Work as a print finisher

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James Robin is an apprentice print finisher with a printing company that produces a wide variety of published material. This ranges from books, brochures, and leaflets to stationery, menus and greeting cards.

What does a print finisher do?

Printed material needs to go through a number of processes before it becomes a finished product. Pages need to be trimmed to the correct size and shape. They may be folded, stitched together or have special coatings applied to the surface. These jobs are done by a print finisher.

What happens on a typical day?

I report to my supervisor who gives me a list of the jobs I need to do that day and the order in which I should do them.

A lot of my time is spent packing finished products into boxes. Items are counted by machine, for example, a folding machine will fold leaflets and count them into batches of 100, a piece of card is put between each batch to make them easy to count. If I need to pack 500 leaflets I take five batches from the pile.

Sometimes I shrink-wrap items to help protect them from damage. That involves taking a batch of books of leaflets and putting them into a large plastic bag. I head the bag using a special machine and the plastic shrinks and holds the items tightly together.

Do you work with machinery?

Yes. I operate the die cutting machine. This cuts card and paper into unusual shapes, such as folders with rounded corners or star-shaped Christmas cards. I set up the machine using the correct die cutter, then make sure the paper is feeding in properly and that the die cuts through the paper completely.

At the moment I'm being trained to use a guillotine to cut pages to size. While I am learning I work with an experienced operator.

Do you do any formal training?

At work there is someone known as a skilled observer who is there to help me if I have a problem. I learn a lot from them.

Every three or four months I spend two or three weeks at college in Leeds. The company pays for me to stay in a hotel near the college, but I come home at weekends. The course covers subjects like health and safety and machine operation. I am part-way through my Apprenticeship working towards an NVQ Level 2 qualification. I want to go on to level 3 to learn new processes and how to operate different machines.

What hours do you work?

I work shifts, either 6am until 2pm or 2pm until 10pm, five days a week. At first I though it would be difficult to adjust to shift working, but I soon got used to it.

What qualities make a good print finisher?

You must be alert with a good eye for detail as you have to check that work is correct as it comes off the machine. You should work carefully and methodically, and make sure that you understand the job thoroughly.

What do you like most about your job?

I get on well with everyone and the company is very supportive about training. There are good opportunities for promotion.

James's route to working as a print finisher

  • GCSEs.
  • School work experience with a printing company.
  • AS level in business studies.
  • Temporary summer job with present company leading to an apprenticeship.

James's tips

  • Maths, English, science and CDT are useful school subjects.
  • Phone or write to local printing companies and try to arrange work experience.

Print finisher related jobs

  • Assembler (light industry)
  • Machine printer
  • Origination printer
  • Packaging technologist
  • Paper manufacturing operative
  • Printing administrator/technologist
  • Reprographic assistant

Salary information

  • Starting salaries are between £8,000 and £10,000 up to £18,000 with experience and training qualifications.
  • Finishing department managers can earn from £20,000 to £25,000.

Work as a print finisher

  • There are no formal entry qualifications to become a print finisher, but GCSE/S grades in English and maths are required by many employers. Computer studies and science are also useful.
  • Apprenticeships may be available.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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