How To Be a Successful Pressman

How can you be find work and be successful as a pressman in the printing industry? Here are some tips to help you get started.

A pressman is a craft like any other trade, but requires specific skills make it a career. Here are five qualities that can make you successful at this trade:

A Desire To Learn
Like most other apprenticeships, being a pressman will require four or five years of training. This is because you must learn the mechanics of the press itself – units, folder, inking system to name just a few. Additionally, you will need to learn about densitometry, chemistry and crew organization. In each of those areas there is much to learn.

Eye For Detail
Just like riding in your car, you can tell if some sounds are not right, so it is with running an offset printing press. In time, you can tell what is high quality printing and what is not. You need to be able to pull a copy off the press and quickly determine any slight flaws. A pressman needs to be able to quickly identify scumming, register, hickies, ghosting, doubling and a myriad of other press problems.

Multitasking
A good pressman is one that can multitask. With multiple parts to an offset press performing different functions, you need to be able to not only keep track of them, but organize who will take care of them. In addition, the multiple parts of a press require that you monitor them all simultaneously as they all affect the quality of the printed product. Especially when the press starts up is this quality essential.

Steady As She Goes
Lastly, your personality must be one that works in a steady manner. Many printing jobs are long runs that require a heightened sense of awareness when all seems to be going well. Defects can appear at any time and if you are not distracted, you can spot them during a press run. You need to be a steady worker, not one that goes in spurts. This is a unique personality and as a pressman of 20 years, I can assure you that these pressmen always turn out the best.

It is also worth mentioning that unless you are going to buy a small press and work out of your basement, you will always be working for someone else. Printing equipment is very expensive and sometimes requires multiple pressmen to run it, so leaving the trade and starting up a business of your own is a rare venture.

Additionally, count on working shift work. In order to pay for this expensive equipment, most employers will try to run it around the clock to make it pay for itself. If that’s not your cup of tea, you need to find different employment.

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Job Description for a Pressman or a Pressroom Manager

Probably one of the most misunderstood parts of a job, in this case the printing industry, is a well defined job descrption. Usually a pressroom manager is taken from one of the head pressman and is promoted to oversee the entire offset printing establishment. From a knowledge perspective, this is great. No one understands the equipment more.
Pressroom Manager
The problem however arises in exactly what he is supposed to do. Being a manger and running a press are two completely different animals. The problem is that the assumption is made that the pressman will automatically fit into this position. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For a pressman to make the transition from being a pressman to a pressroom manager requires something that running a machine cannot qualify him for: Good people skills.

I finally found a good article that defines this difference. It’s written by someone who was a pressman and a pressroom manager for many years so here is what a pressroom manager should do.

As a pressman, I’ve worked for those with good people skills and worked under the tyranny of those that don’t.

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Pressman Troubleshooting Basics On An Offset Press

Troubleshooting on an offset press requires the pressman to have a thorough understanding of the entire process. In addition, the various sections of the press require a varied understanding of how it works. For example, the folder is a completely different animal than the printing units on a web press. Both however, are fraught with potential to cause problems. Here are some basic fundamental steps that will help a pressman to troubleshoot almost any problem on a printing press.

1. Stop And Think
While the machine is running at full speed and the copies are going right into the garbage is not a good time for this. Shut down. There’s too much pressure for the pressman to try and think clearly and in a constructive way. Consult with another pressman. Take a coffee break to clear your head. Sometimes sleeping on it is the only way to come to the right conclusion.

2. Analyze What Has Changed
Try to think back to when the problem started. Did you start a new batch of ink. Are you running a new type of paper, or perhaps a different shipment or position on the jumbo from the paper mill. If it’s a chemistry problem, could your water source have changed. Essentially, the pressman needs to review all of your raw materials and see if they had any impact.

In addition, the pressman must check settings. What adjustment have you made since the problem started? Do you have a record of settings that worked? Can you go back to these. A good lesson taken from this might be to make sure you keep a good log of settings that worked, whether it be for your folder, printing unit, roll stand etc.

3. Let The Printed Signature Tell The Story
Sometimes it’s a matter of examining consecutive copies. If it’s a folder problem, knowing your fold ratio between the cutting cylinder and your pin/tuck cylinders will reveal much. Do you notice a pattern? Is it consistent? Can you make it worse? How often does it happen? Problems become magnified with speed. Sometimes trying various speeds will help reveal the problem. Any pressman knows that scumming can come from many sources, examine it closely to see how it behaves.

4. A Good Pressman Draws On Support
Is it a chemistry problem. Call in your ink supplier. Is it related to paper? Call your paper rep. That is what you are paying these guys for. The cost of giving support is built into the price of the raw materials you pay for. Use it.

One thing is certain. When you find the problem, catalog it. Whether it be for yourself or for the next pressman on shift, you will save much headache for the next pressman when the problem arises again. Anyone that has good troubleshooting skills will never have a problem finding a job as a pressman.

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