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Opportunities in the Printing Industry

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Printing is such a diverse industry that you are well advised to become acquainted not only with the geographical locations of the best job opportunities, but also with the various career alternatives existing in each component of the printing industry: newspapers, commercial printers, book manufacturers, trade shops, and others. While most components of the industry are expected to grow into the early twenty-first century, some segments will grow at a faster rate than others. In the 1980s, the printing industry was one of only five manufacturing industries that showed net gains in employment.

Here is a brief description of each component, with tips on how you might relate each of them to your own career planning or job-seeking program. If any of the terms in these descriptions are unclear to you, check the glossary in the back of this book.


There are over 1,520 daily newspapers in the United States producing some 50 million copies of newspapers every day. The larger dailies are located in the large population centers of the nation. Daily newspapers operate their own printing plants, and the majority of production workers are members of a union.

Another 35 million copies are printed by the nation's 7,915 weekly newspapers every week.

Most weeklies are printed by commercial printing plants under contract with the weekly newspaper publisher. Such plants may, and frequently do, print more than one weekly, some as many as a dozen or more. Geographically, weeklies are located in all sections of the United States, coinciding roughly with the population centers of the country. Employees of weeklies and the plants that print them are not as tightly organized as the dailies.

The jobs in newspaper printing run the gamut of all graphic arts occupations, from phototypesetting to laser beam scanner operator. However, although some small, primarily rural, newspapers may still require the services of hot metal typesetting machine operators, such positions have been virtually phased out as typesetting has entered the high-technology world of word processors, remote VDTs, and high-speed printers. The positions of Electro typer and Stereotyper, occupations that are associated with letterpress printing of newspapers, are now fundamentally archaic.


There are about 50,000 commercial printing plants in the United States, many of them with 20 employees or fewer. Commercial printing employs close to 600,000 workers in jobs as varied as those of any industry in America. Total gross receipts of this component were some $53 billion in 1990, and over $70 billion in 1996. The industry is widely dispersed, with plants employing 50 or more people in every state and nearly every county. However, the larger printing plants tend to be concentrated in or near centers of industrial activity. About two-thirds of the plants are located along the Eastern Seaboard from New England through the Mid-Atlantic States. About 20 percent are located in the West, and the remainder are scattered through the nation's heartland.

Your job opportunities in printing are greater in the commercial printing field, because commercial printers tend to adopt innovations in production techniques more readily than the other segments of the printing industry. This is because of the pressure of competition and the more modest investment required implementing a new idea in the relatively smaller commercial plant. These new ideas require people with new skills never before seen in the graphic arts. Some examples are digital press make ready system operator, color proof scanner operator, densitometer evaluator, and photo-type keyboard operator.

The age of information is a present reality. The old ways of doing things in the press room must give way to newer techniques aimed at increasing production levels and lowering costs, if the printer is to stay competitive. Not only must printers increase their aggressiveness in the marketplace, they also must be flexible enough in their thinking and in the structure of their organizations to adapt to the exotica of modern electronics, film science, and satellites-all of which add up to many employment opportunities.


A large but relatively unsung segment of the printing industry is package printing. The products of this component include plastic film and foil bags, cartons, tags and labels, plastic and metal containers, wrappers, and many other packaging materials and products. Package printing is done by flexography, gravure, sheet-fed offset, and rotary letterpress, the latter being used mainly for tags and labels.

Flexographic printing is a $28- to $30-billion market, much of it devoted to package printing. The gravure segment is a $6.2-billion market, a significant portion of which is devoted to package printing. According to the Flexographic Technical Association, there are about 200,000 persons employed in the industry. There are about 4,500 flexographic printing plants in the United States, most of which are concentrated in the large population centers.


Magazine publishing has experienced growth in the past five years, registering gains in both circulation and advertising receipts. Of the three major groups (consumer, business, and farm publications), consumer magazines are showing the most promising growth. Gains in advertising and circulation revenue result in increased opportunities in the printing side of the industry.
In an effort to keep circulation of printed magazines up, more than 900 new titles were added in 1996, despite fierce competition from electronic magazines available via subscription or free on the Internet. Nonetheless, the growth rate forecast for the magazine publishing industry is consistent with the growth rate predicted for the entire graphic arts industry. In 1983, periodicals revenues amounted to over $11 billion and the industry employed about 85,000 people, over 16,000 of who were production workers. By 1991 total periodical receipts had swelled to over $33 billion.

Some of the high-priced, slick magazines are printed by gravure, a process that allows the highest quality reproduction of color art and is also capable of the long runs needed to print in large volume. Offset lithography is used for the production of publications with shorter runs and less exacting color requirements.


