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Occupation Profile for Prepress Technicians and Workers

Set up and prepare material for printing presses.


Significant Points

  • Most prepress technician jobs now require formal postsecondary graphic communications training in the various types of computer software used in digital imaging.
  • Employment is projected to decline rapidly as the increased use of computers in typesetting and page layout requires fewer prepress technicians.


$33,310.00 Median Annual Wage 1,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
6.0 Average Unemployment Percentage 45.8 Percentage That Completed High School
71,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 38.3 Percentage That Had Some College
56,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 15.9 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Ad Compositor
Ad Setter
Advertisement Compositor
Advertising Layout Worker
Apprentice, Engraver, Photoengraving
Apprentice, Lithographer
Apprentice, Typesetter
Blueprint Blocker
Blueprint Cutter
Blueprint Developer
Blueprint Duplicator
Blueprint Machine Operator
Blueprint Maker
Blueprint Processor
Blueprint Reproducer
Blueprinting Machine Operator
Cold Type Artist
Color Etcher
Color Separation Photographer
Color Stripper
Composing Room Manager
Compositor Apprentice
Computer to Plate Operator (CTP Operator)
Computer Typesetter
Copper Etcher
Copper Plate Lithographer
Desktop Operator
Digital Prepress Operator
Diploma Maker
Dot Etcher Apprentice
Electronic Prepress Operator (EPP Operator)
Electronic Prepress Technician (EPP Tech)
Electrotyper Apprentice
Equipment Monitor, Phototypesetting
Etcher Apprentice, Photoengraving
Etcher, Hand
Etcher, Photoengraving
Film Stripper, Printing
Form Setter
Form Worker
Galley Stripper
Graphic Artist
Graphic Designer
Graphic Technician
Gravure Press Operator
Halftone Operator
Head Setter
Intertype Operator
Job Compositor
Job Forwarder
Job Lithographer
Keyboard Operator
Laser Beam Color Scanner Operator
Layout Former
Layup Worker
Letterpress Setter
Line Camera Operator
Linotype Operator
Linotype Worker
Lithograph Designer
Lithograph Operator
Lithographic Artist
Lithographic Camera Operator
Lithographic Etcher
Lithographic Plate Maker
Lithographic Plate-Maker Apprentice
Lithographic Platemaker
Lithographic Press Operator
Lithopress Operator
Lock Up Worker
Ludlow Machine Operator
Machine Compositor
Make Up Arranger
Make Up Worker
Make-Up Arranger
Manufacturing Assistant
Manufacturing Associate
Manufacturing Operator
Map Mounter
Monotype Caster
Monotype Keyboard Operator
Monotype Operator
Monotype Setter
Music Engraver
Negative Assembler
Negative Stripper
Offset Camera Operator
Offset Plate Maker
Offset Platemaker
Pantograph Machine Operator
Pantograph Operator
Pantograph Setter
Pantograph Transferrer
Paste Up Artist
Paste Up Copy Camera Operator
Paste-Up Artist
Paste-Up Artist Apprentice
Photo Mask Maker, Electron-Beam
Photo Mask Technician, Electron-Beam
Photocomposing Machine Operator
Photoengraver Apprentice
Photoengraving Finisher
Photoengraving Printer
Photoengraving Proofer
Photoengraving Proofer Apprentice
Photographer Apprentice, Lithographic
Photographer, Lithographic
Photographer, Photoengraving
Photographic Lithographer
Photographic Plate Maker
Photographic Platemaker
Photogravure Press Operator
Photolettering Machine Operator
Photolith Operator
Photolithographic Stripper
Phototypesetter Operator
Plate Developer
Plate Grainer
Plate Grainer Apprentice
Plate Keeper
Plate Maker
Plate Maker, Printing
Plate Mounter
Plate Straightener
Platemaker, Semiconductor Packages
Pre-Press Proofer
Pre-Press Technician
Prepress Digital Technician
Prepress Manager
Prepress Operator
Prepress Specialist
Prepress Stripper
Prepress Supervisor
Prepress Technician
Print Room Worker
Printer, Lithographers
Printer, Plate Maker
Printer, Typesetters
Printing Technician
Process Artist
Process Stripper
Process Worker
Production Coordinator
Proofsheet Corrector
Repeat Chief
Repeat Photocomposing Machine Operator
Retoucher, Photoengraving
Roller Print Tender
Roller Varnisher
Runner Out
Scanner Operator
Scanning Clerk
Set Up Worker
Sheet Layer
Steel Die Printer
Step and Repeat Camera Operator
Step and Repeat Reduction Camera Operator
Stereotyper Apprentice
Striping Machine Operator
Stripper Apprentice
Stripper, Lithographic
Technician, Graphic Arts
Teletypesetter Operator
Terminal Makeup Operator
Transfer Worker
Type Setter
Type-Proof Reproducer
Typecasting Machine Operator
Typo Machine Operator
Zinc Etcher

  • These occupations usually involve using communication and organizational skills to coordinate, supervise, manage, or train others to accomplish goals. Examples include funeral directors, electricians, forest and conservation technicians, legal secretaries, interviewers, and insurance sales agents.
  • Most occupations in this zone require training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree. Some may require a bachelor's degree.
  • Previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is required for these occupations. For example, an electrician must have completed three or four years of apprenticeship or several years of vocational training, and often must have passed a licensing exam, in order to perform the job.
  • Employees in these occupations usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers.

