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Occupation Profile for Printing Machine Operators

Set up or operate various types of printing machines, such as offset, letterset, intaglio, or gravure presses or screen printers to produce print on paper or other materials.


Significant Points

  • Most printing machine operators are trained on the job.
  • Retirements of older press operators are expected to create openings for skilled workers.
  • Rising demand for customized print jobs will mean those skilled in digital printing operations will have the best job opportunities.


$30,990.00 Median Annual Wage 4,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
5.1 Average Unemployment Percentage 66.2 Percentage That Completed High School
198,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 28.4 Percentage That Had Some College
186,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 5.5 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
1st Pressman
2nd Pressman
3rd Pressman
Aniline Press Worker
Apprentice, Electrotyper
Apprentice, Embosser
Apprentice, Press Operator
Apprentice, Printer
Apprentice, Printing Press Operator
Assistant Press Operator, Offset
Assistant, Press Operator
Assistant, Printer
Back Tender, Cloth Printing
Back Up Machine Operator
Bag Press Operator
Bag Printer
Ben-Day Artist
Binding Printer
Block Printer
Blocker, Metal or Wood
Box Press Operator
Box Printer
Braille Transcriber, Hand
Calico Printer
Carton Marker, Machine
Carton Stamper
Cellophane Press Operator
Cloth Printer
Collating Machine Operator
Collator Operator
Computer Typesetter-Keyliner
Copper Plate Printer
Cut and Print Machine Operator
Cut Pressman
Cut-Press Operator
Cutting and Printing Machine Operator
Cylinder Press Operator
Cylinder Press Operator Apprentice
Decorating Equipment Setter
Decorating Machine Operator
Design Printer, Balloon
Devil Dog
Die Mounter
Die Stamping Press Operator
Duplex Trimmer
Electrotype Caster
Electrotype Finisher
Electrotype Molder
Embossing Machine Operator
Embossing Press Operator
Embossing Press Operator Apprentice
Embossograph Operator
Engraver, Machine
Engraving Press Operator
Flexographic Press Operator
Flexographic Press Set-Up Operator
Form Designer
Galley Boy
Galley Worker
Glove Printer
Gold Blower
Gold Layer
Gold Leaf Printer
Gravure Press Set-Up Operator
Head Bander and Liner Operator
Helper, Press Operator
Helper, Screen Printing Machine Operator
Helper, Silk Screen Printer
Ink Printer
Instant Print Operator
Journeyman Press Operator
Journeyman Pressman
Kelly Machine Operator
Label Printer
Letterset Press Set-Up Operator
Line-Up Examiner
Lithoduplicator Operator
Lithograph Press Feeder
Lithograph Press Operator
Lithograph Press Operator, Tinware
Lithograph Printer
Lithographic Proofer Apprentice
Lithoplate Maker
Mandrel Press Hand
Manufacturing Assistant
Manufacturing Associate
Manufacturing Operator
Marking Machine Operator
Microfiche Duplicator
Music Copyist
Music Grapher
Name Plate Stamper
Nipping Machine Operator
Offset Duplicating Machine Operator
Offset Duplicating Machine Operator, Printing
Offset Duplicating Machine Set Up Operator
Offset Machine Operator
Offset Press Operator
Offset Pressman
Offset Printer
Offset-Press Operator
Offset-Press Operator Apprentice
Pantograph Setter
Paper Products Printer
Photo Offset Printer
Pin Ticket Machine Operator
Plate Printer
Plate Sensitizer
Plate Setter
Platen Press Feeder
Platen Press Operator
Platen Press Operator Apprentice
Press Feeder
Press Helper
Press Operator
Press Operator, Printing
Pressroom Foreman
Print Line Operator
Printer Slotter Operator
Printer, Floor Covering
Printer, Machine
Printer, Operate Press
Printer, Plastic
Printing Machine Operator, Folding Rules
Printing Machine Operator, Tape Rules
Printing Plate Setter
Printing Press Operator
Printing Pressman
Proof Press Operator
Proofer, Prepress
Raw Material Handler
Roller Operator
Roller Print Tender
Rolling Machine Operator
Rotary Lithographic Press Operator
Rotary Screen Printing Machine Operator
Rotogravure Press Operator
Rounder Hand
Rounding Machine Operator
Rubber Printing Machine Operator
Screen Maker, Photographic Process
Screen Maker, Textile
Screen Printer
Screen Printing Equipment Setter
Screen Printing Machine Operator
Section Leader, Screen Printing
Sign Writer, Machine
Silk Printer
Silk Screen Operator
Silk Screen Printer
Silk Screen Printer, Machine
Silk Screen Processor
Silk Screener
Sketch Maker
Sketch Maker, Photoengraving
Specialty Materials Printing Machine Setter/Set-Up Operator
Stamping Press Operator
Steam Table Worker
Steel Die Press Set Up Operator
Steel Die Printer
Steel Plate Printer
Stencil Machine Operator
Stencil Printer
Stereotype Caster
Stereotype Finisher
Stereotype Molder
Strickler Attendant
Strike Off Machine Operator
Strip Machine Operator
Striping Machine Operator
Symbol Stamper, Semiconductor Packages
Tab Card Press Operator
Tab Cutting Machine Operator
Tag Press Operator
Tension Worker
Textile Screen Printer
Ticket Printer
Tinning Machine Set Up Operator
Tip Printer
Transfer Machine Operator
Type Caster
Type Copyist
Vigoureux Printer
Wad Printing Machine Operator
Wallpaper Printer
Web Offset Press Feeder
Web Press Operator
Web Press Operator Apprentice
Web Pressman

