IPA Provides Useful Information about the Printing Industry
IPA Statistics on Printing
- Most firms are small, employing fewer than 10 people.
- Computerization is changing or eliminating occupations, resulting in a slight decline in projected employment.
NATURE OF THE INDUSTRY
The printing industry prints products ranging from newspapers, magazines and books to brochures, labels,
newsletters, postcards, memo pads, business order forms, checks, maps, T-shirts and packaging. The industry
also consists of establishments that provide related services to printers, such as embossing, binding,
finishing and prepress services. Commercial lithographic printing establishments, which print newspaper
inserts, catalogs, pamphlets and advertisements make up the largest segment of the industry, accounting
for about 40 percent of employment and 32 percent of total establishments. Establishments offering primarily
digital printing, which is the most technologically advanced method of printing constitutes the smallest
segment of the industry—about 3 percent of total employment. Much of the work of this segment is characterized
by low volume, often done by very small shops or freelance workers. Another segment of the printing industry
is quick printing. Quick printing establishments generally provide short-run printing and copying with fast
Printing is a large industry composed of many shops that vary in size. More than 2 of every 3 printing shops
employ 10 or fewer workers. These small printing shops often are referred to as "job shops," because
what they print is determined by the needs of their customers.
There are five printing methods that use plates or some other form of image carrier— lithography, letterpress,
flexography, gravure, and screen printing. Plateless or nonimpact processes, such as electronic, electrostatic
or inkjet printing are used mainly for copying, duplicating and specialty printing, usually in quick printing
or in-house print shops.
Lithography, which uses the basic principle that water repels oil, remains the dominant printing process in the
industry. Lithography lends itself to computer composition and the economical use of color, accounting for its
dominance. Letterpress prints images from the raised surfaces on which ink sits; the sunken surfaces do not show
up on the paper. The raised surfaces are generated by means of casting, acid etching or photoemulsion. In the
future, flexography and gravure to a lesser extent, are expected to be more widely used than at present.
Flexography produces vibrant colors with little ruboff, qualities valued for newspapers, directories, and books,
which are its biggest markets. Gravure’s high-quality reproduction, flexible pagination and formats, and
consistent print quality have won it a significant share of packaging and product printing and a growing share
of periodical printing.
Another type of printing included in this industry is screen printing, also known as commercial screen printing.
This method is used to print designs on clothes and other fabric items, such as caps or napkins. In response to
environmental concerns, printers increasingly use alcohol-free solutions, water-based inks and recycled paper.
The printing industry, like many other industries, continues to undergo technological changes, as computers
and technology alter the manner in which work is performed. Many of the processes that were once done by hand
are becoming more automated. Technology’s influence can be seen in all three stages of printing: Prepress,
preparation of materials for printing; press, the actual printing process; and postpress or finishing, the
folding, binding and trimming of printed sheets into final form. The most notable changes have occurred in
the prepress stage. Instead of cutting and pasting articles by hand, workers now produce entire publications
on a computer, complete with artwork and graphics. Columns can be displayed and arranged on the computer screen
exactly as they will appear in print and then printed. Nearly all prepress work is becoming computerized, and
prepress workers need more training in computers and graphic communications software. Printing processes today
use scanners to input images and computers to manipulate and format the graphic images prior to printing.
Digital printing also is transforming prepress operations as well as the printing process. It eliminates much
of the lengthy process in transferring print files to the printing press by directly transferring digital files
to an electronically driven output device bypassing most prepress operations.
The average nonsupervisory worker in the printing and related support activities industry worked 38.4 hours
per week in 2002, compared with 40.5 hours per week across all manufacturing industries. Workers in the industry
generally put in an 8-hour day, but overtime often is required to meet production deadlines. Larger companies
tend to have shiftwork. There is a fair amount of flexibility with shift schedules and overtime options, which
are based largely on seniority.
Working conditions vary by occupation. For example, press operators work in noisy environments and often
wear ear protectors. On the other hand, prepress technicians and related workers usually work in quiet,
clean, air-conditioned offices. Fortunately, with the advanced technology in machinery, there is not as
much strain on the eyes as in the past. Most printing work involves dealing with fine detail, which can be
tiring both mentally and physically.