Employers prefer workers with formal training in printing or publishing. Familiarity with the printing process, including the technology used, and attention to detail are the qualities that employers will seek most in job applicants.

Education and training. Many employers consider the best candidates for prepress jobs to be individuals with a combination of work experience in the printing industry and formal training in the new digital technology. The experience of these applicants provides them with an understanding of how printing plants operate and demonstrates their interest in advancing within the industry.

Traditionally, prepress technicians and workers started as helpers and were trained on the job. Some of these jobs required years of experience performing detailed manual work to become skillful enough to perform the most difficult tasks. Today, however, employers expect workers to have some formal postsecondary graphic communications training in the various types of computer software used in digital imaging and will train workers on the job as needed.

For beginners, 2-year associate degree programs offered by community colleges, junior colleges, and technical schools teach the latest prepress skills and allow students to practice applying them. There are also 4-year bachelor’s degree programs in graphic design aimed primarily at students who plan to move into management positions in printing or design. For workers who do not wish to enroll in a degree program, prepress-related courses are offered at many community colleges, junior colleges, 4-year colleges and universities, vocational-technical institutes, and private trade and technical schools. Workers with experience in other printing jobs can take a few college-level graphic communications courses to upgrade their skills and qualify for prepress jobs.

Other qualifications. Employers prefer workers with good communication skills, both oral and written. When prepress problems arise, prepress technicians and workers should be able to deal courteously with customers to resolve them. Also, in small shops, they may take customer orders. Persons interested in working for firms using advanced printing technology need to be comfortable with electronics and computers. At times, prepress personnel may have to perform computations in order to estimate job costs or operate many of the electronics used to run modern equipment.

Prepress technicians and workers need manual dexterity and accurate eyesight. Good color vision helps workers find mistakes and locate potential problems. It is essential for prepress workers to be able to pay attention to detail and work independently. Artistic ability is often a plus. Employers also seek persons who are comfortable with the pressures of meeting deadlines, using new software, and operating new equipment.

Advancement. Employers may send experienced technicians to industry-sponsored update and retraining programs to develop new skills or hone current ones. This kind of prepress training is sometimes offered in-house or through unions in the printing industry.

Nature of Work

The printing process has three stages: prepress, press, and binding or finishing. While workers in small print shops are usually responsible for all three stages, in most printing firms, formatting print jobs and correcting layout errors before the job goes to print is the responsibility of a specialized group of workers. Prepress technicians and workers are responsible for this prepress work. They perform a variety of tasks to help transform text and pictures into finished pages and prepare the pages for print.

Prepress technicians receive images from in-house graphic designers or directly from customers and see the job through the process of preparing print-ready pages to create a finished printing plate. Printing plates are thin sheets of metal that carry the final image to be printed. Printing presses use this plate to copy the image to the printed products we see every day. Once a printing plate has been created, prepress technicians collaborate with printing machine operators to check for any potential printing problems. Several plates may be needed if a job requires color, but advanced printing technology does not require plates.

For a long time, prepress workers used a photographic process to make printing plates. This is a complex process involving ultraviolet light and chemical exposure through which the text and images of a print job harden on a metal plate and become water repellent. These hard, water repellent portions of the metal plate are in the form of the text and images that will be printed on paper. More recently, the printing industry has largely moved to technology known as direct-to-plate, by which the prepress technicians send the data directly to a plating system, by-passing the need for the photographic technique.

The direct-to-plate technique is just one example of digital imaging technology that has largely replaced cold type print technology. Prepress technicians known as preflight technicians or production coordinators are using digital imaging technology to complete more and more print jobs. Using this technology, technicians take electronic files received from customers and check them for completeness. They then format the jobs using electronic page layout software in order to fit the pages to dimensions of the paper stock to be used. When color printing is required, the technicians produce an electronic image of the printed pages and then print a copy, or proof, of the pages as they will appear when printed. The technician then has the proofs delivered or mailed to the customer for a final check. Once the customer approves the proofs, technicians use laser imagesetters to expose digital images of the pages directly onto the thin metal printing plates.

