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How to Become a Printing Worker

Prepress technicians typically need an associate’s degree or postsecondary vocational award. Printing press operators and print binding and finishing workers need a high school diploma and on-the-job training.


Most prepress technicians receive some formal postsecondary classroom instruction before entering the occupation. They typically get either a postsecondary non-degree award or an associate’s degree from a technical school, junior college, or community college. Workers with experience in other printing techniques can take a few college-level graphic communications or prepress-related courses to upgrade their skills and qualify for prepress jobs.

For printing press operators and print binding and finishing workers, a high school diploma is sufficient to enter the occupation. Postsecondary coursework is offered through community colleges and vocational schools, although most workers learn the required skills through on-the-job training.

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.


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

Experienced operators periodically get retraining to update their skills. 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.

Most bookbinders and bindery workers learn through on-the-job training. Inexperienced workers may start out as helpers and do simple tasks, such as moving paper from cutting machines to folding machines, or catching stock as it comes off machines.

They learn basic binding skills, including the characteristics of paper and how to cut large sheets of paper into different sizes with the least amount of waste. Usually, it takes 1 to 3 months to learn to operate simpler machines, but it can take up to 1 year to become completely familiar with more complex equipment, such as computerized binding machines.

As workers gain experience, they learn to operate more types of equipment. To keep pace with changing technology, retraining is increasingly important for bindery workers.

Important Qualities

Basic math skills. Printing workers use basic math when computing percentages, weights, and measures and when calculating the amount of ink and paper needed to do a job.

Communication skills. Prepress workers in particular need good communication skills because they must confer with clients about the details of a printing order.

Computer skills. The printing process is computer-based, requiring printing workers to have basic computer skills.

Detail oriented. Printing workers must pay attention to detail to identify and fix problems with print jobs.

Mechanical skills. Printing press operators must be comfortable with printing equipment and be prepared to make adjustments if a printing error occurs. Mechanical aptitude is also important for print binding and finishing workers, who use automated binding machines.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition