Significant Points
  • Employment is expected to decline in the face of increasing computerization, growing imports of some printed materials, and the expanding use of the Internet.
  • Computerization has eliminated many prepress and production jobs, but has also provided new job opportunities for digital typesetters, desktop publishers, and other computer-related occupations.
  • Though employment is concentrated in establishments that employ 50 or more workers, most establishments are small: 7 out of 10 employ fewer than 10 people.

Nature of the Industry [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

The printing industry includes establishments primarily engaged in printing text and images on to paper, metal, glass, and some apparel and other materials. Printing can be divided into three distinct stages: prepress, the preparation of materials for printing; press or output, the actual printing process; and postpress or finishing, the folding, binding, and trimming of printed sheets into their final form. Companies that provide all three services first prepare the material for printing in the prepress department, then produce the pages on the pressroom floor, and finally trim, bind, or otherwise ready the material for distribution in the postpress department.

Goods and services. A wide range of products are produced in the printing industry. In addition to magazines, books, and some small newspapers, other examples of printed products include direct mail, labels, manuals, and marketing material. Less obvious printed goods include memo pads, business order forms, checks, maps, T-shirts, and packaging. The industry also includes establishments that provide the quick printing of documents and support services—such as prepress, embossing, binding, and finishing—to printers.

Industry organization. The printing industry is broken into 12 segments that generally reflect the major type of printing method that is used at the establishment or product that is produced. Establishments that use printing plates, or some other form of image carrier, to distribute ink to paper, are broken into five industry segments: lithography, flexography, gravure, screen printing, and letterpress. Lithography, which uses the basic principle that water repels oil, is the most widely used printing process in the industry. Lithography lends itself to computer composition and the economical use of color, which accounts for its dominance. Commercial lithographic printing establishments make up the largest segment of the industry, accounting for about 39 percent of employment and about 30 percent of total establishments. Although most newspapers use the lithographic process, their printing activities are not included in this industry, but rather in the publishing industry. Flexography uses printing plates made of rubber or plastic. It is a high-speed process that uses fast-drying inks and can be used on a variety of materials, qualities valued for labels, shopping bags, milk cartons, and corrugated boxes. 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. Screen printing prints designs on clothes and other fabric items, such as hats and napkins. Where letterpress is still used, it prints images from the raised surfaces on which ink sits. The raised surfaces are generated by means of casting, acid etching, or photoemulsion.

Plateless or nonimpact processes, which are the most technologically advanced methods of printing, are included in the digital printing segment of the industry. These include electronic, electrostatic, or inkjet printing, and are used mainly for copying, duplicating, and specialty printing. Although currently much of the work done using digital printing is low volume and often done by small shops, plateless printing is being used more and more throughout the industry. Digital printing, also known as “variable data printing”, offers quick turnaround capabilities and the ability to personalize printed materials. Establishments offering primarily digital printing services constitute one of the smallest segments of the industry—3 percent of total employment.

Quick printing is the industry’s third largest segment in terms of the number of jobs and is the industry’s second largest segment in terms of number of establishments. Used mostly by small businesses and households, quick printing establishments use a variety of printing and copying methods for projects that have short runs and require quick turnaround. Many of these establishments have expanded into other office-related services, such as shipping and selling office supplies to satisfy the small business user. Other segments of the printing industry include establishments that provide specialty services to the printing industry, such as prepress services and trade binding and related work.

Printing is a large industry composed of many shops that vary in size. More than two-thirds of establishments in printing employ 10 or fewer workers. (See chart.)

More than two-thirds of establishments in printing employ fewer than 10 workers.

Recent developments. 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, and technology’s influence can be seen in all three stages of printing. 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 be printed. Nearly all prepress work is becoming computerized, and prepress workers need considerable training in computer software and graphic communications. Technology has also affected the printing process itself. Press operators increasingly use computers to make adjustments to printing presses in order to complete a job. The same is also true of bindery and other finishing workers.

Although digital printing is currently a small portion of the industry, it is the fastest growing industry segment as printers embrace this technology. Most commercial printers now do some form of digital printing. Printing processes today use scanners and digital cameras to input images and computers to manipulate and format the graphic images prior to printing. Digital printing is transforming prepress operations as well as the printing process. It eliminates much of the lengthy process in manually transferring materials to the printing press by directly transferring digital files to an electronically driven output device.

The printing industry is also taking on new responsibilities that provide further value for clients. This means customers can now have their finished products labeled, packaged, and shipped directly by printing companies. Other ancillary services that printers are adding include database management, warehousing, and prefabricated design work for clients who want to fill out design templates on the Internet rather than creating original design work. Printers feel that these services are increasingly important to their current and potential customers.

Working Conditions [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Hours. The average nonsupervisory worker in the printing industry worked 39.2 hours per week in 2006, compared with 41.1 hours per week across all manufacturing industries. Workers in the industry generally put in an 8-hour day, but overtime is often required to meet production deadlines. Larger companies tend to have shift work. Shift schedules and overtime are based largely on seniority, and differ from establishment to establishment.

Work environment. Working conditions vary by occupation. For example, press operators who work with large web presses or pieces of bindery equipment work in a manufacturing plant environment and often need to wear ear protection. On the other hand, prepress technicians and related workers usually work in quiet, clean, air-conditioned offices. In establishments that print confidential data, such as personal credit card statements, employees work in secure areas that are off-limits to other employees.

Most printing work involves dealing with fine detail, which can be tiring both mentally and physically. Fortunately, advanced technology in machinery has reduced eye strain.

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. Even with more safety-enhanced machinery, however, some workers still are subject to occupational hazards. Press operators, for example, work with rapidly moving machinery that can cause injuries. In 2006, there were 4.2 cases of work-related injury or illness per 100 full-time workers. This was less than the rate of 6.0 per 100 for all manufacturing industries.

Employment [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

In 2006, the printing industry had about 636,000 wage and salary jobs, and an additional 26,000 self-employed and unpaid family workers, ranking it among the larger manufacturing industries.

About 39 percent were in the largest segment of the industry—commercial lithographic printing (table 1). Printing plants are widely dispersed throughout the country, but more specialized types of printing tend to be regionally concentrated. For example, the printing of financial documents is concentrated in New York City. Other large printing centers include Chicago, Los Angeles—Long Beach, Minneapolis—St. Paul, and Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC.

Table 1. Percent distribution of employment and establishments in printing by detailed industry sector, 2006
Industry segment Employment Establishments




100.0 100.0



Commercial lithographic printing

38.8 30.0

Commercial screen printing

10.6 13.9

Quick printing

10.6 25.9

Other commercial printing

7.9 8.9

Commercial flexographic printing

6.2 3.8

Manifold business forms printing

5.7 2.4

Books printing

4.9 1.6

Prepress services

4.2 4.6

Trade binding and related work

3.6 2.6

Digital printing

3.4 4.7

Commercial gravure printing

2.6 1.0

Blankbook and looseleaf binder manufacturing

1.4 0.5

Occupations in the Industry [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Printing occupations range in skill from those found in quick printing to specialized production occupations rarely found in other industries (table 2). Production occupations make up 53 percent of industry employment with printing machine operators accounting for the most employment of any single occupation in the industry at 16 percent.

Production occupations. Prepress technicians prepare print jobs for the presses. They take text or images from clients and ensure that coloring and other issues are resolved before the job goes to press. For those processes that require it, technicians then create the printing plate. Increasingly, prepress technicians receive the material for the pages as electronic computer files, which they upload to their computers, and use digital imaging software to lay out the pages. In very small shops or shops with small format digital equipment, prepress technicians may also design materials for those clients who need it. “Preflight” technicians, a type of prepress worker, examine and edit the pages to ensure that the design, format, settings, quality, and all other aspects of the finished product will be completed according to the client’s specifications. Larger printers may add customer service duties to the traditional list of prepress duties in order to streamline business workflow.

When material is ready, printing machine operators review the material with the prepress technician, and then install and adjust the printing plate on the press. They must also meter the flow of fountain solution, adjust pressure, ink the printing presses, load paper, and adjust the press to paper size. Operators must correct any problems that might occur during a press run, which means they must monitor the process throughout the run and make minor repairs when necessary. Job printers, who usually work in small print shops, perform the prepress work as well as operate the press.

During the binding or finishing stage, the printed sheets are transformed into products such as books, catalogs, magazines, or directories. 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—a process that now relies mainly on computers. Bookbinders assemble books from large, flat, printed sheets of paper. They cut, saw, and glue parts to bind new books. They also perform other finishing operations, such as decorating and lettering, often using hand tools. 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.

Professional and administrative occupations. Desktop publishers and digital typesetters perform typesetting and page layout on personal computers. These workers make sure that the files have the correct layout and format, thus taking over some of the work formerly done by prepress workers. Illustrators create drawings, charts, graphs, or full-color artwork to complement the text, while graphic designers use their creativity and computer skills to layout advertising material, brochures, and other print items that artfully bring together text, photos, and illustrations to create the kind of visual impact desired by clients. One occupation becoming more important is the customer service representative, also called a production coordinator. Workers in this job track the various processes of production and act as liaison between clients and technicians.

