Machine Printer

The Job and What's Involved

Machine printers set up and run the equipment that produces printed materials of all kinds.

The machinery used depends on the end product. It ranges from the enormous, multi-colour presses used to produce vast quantities of daily newspapers, to small-volume machines often used to print items such as simple business cards.

The equipment may print onto paper, or directly onto other materials such as card or plastic. A number of different types of printing processes may be used, for example, die stamping, flexographic, gravure, lithographic, pad and web offset. A printer may specialise in using a particular type of machine.

Printers may oversee the production of a wide range of materials, including:

- Newspapers and magazines
- Business cards
- Books
- Leaflets, brochures and catalogues
- Greetings cards
- Calendars
- Maps
- Labels for packaging

A machine printer may:

  • Receive information about the customer's requirements and the printing plates containing the artwork and images.
  • Put the plates onto the press - which may involve climbing onto the machine and using hand tools.
  • Load the machine with the correct inks.
  • Load the paper or other material to be printed, setting the correct size.
  • Carry out a trial run and make any adjustments required.
  • Oversee the printing, checking that the quality is correct and the colours constant.
  • Unload the finished products, sometimes with the help of lifting equipment.
  • Clean and maintain the machinery and keep the work area tidy.

Most modern printing machines are computerised. The printer uses a console to adjust the speed and pressure.

The end product emerges from a sheet-fed machine as single sheets. On 'web-fed' presses, used for high-volume jobs, it is produced as a continuous roll, which then has to be cut in a further process.

Machine printers often work alone on a job. On larger presses they may share tasks with colleagues. They report to a production manager.

Machine printers usually work 36 hours a week. To ensure expensive machinery is used to full capacity, many print companies run a 24-hour operation, so printers may work shifts, including some nights and weekends. Overtime may be available.

The work is done in print workshops. Some machinery is noisy and the work can be dirty. Hazardous chemicals are sometimes used to wash inks from the presses after a job. Depending on the environment, machine printers wear safety gear, including overalls, boots, gloves and ear protection.

Physical fitness is important as the work involves standing for long periods, as well as some lifting and handling.

Salaries may start at around £15,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 30,000 machine printers in the UK.

Employers include:

  • Companies producing specific products, such as books or magazines.
  • Specialist printers, concentrating on a particular process, such as screen printing.
  • Large companies with capacity to produce a wide range of material.
  • Small concerns, such as High Street print shops, which produce small-volume products such as flyers and letterheads.

There are about 12,000 printing companies in the UK, employing around 160,000 people. Most are small family-owned firms which employ fewer than 50 people.

Employers are found in towns all over the UK. There are significant numbers in London and south-east England, and also in Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol.

Printing is sensitive to changes in the wider economy, seasonal fluctuations in orders, and the growing use of online resources rather than printed material. However, the industry is still robust, and skilled employees are in demand.

Vacancies are found in the local press and in trade publications such as Print Week and The Drum (Scotland). There are also some specialist printer recruitment agencies.

Education and Training

Most people enter through an Apprenticeship. Although there are no set entry requirements, many employers may expect four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). English, maths, science and technology subjects may be preferred.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

NVQ's/SVQ's are available in:

- Machine Printing (Level 2 and 3)
- Mechanised Print Finishing & Binding (Level 2 and 3)
- Digital Print Production (Level 2 and 3)
- Handbinding (Level 3)
- Envelope Manufacture (Level 2 and 3)
- Carton Manufacture (Level 3)

City & Guilds also offers a Certificate in Printing & Graphic Communications at Level 2 and 3.

A course designed as an introduction to the sector is run by The Institute of Paper, Printing and Publishing. The ten-day course takes place over ten weeks in London, Leicester or Huddersfield. Students are assessed continuously and are awarded the IP3 Certificate on successful completion.

The British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) offers short courses in specific skills.

It is important for machine printers to ensure that they keep up to date with changing printing techniques, and that they update their skills in using new equipment and machinery.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A machine printer must have:

  • An aptitude for manual work.
  • Accuracy.
  • Physical fitness.
  • Quick reactions.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • The ability to concentrate for long periods.
  • Initiative.
  • Flexibility.
  • Normal colour vision.

Your Long Term Prospects

Machine printers may specialise in a particular printing process. After gaining experience, they may progress to a supervisory role and ultimately may move into management. Those working in smaller companies may need to change employer to gain promotion.

Potential managers in the print industry can join the YMP Organisation, which offers structured training programmes, company visits and networking opportunities.

Get Further Information

British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF),
Farringdon Point, Farringdon Road,
London EC1M 3JF
Tel: 0870 240 4085
Website: (see also

Institute of Paper, Printing and Publishing,
83 Guildford Street, Chertsey, Surrey KT16 9AS
Tel: 0870 330 8625

Proskills Sector Skills Council,
Centurion Court, 85b Milton Park, Abingdon,
Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 432032

YMP Organisation

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