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A Day in the Life of a Printer

Do you want to make books, newspapers, magazines, or brochures? Have you ever wondered who gets to print “All the News That’s Fit to Print”? Being a printer can be very gratifying because you can touch and see your final product. Printers have an obvious, clearly definable, and useful skill. The printing industry encompasses all aspects of tailorized mass production; the field offers positions for those with a variety of skills, needs, and work styles. Each printer works on a different part of the process. Specializations are broken into two categories: Skilled craft workers and unskilled laborers who work the machines. Printers usually work under intense deadlines. While almost everybody involved in the printing field works forty hours a week, many printers work nights and holidays to meet deadlines. All printing jobs follow a similarly structured order. To start, sales representatives and brokers get clients. They pass the job onto the production manager who then estimates how much the job will cost, oversees other workers and maintains deadlines. The production manager depends on the plant manager, who oversees aspects of the printing process and handles all technical emergencies. Plant engineers, who maintain and improve the equipment, are also in contact with the manager. In the first step of the physical process, compositors read the copy and arrange the type, which requires extraordinary patience. Typesetting is done in one of three different ways: Monotype, or casting single letters; logotype, or casting lines; or phototypesetting, which involves casting with the aid of computers. Lithographers and photoengravers pick up the typeset and take it to printing. They work closely with the platemaker, who mans the machines to ensure high printing quality. Sometimes camera operators are needed to photograph the material about to be printed. Color separation photographers are called in when the material is to be reproduced in color. After all of these people have worked on the images, they pass the product to lithographic artists who do all the necessary fine tuning. Then strippers pick up the lithographic artist’s product and arrange it on the machines to form the final product. Printing press operators yield the final result, generally through the use of computers. Finally, the binder completes the process. He puts the printed matter together to create books, pamphlets, newspapers, journals, or magazines.

Paying Your Dues

Each aspect of the field has different education and training requirements. Some can be learned in under a year, others require years of training for total fluency. High school diplomas are requisite for all workers. Both two- and four-year colleges offer associate and bachelor’s degrees in graphics arts, degrees that have become necessary for supervisory and some entry-level positions. Applicants should study math, electronics, and computers to widen their options for specialization in the field. Normally, the printer begins his career as a helper receiving on-the-job training. The new printer moves forward in his position as he masters each skill or technique. He should expect to learn new skills whenever advancements are made in the technology of his specialty. Sometimes printers enter the field through four- to six-year apprenticeships. Openings for these are decreasing in number, but are valuable at every position in printing. Due to increased automation, some specializations are emphasizing increased technical ability as opposed to craft skills. Traditionally, plant managers have risen from the ranks of the physical careers. Today though, companies are looking more favorably to applicants with degrees in fields like engineering. Employers also want you to be able to display creativity yet work under time constraints, and to have good eyesight. The most likely candidates are people who are analytical, outgoing, and have an eye for color and graphics.

Present and Future

When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type, the printing industry was born. His first book was the Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1456 by applying ink to raised metal and pressing the letters onto paper. Later his methods evolved into the revolving cylinder that is still used today, along with many other new technologies. Computers have changed printing drastically. They have made some jobs, such as photo-engraving and composition, almost obsolete, but created new opportunities for lithographers and those involved in computer technology. The advents of direct marketing and desktop publishing have been boons for the printer. Desktop publishing is anticipated to become the most prolific area in printing. The printer’s environment is changing, too. More printers find themselves working for small desktop publishing companies rather than large presses.

Quality of Life


The first two years are usually spent in apprenticeships as production or sales assistants. One printer advises novices to “learn computers, have fun, and pick the area that you enjoy the most.” Many of the newest printers are computer-controlled, and learning the “art” of working the software so as to produce the desired effects requires working with an experienced operator - especially with color presses. Often beginners are stuck with the “graveyard shift” and are working on press at odd hours under heavy deadline pressure.


By this point in their careers, most printers have established position in the company. They are working full time, with fairly regular hours, and are afforded greater independence in operating and maintaining the machinery.


Ten-year printers tend to be happy with their professions. Most have moved into managerial positions, supervising pressman and perhaps dealing with clients on the more complicated jobs. They are consulted on major capital investments such as new presses, and thus take on a crucial role within their company.