Advances in computer software and printing technology continue to change prepress work. Today, customers of print shops often use their own computers to do much of the typesetting and page layout work formerly done by prepress technicians. This process, called desktop publishing, provides printers with pages of material that look like the desired finished product. This work is usually done by desktop publishers or graphic designers with knowledge of publishing software. (Sections on desktop publishers and graphic designers appear elsewhere in the Handbook.) As a result, prepress workers often receive files from customers on a computer disk or via e-mail that contain typeset material already laid out in pages. Other more advanced technologies now allow prepress technicians to send printing files directly to the printer and skip the plate-making process altogether. Despite the shortcuts that technological advancements allow, workers still need to understand the basic processes behind prepress, press, and finishing operations. Some workers, known as job printers, perform prepress and print operations. Job printers often are found in small establishments where work combines several job skills.

Work environment. Prepress technicians and workers usually work in clean, air-conditioned areas with little noise. Some workers may develop eyestrain from working in front of a video display terminal or other minor problems, such as backaches. Those platemakers who still work with toxic chemicals face the hazard of skin irritations. Workers are often subject to stress and the pressures of deadlines and tight work schedules.

Prepress employees usually work an 8-hour day. Some workers—particularly those employed by newspapers—work night shifts. Weekend and holiday work may be required, particularly when a print job is behind schedule. Part-time prepress technicians made up 12 percent of this occupation in 2006.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)

While wage rates for prepress technicians and workers depend on basic factors such as employer, education, and location, the median hourly earnings of prepress technicians and workers were $16.01 in May 2006, compared to $13.16 per hour for all production occupations. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.98 and $20.69 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.37, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.71 an hour. Median hourly earnings in printing and related support activities, the industry employing the largest number of prepress technicians and workers, were $16.44 in May 2006, while workers in the newspaper, periodical, and book publishing industry earned $15.17 an hour.

For job printers, median hourly earnings were $15.58 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.15 and $19.83 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.56, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.70 an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of job printers May 2006 were $16.19 in the newspaper, periodical, and book publishing industry and $15.76 in printing and related support activities.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Job printers
  • Prepress technicians and workers
  • Job Outlook

    Employment of prepress technicians and workers is projected to decline rapidly through 2016, because of improvements in printing technology that require fewer of these workers. Despite this, job prospects are good for prepress technicians with good computer and customer service skills.

    Employment change. Overall employment of prepress technicians and workers is expected to decline by 16 percent over the 2006-2016 period. Demand for printed material should continue to grow, spurred by rising levels of personal income, increasing school enrollments, higher levels of educational attainment, and expanding markets. But the use of computers and publishing software—often by the clients of the printing company—will result in rising productivity of prepress technicians, and thus halting the creation of new jobs.

    Computer software now allows office workers at a desktop computer terminal to specify text typeface and style and to format pages. This development shifts traditional prepress functions away from printing plants into advertising and public relations agencies, graphic design firms, and large corporations. As page layout and graphic design capabilities of computer software have become less expensive and more user-friendly, many companies are turning to in-house desktop publishing. Some firms also are finding it less costly to prepare their own newsletters and other reports. At newspapers, writers and editors also are doing more composition using publishing software. This rapid growth in the use of desktop publishing software has eliminated most prepress typesetting and composition technician jobs associated with the older printing technologies. In addition, new technology is increasing the amount of automation that printing companies can employ, which leaves less work for prepress workers. The duties of prepress workers will likely begin to merge with those of other printing industry workers—such as those of customer service representatives—which will also curb prepress job growth.

    Job prospects. Despite a decline in the number of new prepress positions, opportunities will be favorable for workers with strong computer and customer service skills, such as preflight technicians who electronically check materials prepared by clients and adapt them for printing.

    In order to compete in the desktop publishing environment, commercial printing companies are adding desktop publishing and electronic prepress work to the list of services they provide. Electronic prepress technicians, digital proofers, platemakers, and graphic designers are using new equipment and ever-improving software to design and lay out publications and complete their printing more quickly. The increasing range of services offered by printing companies using new digital technologies mean that opportunities in prepress work will be best for those with computer backgrounds who have completed postsecondary programs in printing technology or graphic communications. Workers with this background will be better able to adapt to the continuing evolution of publishing and printing technology.


    Prepress technicians and workers overall held about 119,000 jobs in 2006. Most prepress jobs are found in the printing industry, while newspaper publishing employs the second largest number of prepress technicians and workers.

    The printing and publishing industries are two of the most geographically dispersed in the United States. While prepress jobs are found throughout the country, large numbers are concentrated in large printing centers such as Chicago, Los AngelesLong Beach, New York City, MinneapolisSt. Paul, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC.

    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    • Supplemental — Correct minor film mask defects with litho tape or opaquing fluid.
    • Supplemental — Place masking paper on areas of plates not covered by positives or negatives, in order to prevent exposure.
    • Supplemental — Monitor contact between cover glass and masks inside vacuum frames, in order to prevent flaws resulting from overexposure or light reflection.
    • Supplemental — Position color transparencies, negatives, or reflection copies on scanning drums, and mount drums and heads on scanners.
    • Supplemental — Mount negatives and plates in cameras, set exposure controls, and expose plates to light through negatives in order to transfer images onto plates.
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
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