Other occupations. In addition to these specialized printing occupations, managerial, marketing and sales workers, business and financial operations workers, and workers in transportation and material moving occupations are also employed in the printing industry. Common examples of these workers include sales representatives, cost estimators, and truck drivers.

Table 2. Employment of wage and salary workers in printing by occupation, 2006 and projected change, 2006-2016.
(Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2006 Percent
Number Percent

All occupations

636 100.0 -21.8

Management, business, and financial occupations

42 6.7 -22.3

Top executives

13 2.0 -28.7

Industrial production managers

5 0.8 -20.8

Cost estimators

6 0.9 -14.4

Professional and related occupations

30 4.8 -20.4

Computer specialists

7 1.1 -20.5

Graphic designers

18 2.8 -20.8

Sales and related occupations

39 6.2 -19.4

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

25 3.9 -20.8

Office and administrative support occupations

124 19.6 -24.3

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

10 1.6 -20.8

Customer service representatives

26 4.2 -12.8

Production, planning, and expediting clerks

6 0.9 -20.8

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks

13 2.0 -23.8

Secretaries and administrative assistants

9 1.4 -25.7

Desktop publishers

8 1.2 -20.8

Mail clerks and mail machine operators, except postal service

4 0.7 -41.8

Office clerks, general

10 1.5 -21.9

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

11 1.7 -17.3

Industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance workers

8 1.3 -16.9

Production occupations

337 53.0 -20.3

First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers

25 4.0 -20.8

Team assemblers

7 1.1 -20.8

Bindery workers

49 7.7 -28.7


6 1.0 -20.8

Job printers

30 4.7 -20.8

Prepress technicians and workers

41 6.5 -28.7

Printing machine operators

101 15.8 -10.3

Cutting and slicing machine setters, operators, and tenders

10 1.5 -20.8

Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers

7 1.1 -25.3

Paper goods machine setters, operators, and tenders

9 1.5 -20.8

Helpers—Production workers

24 3.8 -20.8

Transportation and material moving occupations

48 7.5 -29.1

Truck drivers, light or delivery services

7 1.1 -20.8

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

9 1.4 -28.7

Machine feeders and offbearers

12 2.0 -28.7

Packers and packagers, hand

11 1.8 -36.6

Note: Column may not add to totals due to omission of occupations with small employment

Training and Advancement [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Workers who enter the printing industry are typically trained informally on the job. The length of on-the-job training needed to learn skills varies by occupation and shop. Through experience and training, workers may then advance to more responsible positions. Workers usually begin as helpers, advance to skilled craft jobs, and eventually may be promoted to supervisor.

Educational backgrounds vary among workers entering the printing industry. Helpers tend to have a high school or vocational school background, while management trainees usually have a college degree. In general, job applicants must be high school graduates with mathematical, verbal, and written communication skills, and be computer literate.

Production occupations. Production workers, who comprise the majority of all workers in the printing industry, are trained informally on the job. Learning to operate more complex machinery may take several months. Increasingly, formal education in graphic communications is preferred by employers, particularly for prepress technicians. Associate degrees or vocational training are common educational programs, while those looking to advance to management positions usually have a bachelor’s degree. Professional certification provides formal recognition for skill acquired on the job and may help workers take on more responsibility or advance within their occupations, but relatively few workers have obtained them.

Production workers need communications skills to work with clients and must be attentive to detail in order to identify and correct printing problems. Workers need a basic familiarity with computers because of the trend toward electronic data and file use. Tight deadlines mean that workers must work under some pressure in order to complete print jobs on time. Employees may undergo background checks if they work with confidential material.

Professional and administrative occupations. Most employers prefer a bachelor’s or associate degree for entry level administrative and design workers. Desktop publishers and graphic designers usually complete a 2- or 4-year program in graphic communications or graphic design in addition to completing extensive on-the-job training. These workers may learn new skills for 1 to 3 years before they may be qualified for supervisory positions. They should be comfortable with computers and design software. They also should be creative and demonstrate attention to detail and an ability to meet deadlines in a timely fashion. Customer service representatives typically have high school degrees and related experience.

