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Prepress Technicians and Workers - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Employers may send experienced technicians to industry-sponsored programs to update or develop new skills. Retraining due to technology and equipment changes is a constant as printing firms continually seek ways to improve efficiency and lower production costs. This kind of prepress training is sometimes offered in-house or through equipment makers and unions in the printing industry.

Prepress technicians and workers overall held about 106,900 jobs in 2008. Most prepress jobs are found in the printing and related support activities industry, while newspaper publishers employ the second largest number of prepress technicians and workers.

The printing and publishing industries are among the most geographically dispersed in the United States. While prepress jobs thus are found throughout the country, large numbers are concentrated in large printing centers such as the Chicago, Los Angeles–Long Beach, New York City, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC metropolitan areas.

Job Outlook
Employment of prepress technicians and workers is projected to decline rapidly through 2018, 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.

Job Growth
Overall employment of prepress technicians and workers is expected to decline by 13 percent over the 2008-2018 period. Demand for printed material, especially product packaging, should grow, reflecting an increase in consumer demand for manufactured goods and an expanding population. But the growing use of computers and publishing software by even the smallest of printing shops will result in rising productivity of prepress technicians, offsetting the growth of new jobs.

Computer software now allows office workers 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 become less expensive and more user-friendly, many companies are turning to in-house desktop publishing. Some organizations also find it less costly to prepare their own newsletters and other reports. At some publishing companies, writers and editors do more composition of their stories using publishing software to gauge layout needs, but generally rely on prepress technicians to perform the actual layout. The rapid growth in the use of digital printing and desktop publishing has eliminated many prepress technician jobs associated with older printing technologies. In addition, new technologies are increasing the amount of automation in printing companies, requiring fewer prepress workers to do the same work.

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. 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.

To remain competitive and profitable, commercial printing companies are offering other services in addition to printing to increase the value of their core service and provide customers with a one-stop option. For example, printers are looking for database administrators, Web site developers, and information technology specialists to assist with providing e-mail distribution and graphic design services. Individuals who are technologically savvy can pick up sales or customer service functions; those who have completed postsecondary programs in printing technology or graphic communications will have the best opportunities.

Wage rates for prepress technicians and workers depend on basic factors such as employer, education, and location. Median hourly wages of prepress technicians and workers were $16.84 in May 2008, compared to $13.99 per hour for all production occupations. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.74 and $21.80 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.01, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $26.30 an hour. Median hourly wages in printing and related support activities were $17.39 in May 2008, while workers at newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers earned $15.82 an hour.

For job printers, median hourly wages were $16.21 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.59 and $20.57 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.91, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.38 an hour. Median hourly wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of job printers in May 2008 were $16.77 in printing and related support activities, and $15.18 in the newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers industry.

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