A web press operator maintains and operates a multi-unit web-fed rotary press. The operator is in charge of the entire web printing process from the large roll of paper, or the web, to the folder at the end of the printing process. Not only does the web press operator need to prepare work for printing by using make-ready checklists, but he or she also is responsible for threading the web or paper around the rollers and through the press to the folder, and preparing the press drying system.
It is necessary for a web press operator to consistently monitor the quality of printing. Troubleshooting is also necessary as problems arise, as is maintaining the press equipment and workspace so as to avoid downtime and maximize output. Additionally, a web press operator has to balance ink and water in the printing units to ensure that images transferred from the printing plates to the press blankets to the paper are clear.
Web presses typically print newspapers, magazines, books and periodicals — generally, anything that involves long-run printing of high quantities for mass distribution. The webs, or paper rolls, go through the web press at a high rate of speed. There are two types of web presses: heat-set, which has heaters to dry the ink, allows for use of coated paper, and makes use of higher line screens; and cold-set, which can only run uncoated stocks and newsprint and has a smaller line screen, thus producing larger dots and less detail. The cold-set web press uses ink formulated to dry quickly. Some web presses print on both sides of the paper.
Web presses also differ in size. The smallest is the label web, which is only several inches or centimeters wide. Quarter webs are the next size up and can print a four-page configuration, typically on form presses. Half webs can print both eight and 12-page signatures, while full webs can print a full 16-page signature or a 32-page signature.
Becoming a web press operator can be achieved through both on-the-job training and formal education. People can acquire skills with high school and post-secondary education programs — commonly associated with graphic design — apprenticeships, and on-the-job learning. Many of the skills learned as a web press operator are transferable to other industries and with many changes in technology several printing firms are and will be investing in training and upgrading skills. Web press operators need technical skills and mechanical aptitude, as well as a solid grasp of the printing process since the job is quite hands-on.