Printers are responsible for performing different tasks in the process of print production. They spend most of their time operating printing presses and maintaining these machines.
Printers are employees who use their creative and practical skills to create a range of products including food labels, newspapers, books, and CD labels. Some printers may specialise in one particular area, such as posters or frozen food packaging. Printers use numerous different machines on a daily basis. These machines come in different shapes and sizes and require specialised skills to operate successfully.
The industry has changed drastically over the past ten or twenty years, particularly since the rise of computerised technology. Computers now ensure that the printed products are of a high quality but printers are also an instrumental part of this process. They will need to be knowledgeable about different kinds of paper as well as techniques which enable the printing process to be undertaken in the most accurate way possible.
Printers may also be responsible for performing other tasks, including supervising print orders and looking after the particular needs of specific clients. Some printers work in their own print workshops and, as such, perform other administrative tasks, including drawing up staffing timetables. However, other printers, particularly those employed by large companies, will be involved purely in the mechanical side of the job.
Printers who are starting out in the industry can expect to earn around £16,000 per year, although this figure could rise to approximately £20,000 depending upon the nature of the employer. Individuals who have been involved in the industry for several years can expect their salaries to rise considerably. Experienced printers often earn in excess of £40,000.
The typical tasks undertaken on a daily basis by printers include:
- Assessing print orders
- Understanding the whole process of printing
- Mixing colours
- Making sure that colours are matched as closely as possible to the pre-press proofs
- Making sure that ink levels are sufficient throughout the day
- Restocking ink if necessary
- Deciding which materials should be used
- Inserting the materials into the presses
- Performing quality checks at regular intervals
- Taking action if these checks do not result in positive results
- Fixing problems with the machines
- Cleaning presses throughout the day
- Maintaining the quality of the machines
- Holding meetings with suppliers
- Sourcing new suppliers if necessary
Many people become involved with printing companies through apprenticeship schemes. Good GCSE grades will be required in order for individuals to gain access to apprenticeships. All individuals who enter the printing industry will need to have exceptional colour vision and should be comfortable working with large machinery and computer software.
Alternatively, many colleges offer printing courses. One of the best options is the City & Guilds (5261) Certificate in Printing and Graphic Communications. This course covers the various different printing processes, which include screen printing (used for clothing printing), digital printing (used for laser printing and inkjet printing), lithographic printing (used for producing newspapers and magazines), and several other processes.
Some printers hold degrees in relevant subjects including art and design. Once you secure a position as a printer, you will be provided with in-depth, specialist training, which is usually tailored to the individual machinery used by the company.
Printers will need to possess the following skills:
- Excellent colour vision
- Good hand-eye co-ordination
- Good practical skills and knowledge of machinery
- Computer skills
- Problem-solving skills
- The ability to work well as part of a team
- The ability to work to tight deadlines
- The ability to remain calm and professional whilst under pressure
- Good concentration
- Creativity and originality
- The motivation to remain educated and up-to-date with developments in the printing industry
Printers work in noisy environments and will need to wear protective clothing throughout the day. This is because many of the chemicals involved in the printing process can be harmful. Generally, modern printing premises are air-conditioned, comfortable, and the machinery is usually modern and reliable. Most printers work for forty hours per week and shift work is a common feature of the role.
Travel is not a common feature of the job. Printing is not a particularly stressful industry, although many companies have been hit badly by the recent credit crunch. Ultimately, many printers find their work very rewarding and enjoy the technical side of the role.
Gaining previous experience is essential for individuals hoping to become printers. You could try contacting a local printing company and ask for the opportunity to perform some unpaid work experience. Alternatively, you could ask for the opportunity to shadow a relevant employee. Any previous experience working with machines or computers will look good on a CV, as will previous experience working in art and design.
Major employers of printers include:
- Large printing companies
- Small printing workshops
- Specialist printing companies
Many printers use their experience to become printing supervisors or may decide to move into a different area of the printing process. For example, they may decide to become involved in the pre-press stage. Individuals who work as pre-press operators scan digital images, retouch documents, create proofs, proofread the initial documents, and ultimately prepare the documents for printing. These employees will need to possess skills which will undoubtedly be held by printers, including the ability to concentrate for long periods of time and pay close attention to detail. Alternatively, other roles in the printing industry also prove popular with printers seeking a change. These roles include sales, accounting, and machine purchasing.
Printers may also decide to move into the packaging sector. This related industry has positions in sales, engineering, and operations, all of which may be of interest to printers who are seeking a slightly new challenge.
Also known as…
- Printing Administrators
- Print Minders
- Machine Printers
What’s it really like?
James, aged 58, has been involved in the printing industry in Edinburgh since 1965. Even before he became involved in the trade, he was interested in the printing process. James joined the industry straight after leaving school but collected stamps as a child and quickly became fascinated by learning about the printing processes involved in producing them.
James particularly enjoys the actual printing process itself but he also revels in being able to solve the various problems which affect customers. Even if the customer does not know what they want from the printing process, James is usually able to find a solution and he finds this very rewarding. He also enjoys drawing on knowledge which he has accumulated over the years to help confused customers. For instance, the customer may ask for cheques to be printed in a specific way but such a demand may not fit in with official requirements. James is fully aware of such requirements and will make these clear to the customer.
There is nothing that James dislikes about being a printer. He still gets a kick from printing, even after so many years in the job. However, James believes that the changes which have occurred in the printing industry over the last couple of decades have led to falling standards. Some of the print which appears today would never have been allowed to leave the premises forty years ago. Furthermore, the state of the printing industry is not particularly healthy at the moment. The original company which James worked for has gone out of business after being successful for 250 years.
One of the problems facing printers is that people are becoming more and more prepared to sacrifice quality for cheaper prices. Many people are happy with digital printing, which basically just uses a colour photocopy. This has impacted upon printers who focus upon producing a more expensive but vastly superior product.
James had some useful words of wisdom for individuals hoping to become printers. He believes that potential employees should be as hands-on as possible and gain as much experience as they can. There are day and night school courses available which teach individuals about printing techniques and it is worth taking at least one of these courses. A job as a printer is only as interesting as you decide to make it and individuals should also try to learn the precise terminology used in the industry as soon as possible.