A prepress technician is responsible for various duties involved in the processing of large printing jobs. These duties entail formatting and correcting errors in layout before text and graphics are approved for the printing stage of the process. The primary function of the prepress technician is to compare job specifications with the images that are passed along by graphic designers, customers, or other members of staff. Basically, these technicians ensure the needs of a customer are met while maintaining the technical and spatial constraints of the printed materials.
In the past, a prepress technician usually worked with thin metal printing plates that were used with a printing press. These plates held the image that would be copied to the final product. This involved a manual process in which the prepress technician manipulated ultraviolet light and used chemicals that allowed the image to become a permanent part of the metal. Though some printers may still use this traditional photographic technique, most are moving towards more advanced digital printing technology. One of the most popular alternatives is called the direct-to-plate technique.
The direct-to-plate technique allows the prepress technician to create an electronic version of the pages to be printed. This is then sent directly to a digital printing press. Alternatively, the image can be set with lasers onto a metal printing plate. Either way, the process is faster and requires less hands-on manipulation of the printing layout than the traditional metal plate methods. This technique also enables the prepress technician to email proofs to customers which can be quickly and easily altered if any errors are found. Obviously, correcting an electronic file is much simpler than creating new metal plates.
Finding a position as a prepress technician will likely become more difficult as computers and technology eliminate many of the steps involved in the prepress printing process. Advanced software allows even those without any printing experience to manage typesetting and page layout on a computer, so there is not as much need for a prepress technician to manage every step of the prepress process. In fact, many customers may submit printing projects that are already put together with common desktop publishing software. However, those who are interested in obtaining a prepress technician position should still seek experience and knowledge of the entire printing process in addition to familiarizing themselves with advanced technology and software, as work at large printing companies will require both.