in production for more than one shift.

What are the things you most enjoy about your workday?  Seeing concepts come to life on the press is what Ron enjoys most, he says. He enjoys making things and the satisfaction that he is creating art. It is physically enjoyable to work with his hands and visually enjoyable to see the result.

What kind of basic interests or skills fits well as a printing press operator?

According to Ron, motor skills are helpful, especially hand dexterity. Ron’s musical interest extends beyond listening to rock n roll as he also enjoys playing the guitar.  So, he has some natural ability with hand coordination.

He also relies a lot on his hearing. He can often tell by the sound of the press what adjustments he might need to make.

What are the most demanding requirements for this position?

Troubleshooting issues when the press is not producing what you want to see, says Ron. This requires years of experience in order to know what to look for and how to fix the problem.

Ron breaks it down to three questions:

  1. What is the press doing?
  2. What do I want the press to do?
  3. How do I get the press to do it?

The Challenges:

Each printing press has its own personality and there are nuances to getting the press to produce the desired output.

In his current role, he might operate any of 5 different presses. Each press operator develops preferences on how to coordinate the balance of ink and water. So, when Ron starts a new shift, he will usually have to tune the press back to his preferences.

It’s a bit like tuning a guitar after it’s been strummed by someone else. In larger shops with multiple presses and multiple shifts the ability to work as a team is important. In smaller shops, there may just be one press operator allowing you to work more independently; however, there may also be more responsibilities.

 What can someone interested to become a printing press operator expect as a reasonable salary?

A journeyman press operator, say with 10 plus years’ experience should not make less than $20.00/hour.

For those that want to research salary range by geography, the bureau of labor has data in regards to average pay by region, experience, etc.

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