  • These occupations often involve using your knowledge and skills to help others. Examples include sheet metal workers, forest fire fighters, customer service representatives, pharmacy technicians, salespersons (retail), and tellers.
  • These occupations usually require a high school diploma and may require some vocational training or job-related course work. In some cases, an associate's or bachelor's degree could be needed.
  • Some previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience may be helpful in these occupations, but usually is not needed. For example, a teller might benefit from experience working directly with the public, but an inexperienced person could still learn to be a teller with little difficulty.
  • Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees.

Although employers prefer that beginners complete a formal apprenticeship or a postsecondary program in printing equipment operation, most printing machine operators are trained on the job. Attention to detail and familiarity with electronics and computers are essential for operators.

Education and training. Beginning printing machine operators load, unload, and clean presses. With time and training, they may become fully qualified to operate that type of press. Operators can gain experience on more than one kind of printing press during the course of their career.

Experienced operators will periodically receive retraining and skill updating. For example, printing plants that change from sheet-fed offset presses to digital presses have to retrain the entire press crew because skill requirements for the two types of presses are different.

Apprenticeships for printing machine operators, once the dominant method for preparing for this occupation, are becoming less prevalent. When they are offered by the employer, they include on-the-job instruction and some related classroom training or correspondence school courses.

Formal postsecondary programs in printing equipment operation offered by technical and trade schools, community colleges, and universities are growing in importance. Postsecondary courses in printing provide the theoretical and technical knowledge needed to operate advanced equipment that employers look for in an entry-level worker. Some postsecondary school programs require two years of study and award an associate degree.

Because of technical developments in the printing industry, courses in chemistry, electronics, color theory, and physics are helpful in secondary or postsecondary programs.

Other qualifications. Persons who wish to become printing machine operators need mechanical aptitude to make press adjustments and repairs. Workers need good vision and attention to detail to locate and fix problems with print jobs. Oral and written communication skills also are required. Operators should possess the mathematical skills necessary to compute percentages, weights, and measures, and to calculate the amount of ink and paper needed to do a job. Operators now also need basic computer skills to work with newer printing machines.

Certification and advancement. As printing machine operators gain experience, they may advance in pay and responsibility by working on a more complex printing press. For example, operators who have demonstrated their ability to work with a one-color sheet-fed press may be trained to operate a four-color sheet-fed press. Voluntarily earning a formal certification may also help advance a career in printing. An operator also may advance to pressroom supervisor and become responsible for an entire press crew. In addition, printing machine operators can draw on their knowledge of press operations to become cost estimators, providing estimates of printing jobs to potential customers.

Nature of Work

Printing machine operators, also known as press operators, prepare, operate, and maintain printing presses. Duties of printing machine operators vary according to the type of press they operate. Traditional printing methods, such as offset lithography, gravure, flexography, and letterpress, use a plate or roller that carries the final image that is to be printed and copies the image to paper. In addition to the traditional printing processes, plateless or nonimpact processes are coming into general use. Plateless processes—including digital, electrostatic, and ink-jet printing—are used for copying, duplicating, and document and specialty printing. Plateless processes usually are done by quick printing shops and smaller in-house printing shops, but increasingly are being used by commercial printers for short-run or customized printing jobs.

Machine operators’ jobs differ from one shop to another because of differences in the types and sizes of presses. Small commercial shops can be operated by one person and tend to have relatively small presses, which print only one or two colors at a time. Large newspaper, magazine, and book printers use giant in-line web presses that require a crew of several press operators and press assistants.

After working with prepress technicians (who are covered in the Handbook statement on prepress technicians and workers) to identify and resolve any potential problems with a job, printing machine operators prepare machines for printing. To prepare presses, operators install the printing plate with the images to be printed and adjust the pressure at which the machine prints. Then they ink the presses, load paper, and adjust the press to the paper size. Operators ensure that paper and ink meet specifications, and adjust the flow of ink to the inking rollers accordingly. They then feed paper through the press cylinders and adjust feed and tension controls. New digital technology, in contrast, is able to automate much of this work.