Even with more safety-enhanced machinery, some workers still are subject to occupational hazards. Platemakers,
for example, may work with toxic chemicals that can cause skin irritations, and press operators work with
rapidly moving machinery that can cause injuries. In recent years, working conditions have become less
hazardous as the industry has become more automated. Also, companies are using fewer chemicals and solutions
than in the past and are experiencing fewer equipment-related accidents.
In 2002, the printing industry had about 710,000 wage and salary jobs, in addition to 33,000 self-employed
workers, ranking it among the largest manufacturing industries. More than 13 percent of wage and salary jobs
were in establishments employing fewer than 10 workers. About 40 percent were in the largest industry sector—
commercial lithographic printing. Printing plants are widely dispersed throughout the country; however, more
specialized types of printing tend to be regionally concentrated. For example, financial printing is concentrated
in New York City.
OCCUPATIONS IN THE INDUSTRY
Printing occupations range in skill from those found in quick printing to specialized production occupations
rarely found in other industries. Printing machine operators still account for the most employment
of any single occupation in the industry at 13.3 percent. However, relatively newer occupations such as graphic
designers and desktop publishers are expected to experience the fastest growth.
Production occupations make up 52.3 percent of industry employment. Prepress technicians and workers
prepare material for printing presses. Included among their tasks are: Composing text; designing
page layout incorporating text, photographs and illustrations and advertisements, if any; and making printing
plates of the pages. Increasingly, prepress technicians receive the material for the pages as electronic
computer files, which they load into their computers and use digital imaging software to layout the pages.
"Preflight" technicians examine and edit the pages to ensure that the design, format, settings,
quality and all other aspects of the automated desktop work are acceptable, and that the finished product
will be completed according to the client’s specifications before it is printed.
Printing plants that use older technology, which are declining in number, may still employ people in older,
manual occupations. These include typesetting and composing machine operators to prepare text. Camera
operators start the process of making a lithographic plate by photographing and developing negatives of the
material to be printed. Scanner operators employ electronic or computerized scanning equipment to produce
and screen film separations of photographs or art to use in lithographic printing plates. Operators review all
work and adjust the equipment if they need to make corrections to the original. Lithographic dot etchers
retouch negatives by sharpening or reshaping the images on the negatives. They work by hand, using chemicals,
dyes, and special tools. Film strippers cut the film to required size and arrange and tape the pieces of
negatives onto "flats," or layout sheets, used to make press plates. Platemakers produce
printing plates by exposing sensitized metal sheets to special light through a photographic negative. Some
platemakers operate machines that process the plates automatically. In letterpress and gravure printing,
photoengravers photograph copy, develop negatives and prepare photosensitized metal plates for use.
When the material is ready, Printing machine operators install and adjust the printing plate
on the press, mix fountain solution, adjust pressure, ink the printing presses, load paper and adjust the
press to paper size. Operators also must correct any problems that might occur during a press run. Job
printers, who usually work in small print shops, perform the prepress work as well as operate the press.
During the binding or postpress stage, the printed sheets are transformed into products such as books,
catalogs, magazines or directories. Bookbinders assemble books from large, flat, printed sheets of paper.
They cut, saw, and glue parts to bind new books and perform other finishing operations, such as decorating
and lettering, often using handtools.
A small number of bookbinders work in hand binderies. These highly skilled workers design original or special
bindings for publications with limited editions or restore and rebind rare books. In many other shops, bindery
workers fold and fasten groups of sheets together, often using a machine stapler, to make "signatures."
They then feed the signatures into various machines for stitching or gluing. More of these workers are now using
computers on the job and consequently must learn new skills to operate the more complex machinery.
In addition to these specialized printing occupations, office and administrative support workers, marketing and
sales workers, workers in professional and related occupations, and management, business,and financial operations
workers also are employed in the printing industry. One occupation becoming more common is customer service
representative; workers in this job track the various processes of production and act as liaison between clients
and technicians. The representative ensures the customer’s satisfaction with the timely delivery of a high-quality
product. Also important are graphic designers, who use a variety of print and film media to create and
execute art that meets a client’s needs. They increasingly use computers to lay out and test various designs,
patterns and colors before printing a final design.
