What does a Printing Press Operator do?

T. Webster

A printing press operator is tasked with handling all aspects of a printing press, including preparation, operation and maintenance. The exact scope of duties depends on the company and the size of the business. Printing press operators often work for publishers of books, magazines or newspapers. They also can work in smaller in-house printing shops.

Printing press operators are an important part of the newspaper industry.
Printing press operators are an important part of the newspaper industry.

Often, printing press operators oversee machinery that uses cylinders or plates to transfer an image to paper. Printing press operators therefore should have a strong understanding of installing and adjusting printing plates, controlling ink pressure and loading and adjusting the paper used for printing. Other responsibilities include cleaning ink fountains and the plates or cylinders. Specific duties can vary depending on the type of equipment being used and how much of the equipment is controlled manually or by computer.

Printing press operators might oversee the production of brochures or pamphlets.
Printing press operators might oversee the production of brochures or pamphlets.

The work can be stressful because it tends to be very deadline-driven. The press operator’s role is to make sure the equipment is running smoothly and correctly so that deadlines can be met. Equipment breakdowns or errors in production can be very costly in terms of the loss of time and the materials wasted.

Good printing press operators have natural mechanical ability that allows them to make quick adjustments and repairs to the press. A strong grasp of basic mathematical skills is also needed to quickly determine paper quantity and the amount of ink needed to complete a job. Finally, printing press operators need good communication skills to express problems with the press.

In the past, a printing press operator could enter the field through an apprenticeship program. This is becoming less common, partly because of technology demands associated with the job. Now many press operators attend a vocational program or college to learn their trade. A two-year degree is considered desirable in getting a job as a printing press operator.

An understanding and awareness of safety is also important to being a printing press operator. Depending on their working conditions, press operators might be required to wear protective eye goggles and safety shoes. New technology has made the job much safer than in the past. This also allows many adjustments to be completed from a computer rather than by hand.

Today, computers are being used more and more in commercial printing. In other words, computers have the ability to control aspects that a press operator used to operate manually. Eventually, portions of the job might be done primarily by a computer, much like production work in the automotive industry. For this reason, printing press operators need to stay abreast of new trends and technology developments in their field.

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