Printing machine operators, also known as printing press operators, are the people responsible for running printing machines and printing out fliers, newspapers, business cards, shirts, marketing materials and a wide range of other printed products. To become a printing machine operator, there is no need for a college degree, but it will improve your chances of getting the job and advancing through the ranks. Skills that will help you to land the job include mechanical knowledge, the ability to work with other machines, adaptability and graphic design. Knowing what type of machines to focus on is also important, because each type of machine requires specialized knowledge.
Most of the training is done on the job when a person wants to become a printing machine operator. Most small copy shops are usually run by operators who have no formal education, or at least no formal education that deals specifically with printing machines. Larger corporations, such as newspaper printers, prefer to hire people who have a two- or four-year college degree in printing machines, and that type of degree is offered by many community colleges, state colleges and technical schools. If there are no local colleges that offer this degree, apprenticing at a copy shop or printing business is also sufficient.
Certain skills can help you become a printing machine operator. Mechanical knowledge is desirable because, when a machine breaks, it is cheaper for the company to have an employee fix the machine than it is to call in a repairman. The ability to work with other machines, such as cutters, folders and other finishing machines, is essential because most printing jobs require some type of finishing work. Each print job will be different, so an adaptable employee is needed to cope with working the machines in different ways. Graphic design is another desirable skill, in case a customer needs a graphic fixed and because most print shops also offer graphic design services.
Focusing on a particular machine type makes it easier to find a market in which to become a printing machine operator. Offset printers, which use a large printer with plates that transfers the ink to paper, and digital printers, which use toner, are the two most common and versatile printing machines. These are used by large printing businesses, small copy shops and newspaper printers, and they account for a large chunk of the printing industry.
Other printing machine types are used in specialized markets. Screen printers are used to print on clothes and other textiles. Plotters are used for posters and large mechanical or design drawings. Finding a market of interest will help guide your training, and will help you find a business that needs a new printing machine operator.