TRAINING AND ADVANCEMENT
Workers enter the industry with various educational backgrounds. In general, job applicants must be high school
graduates with mathematical, verbal, and written communication skills and be computer literate.
Helpers generally have a high school or vocational school background and management trainees may have a college
background. Formal graphic arts programs, offered by community and junior colleges and some 4-year colleges,
provide an introduction to the industry. Training in desktop publishing is particularly useful. Bachelor’s degree
programs in graphic arts prepare persons who may want to enter management and 2-year programs provide technical
As the industry continues to become more computerized, most workers will need a working knowledge of computers.
Courses in electronics and computer technology are beneficial for anyone entering the industry and some employers
will offer tuition assistance or continuing education classes.
In the past, apprenticeships were quite common for specialized printing occupations. Now, workers usually are
trained informally on the job. Hand bookbinders are one exception. These workers usually need a 4-year apprenticeship
to learn the craft of restoring rare books and producing valuable collector’s items.
The length of on-the-job training needed to learn skills varies by occupation and shop. For example, press operators
begin as helpers and advance to press operator positions after years of training. Bindery workers begin by doing simple
tasks such as moving paper from cutting machines to folding machines. Workers learn how to operate more complicated
machinery within a few months. Training often is given under the close supervision of an experienced or senior employee.
Through experience and training, workers may advance to more responsible positions. Workers usually begin as helpers,
advance to skilled craft jobs and eventually may be promoted to supervisor.
Opportunities for advancement depend on the specific plant or shop. Technological changes will continue to introduce
new types of computerized equipment or dictate new work procedures. Workers with computer and mechanical aptitude are
especially in demand, so proper training or retraining will be essential to careers in printing.
In 2002, average weekly earnings for production workers in the printing industry were $573, compared with $619
for all production workers in manufacturing. Weekly wages in the printing industry can vary significantly by industry
sector ranging from $431 in commercial screen printing, to $638 in commercial lithograph printing.
The principal union in this industry is the Graphic Communications International Union. About 6 percent of printing
industry employees are union members or are covered by a union contract, compared with 15 percent of workers throughout
the economy, but this proportion varies greatly from city to city.
Wage and salary employment in the printing and related support activities industry is projected to grow 3.3 percent
over the 2002-12 period, compared with the 16 percent growth projected for the economy as a whole. This modest growth
reflects the expanding use of the Internet, which reduces the need for printed materials, and the increasing
computerization of the printing process. The printing industry, though, will continue to supply products for education,
business and leisure for a long time to come. Although technological innovation and automation, mergers between and
acquisitions of small and medium-size printing firms, and partnering services offered among printing firms will curb job
growth, certain sectors of the industry will experience more employment increase than will others.
Employment in support activities for printing is expected to decline because more companies are preparing printing
and performing postpress in-house. Employment in commercial printing companies is projected to rise, but only modestly,
as digital printing technology allows clients to perform more work in-house. Employment in manifold business forms should
continue to decrease as firms take customers’ orders over the Internet, a development that allows companies to disseminate
purchasing information throughout all departments much more easily. Declining employment in blankbooks and looseleaf binding
firms also reflects increased competition from imports and a shrinking export market share for this industry segment.
Employment growth will differ among the various occupations in the printing industry, largely because of technological
advances. Processes currently performed manually are being computerized, causing a shift from craft occupations to related
occupations that perform the same function. For example, employment of desktop publishing specialists is expected to increase
much faster than the average for all occupations over the 2002-12 period as the elements of print production, including
layout, design and printing, increasingly are performed electronically. In contrast, demand for Prepress technicians and
workers; particularly those who perform these tasks manually, including pasteup workers, photoengravers, camera operators,
film strippers and platemakers—is expected to decline. Job printers, however, are expected to experience growth as some firms
contract out typesetting and composition work to the small shops in which job printers are primarily employed. In response to
the growth in electronic printing, employment of press operators is expected to decline, as is that of bookbinders and bindery
New technology and equipment will require workers to update their skills to remain competitive in the job market. For example,
pasteup workers will have to learn how to lay out pages using a computer or face losing their jobs. The concepts and principles
behind page layout and design are unchanged, but the workers will have to learn how to perform their work using different tools.
Industry data is republished with permission by the Bureau of Labor Statistics