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What Does It Take to Be a Digital Printer?

What skill set is needed for a successful career in the print business? This is a question we were confronted with this week as we were visited by a great group of educators from the Academy of Media Arts and Technology at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton, TX. They came to tour our facilities and learn a bit more about the current state of the graphic design and print industry in order to better prepare their students for real world positions in the new economy. And, as is the case with all good teachers, they made us think.

So, after carefully considering the questions they posed, we’ve narrowed it down to three main skills:

Mechanical Aptitude

Of course, the design and production of printed materials requires the ability to think logically about how things work. One has to be able to think in 3D for packaging and understand how even something as simple as a trifold brochure will look when translated from a flat layout into a folded piece. If it doesn’t work in the layout stage it won’t get any better as it moves through the process.

Speaking of the process, understanding technology is a must when working on the digital presses. Not only how the printing process itself works, but also how to operate the presses and troubleshoot any mechanical or computer glitches that occasionally pop up. As any press operator can attest, there is a lot more to running the press than simply pushing a button and waiting for the press sheet to magically pop out the other end. As a matter of fact, we send iGen operators to special training classes in New York to learn all about the presses, front to back. It is a weeklong crash course so a strong mechanical aptitude is a huge benefit to getting the most out of the course.

Just as importantly, mechanical aptitude is a must when operating the far less “high-tech” machines in the hand bindery. Understanding how a saddle-stitcher works goes a long way towards turning out a beautiful hand finished product in record time. And, wouldn’t you know it, that brings us full circle back to the ability to understand how a final piece comes together when assembled as a package or trifold, or whatever else it may be. This ties in to the second skill needed:

The ability to think and be a problem solver

Change comes quickly and an open and inquiring mind will go a long way towards success. Although a number of our employees have higher degrees it isn’t an absolute requirement for our work. In fact, most of their degrees have little to do with their current vocations simply because there are few – if any – advanced degrees pertaining to printing. This is not to say education isn’t an important factor. Knowledge of business, graphic design, computer programs and emerging technology all are valuable in our industry. And the discipline and analytical thinking honed in the pursuit of that knowledge will always serve a person well in any job.

Printing can be a very fast-paced industry and the ability to think quickly and adapt is a key skill. Equally important is attention to detail. Thinking about how a piece will be used is one of the best ways to catch if something seems off – whether it be the size, fold, or even a typo in the client’s art. Look. Think. Ask questions. Being able to troubleshoot and save time and money is a form of customer service, and that will always make a person a valuable asset in any economy.

Enjoy what you do!

This is the truth about being successful in any industry, not just printing or the digital graphic arts. A job shouldn’t be solely about a paycheck. It is so important to do something you love and can take pride in. See the value of what you do and enjoy going to work each day. This is a fact that is often overlooked or simply not talked about enough but it was brought to the forefront of our consciousness this week as we watched our people during the tour. Each one was excited to explain their roles in the process, even the more shy members of our team. And the playful banter afterwards as they each bragged that the group liked their part of the tour best was quite lively. It was a great reminder of the skills we each possess and how we can all use our gifts to make something great together.

So, in closing we want to send out a big thank you to the teachers at R.L. Turner who joined us. We hope you were able to take away as much from the day as we did.


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