Job as a machine printer
John Perry works as a multi-colour machine minder for a large-scale printing company. He started his career as a Modern Apprentice in machine minding.
Can you describe your role?
We specialise in printing periodicals and trade business magazine. The work comes in page format from our clients and my colleagues in the pre-press department convert these into plates for the printing press. It's then my responsibility to set up the job on the printing press (or machine) and make sure that it prints correctly.
Do you have a regular routine?
Basically, each job involves the same work process. I get a work sheet which details the number of copies required and the quality and size of the paper to use.
How do you set up the printing press?
I put the printing plates onto the press once I have checked the inking levels on the machine. There is a different printing plate for each colour of ink.
The plates are positioned along the machine, so the different colours are applied as the paper progresses through the machine.
The paper comes in on pallets and goes straight onto the feeder at the start of the machine.
What about colour printing?
In colour printing there are really only four inks – three colours and black. Different print colours are made by printing two or three of the ink colours in layers – yellow over blue to make green, for example. Setting colours is something you learn while training – it becomes a lot easier with experience.
How do you check the colour?
This is known in the industry as 'making a job ready'. I print approximately 100 sheets to check that the colour is stable, and staying constant, if not I make alterations and repeat the process. I use an electronic device which measures the density of each colour. When the colour is satisfactory I start the machine and print the entire job. While the job is coming off the machine, I must keep checking to make sure that the colour is right and that the job is correctly positioned on the page.
Who else do you work with?
There are two people working on my machine. I am the lead minder, and I am responsible for the quality of the job. There is also a number two minder who looks after the machine and makes sure it keeps running and that the paper feeds correctly.
Are you involved in other work?
Yes. We are responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the machine to keep it in good working order. At the end of each day we wash the ink off the machine. This involves highly flammable chemicals so we must take care at all times. Once a week we oil and grease all the moving parts in the machine.
What qualities do you need to do your job?
The most important quality is to have good colour vision. If you have difficulty in deciphering colours you won't be able to control the print quality. You need to be very attentive and able to make accurate decisions quickly.
What hours do you work?
I work a double day shift pattern which means I work from 6am to 1.30pm one week then 1.30pm to 9pm the next week.
What do you like most about your job?
I really enjoy the variety in my work – although the routine is the same we are producing different printed material each time. I like using my hands and I know I wouldn't have enjoyed a desk job. It is rewarding as you are helping designers and publishers to produce the final product.
Is there anything you dislike?
Printing isn't a precise art so occasionally things can go wrong which are beyond my control. It can be frustrating sometimes. Shift work can interfere with your social life – especially in the summer – but you do get used to it.
John's route to his job as a machine printer
- Four-year Modern Apprenticeship in machine minding.
- City & Guilds 524 machine minding – a three-year part-time college course.
- Most modern printing machines are computer-controlled, so an IT qualification would be useful.
- A design-related subject could also be helpful.
- Try to get work experience with your high street jobbing printer.
Machine printer related jobs
- Origination printer
- Paper manufacturing operative
- Photographic technician
- Print finisher/bookbinder
- Printing administrator/technologist
Salary of a machine printer
- Salaries start at around £10,000, rising to about £16,000 with experience.
- Skilled and experienced printers could earn up to £30,000.
- There may be opportunities for overtime.
Job as a machine printer
- It is possible to enter this career without formal qualifications.
- Good colour vision essential.
- Most employers ask for some GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), preferably English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.
- Apprenticeships are available.
- Relevant courses include: BTEC First Diploma in Printing, BTEC National Diploma in printing, BTEC/SQA National Certificate in Printing.
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