While printing presses are running, printing machine operators monitor their operation and keep the paper feeders well stocked. They make adjustments to manage ink distribution, speed, and temperature in the drying chamber, if the press has one. If paper tears or jams and the press stops, which can happen with some offset presses, operators quickly correct the problem to minimize downtime. Similarly, operators working with other high-speed presses constantly look for problems, and when necessary make quick corrections to avoid expensive losses of paper and ink. Throughout the run, operators must regularly pull sheets to check for any printing imperfections. Most printers have, or will soon have, presses with computers and sophisticated instruments to control press operations, making it possible to complete printing jobs in less time. With this equipment, printing machine operators set up, monitor, and adjust the printing process on a control panel or computer monitor, which allows them to control the press electronically.

In most shops, machine operators also perform preventive maintenance. They oil and clean the presses and make minor repairs.

Work environment. Operating a press can be physically and mentally demanding, and sometimes tedious. Printing machine operators are on their feet most of the time. Often, operators work under pressure to meet deadlines. Most printing presses are capable of high printing speeds, and adjustments must be made quickly to avoid waste. Pressrooms are noisy, and workers in certain areas wear ear protection. Working with press machinery can be hazardous, but the threat of accidents has decreased with newer computerized presses that allow operators to make most adjustments from a control panel.

Many printing machine operators, particularly those who work for newspapers, work weekends, nights, and holidays as many presses operate continually. They also may work overtime to meet deadlines. The average operator worked 40 hours per week in 2006.

Related Occupations

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

Median hourly earnings of printing machine operators were $14.90 in May 2006, as compared to $13.16 per hour for all production occupations. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.11 and $19.49 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.84, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $24.23 an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of printing machine operators in May 2006 were:

Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers $17.27
Converted paper product manufacturing 16.37
Printing and related support activities 15.55
Plastics product manufacturing 13.81
Advertising and related services 11.95

The basic wage rate for a printing machine operator depends on the geographic area in which the work is located and on the size and complexity of the printing press being operated.

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:

  • Printing machine operators
  • Job Outlook

    Employment of printing machine operators is projected to decline moderately through 2016, as newer printing presses require fewer operators. Despite this, job opportunities are expected to be favorable because a large number of these workers are expected to retire over the next decade. The best opportunities will be available to skilled operators.

    Employment change. Employment of printing machine operators is expected to decline moderately by six percent over the 2006-16 decade even as the output of printed materials is expected to increase. Employment will fall because of increasing automation in the printing industry and because of the outsourcing of some production to foreign countries.

    Book and magazine circulation will increase as school enrollments rise and niche publications continue to enjoy success. Additional growth will also come from the increasing ability of the printing industry to profitably print smaller quantities, which should widen the market for printed materials as production costs decline.

    Commercial printing will continue to be driven by increased expenditures for print advertising materials. New marketing techniques are leading advertisers to increase spending on messages targeted to specific audiences, and should continue to require the printing of a wide variety of catalogs, direct mail enclosures, newspaper inserts, and other kinds of print advertising.

    However, employment will not grow at the same pace as output because increased use of new computerized printing equipment will require fewer operators. This will especially be true with the increasing automation of the large printing presses used in the newspaper industry. In addition, some companies are lowering their printing costs by having their work printed out of the country when it does not need to be completed quickly. New business practices within the publishing industry, such as printing-on-demand and electronic publishing, will reduce the size of print runs, further moderating output.

    Job prospects. Opportunities for employment in printing machine operation should be favorable. Retirements of older printing machine operators and the need for workers trained on increasingly computerized printing equipment will create many job openings over the next decade. For example, small printing jobs will increasingly be run on sophisticated high-speed digital printing equipment that requires a complex set of operator skills, such as knowledge of database management software. Those who complete postsecondary training programs in printing and who are comfortable with computers will have the best employment opportunities.


    Printing machine operators held about 198,000 jobs in 2006. Half of all operator jobs were in printing and related support activities. Paper manufacturers and newspaper publishers also were large employers. Additional jobs were in advertising agencies, employment services firms, and colleges and universities that do their own printing.

    The printing and newspaper publishing industries are two of the most geographically dispersed in the United States. While printing machine operators can find jobs throughout the country, large numbers of jobs are concentrated in large printing centers such as Chicago, Los Angeles-Long Beach, New York, Minneapolis-St. 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 — Requisition supplies, materials, and equipment and receive stock.
    • Supplemental — Monitor and control operation of auxiliary equipment to assemble and finish products.
    • Core — Operate equipment at slow speed to ensure proper ink coverage, alignment, and registration.
    • Supplemental — Pack and label cartons, boxes, or bins of finished products.
    • Supplemental — Correct misprinted materials, using materials such as ink eradicators or solvents.
    • 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.
    Related College Curriculum
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