The U.S. book printing industry is composed of about 1,000 establishments employing about 33,000 production workers. Receipts in recent years have amounted to $4 billion annually with a growth rate that approximates that of the printing industry as a whole. The greatest growth in book printing has come from the production of paper bound books, as opposed to the more expensive hard-bounds.

The book printing industry benefits from the same factors that are spurring growth in magazine publishing-increased literacy in the population as a whole, the increasing adoption of English as a second language among the nations of the world, and the general stability of raw materials, prices, and availability. The jobs in book publishing are concentrated in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, and in the Great Lakes area and the West Coast. The predominant printing method for books is lithography, which amounts to about 85 percent. Competition, however, is coming from computer-generated books that are "desktop-published," quickly and inexpensively, with visual results that are a far cry from the professional quality that ensues from the established printing press.


There are about 800 plants engaged in the manufacture of business forms, a specialized industry requiring special-purpose printing presses and highly trained personnel. The industry employs about 35,000 production workers, operating mainly lithographic printing presses, although some plants are switching to "dry" offset, a letterpress version employing polymer printing plates.

Several factors are involved in gauging the growth of the industry. Chief among these is the proliferation of computer technology in all levels of business. Computers are prodigious consumers of printed forms, in sets or single sheets. However, modern technology has also created new ways of storing and retrieving data directly from computer memory, making unnecessary the filing (and printing) of many tons of printed paper. The demand for printed forms is expected, nevertheless, to continue at its present high levels through the middle of the decade.

In addition to offset lithography, the industry is experimenting with new methods such as ink jet printing and electrostatic printing, as described in Chapter 1.


The other segments of the printing industry provide considerable opportunities for printing careers when taken as a whole, but in their respective areas the jobs are less numerous than in those just described. Let's review each of them.

Greeting Card Printing

The greeting card industry has been growing at a steady rate for many years, but several factors combine to limit the number of job opportunities for printers. First, there is the essential fact that 80 percent of the total U.S. output is produced by about four companies. Although the number of greeting card companies has increased over the past five years, to over $6 billion in sales in 1996, employment declined by 1,000 workers. The majority of greeting card establishments have fewer than 20 employees, not all of them involved in production. Many greeting card publishers farm out their printing requirements to commercial printers.

The vast majority of greeting cards are printed by lithographic printing, augmented by such processes as die stamping, die cutting, embossing, converting, and flocking, all of which require special skills not ordinarily found in press rooms and commercial establishments.

Quick Printing Shops

Quick printing shops have proliferated in the past few years. The main reason for their success has been the development of "smart" machines that require little or no training or experience of their operators. Printing plates of metal or paper are exposed and processed in automatically controlled plate makers. Small duplicating presses are easily operated by personnel with no prior experience, printing "by the numbers." The nature of the work done by quick printing shops is, of course, uncomplicated, usually in a single ink color on basic paper stock and usually supplied flat or without complicated folds and finishing.

If you are seeking a career leading to the achievement of master printer status, you will not find that opportunity in quick printing shops, although many crafts-persons are finding business success as owners of such shops.

In-Plant Printing

This segment of the printing industry is not as easily identified as the other components. Most large organizations have their own in-house "captive" shop on the premises, producing a wide range of printed matter, from company newsletters to assembling instructions to point-of-purchase displays in full color. Finding jobs in these firms is not as easy as consulting your local telephone directory, but with some 30,000 shops; there are plenty of job opportunities. In-plant printing shops also exist in companies outside of manufacturing, such as insurance companies, mail-order firms, retail stores, and religious and other charitable organizations. In-plant printing equipment represents every type used in commercial printing, including the most sophisticated. Because large firms have the resources to afford the latest state-of-the-art technology, in-plant printing shops tend to be well equipped and well managed-sometimes better even than commercial shops of comparable size. Thus, the opportunities are often greater in in-plant shops for personal growth and technical advancement.

Trade Shops

This component of the printing industry includes such establishments as typesetters, color separators, plate-makers, and book-binders. These shops provide services to printers amounting to about $1.9 billion.

Trade shops are widely dispersed throughout the U. S. population centers. With employment numbering about 20,000, they represent promising opportunities for the newcomer to the graphic arts.


In reviewing the opportunities afforded by the printing industry, you should bear in mind that not all jobs in printing have strictly to do with printing. The printing industry needs management and executive personnel as much as any other industry. It also needs good people in accounting, sales, computer technology, and production planning, estimating and graphic design.
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