Other occupations. While sales representatives typically have bachelor’s degrees, much of the training for these positions is done on the job. These workers gain valuable experience by attending training seminars and dealing with customers over the phone and at trade shows. In addition to possessing good communication skills, successful sales workers are persuasive and personable. Several credentials for sales representatives are available that may result in increased responsibility, and top sales workers can advance to supervisory positions. Management positions in these occupations are usually filled by those with a bachelor’s degree, and who have a proven track record of success in the industry.

Outlook [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Employment in printing is expected to decline rapidly, but the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation will create job opportunities, especially for persons with up-to-date printing skills.

Employment change. Wage and salary employment in the printing and related support activities industry is projected to decline 22 percent over the 2006-16 period, compared with 11 percent growth projected for the economy as a whole. This decrease reflects the increasing computerization of the printing process, growing imports of some types of printed products, and the expanding use of the Internet, which reduces the need for printed materials. Some small- and medium-size firms are also consolidating in order to afford the investment in new technology, and this development is expected to lead to a drop in employment.

Processes that had been performed manually are now largely automated or done with the help of computers, resulting in a shift from production occupations to computer-related occupations that perform the same function. In some cases, technological advances will shift job duties from printers to the printers’ clients. For example, as layout and design are performed and transmitted to the printing press electronically, employment of desktop publishers in client industries should grow. But, demand for workers in the printing industry who perform prepress tasks manually—paste-up workers, photoengravers, camera operators, film strippers, and platemakers—is expected to decrease.

Employment will decline in most segments of the printing industry, but employment in commercial flexographic, digital, and quick printing should increase. Employment in the printing of manifold business forms should continue to decrease as more firms take their customers’ orders over the Internet, allowing companies to process orders without printed forms. Declining employment in printing of books, blankbooks and looseleaf binders, and other commercial printing will reflect increased imports of some types of printed products with ample lead times.

Growth in mechanization should result in declines in the employment of bookbinders and bindery workers in the industry, while the increasing sophistication of printing presses is similarly expected to lead to a slight decline in the employment of printing machine operators.

Many printers are expanding the services they offer in response to an increasing number of alternatives to traditional printing services. These secondary customer services include mailing, shipping, and performing inventory and database management. Growth in these services, coupled with increases in digital printing capabilities, will moderate the decline in employment of printing’s production occupations and create some new opportunities for workers who are comfortable with customer service and digital printing technology.

Job prospects. Despite the projected downturn in overall employment in printing, retirements and turnover will continue to generate job openings, especially for the most skilled. Opportunities should be good for those whose skills are up to date on new technology and equipment, especially in electronic prepress.

Earnings [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Industry earnings. In 2006, average weekly earnings for production workers in the printing industry were $619, compared with $695 for all production workers in manufacturing. Average weekly earnings in the printing industry can vary significantly by industry segment and by occupation. The industry segment with the highest earnings is commercial lithography with average weekly earnings of $695. Median hourly earnings of the largest occupations in the industry also vary, as shown in table 3.

Table 3. Median hourly earnings of the largest occupations in printing, May 2006
Occupation Printing All industries

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

$25.80 $23.85

First-line supervisors/managers of production and operating workers

23.84 22.74

Prepress technicians and workers

16.44 16.01

Graphic designers

16.31 19.18

Job printers

15.76 15.58

Customer service representatives

15.71 13.62

Printing machine operators

15.55 14.90

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks

13.07 12.53

Bindery workers

12.54 12.29

Helpers--production workers

10.30 9.97

Benefits and union membership. Workers in larger printing companies generally receive standard benefits. Union membership in this industry is less than average. Just 6 percent of printing industry employees are union members or are covered by a union contract, compared with 12 percent of workers throughout the economy, but this proportion varies greatly from city to city.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Links to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

Information on apprenticeships and other training opportunities may be obtained from local employers such as printing shops, local affiliates of Printing Industries of America/Graphics Arts Technical Foundation, or local offices of the State employment service.

For general information on careers and training programs in printing, contact:

  • NPES The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing, and Converting Technologies, 1899 Preston White Dr., Reston, VA 20191-4367. Internet:
  • Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, 200 Deer Run Rd., Sewickley, PA 15143-2600. Internet:
  • Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation, 1899 Preston White Dr., Reston, VA 20191-5468. Internet:
  • National Association for Printing Leadership, 75 W. Century Rd., Paramus, NJ 07652-1408. Internet:

Information on most occupations in the printing and publishing industry, including the following, may be found in the 2008-09 Occupational Outlook Handbook:

NAICS Codes [About the NAICS codes] Back to TopBack to Top


Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Printing , on the Internet at (visited September 17, 2008 ).


Last Modified Date: March 12, 2008