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Are Web and Offset skills like Strippers to Digital prepress in the 90’s

October 28, 2009

More and more as I speak with offset and web press operators I find myself asking if they have exposure to digital printers. Its not just me thinking that things are going more in that direct, but that it is what my clients are asking me to provide them. What this reminds me of is the way it went for strippers in the 1990’s.

During the 90’s there was a fundamental shift in printing firms on how prepress was done. No longer were companies using traditional strippers, they were installing digital prepress systems. While the traditional stripers had a lot of critical experience such as understanding color separation and the capabilities of the printing presses, they were no longer needed unless they also had digital prepress skills, both software and hardware. This change had very telling effects on the prepress positions. First, those that did not want to learn new skills were no longer able to find work and when they did, it was at substantially lower payrates. Those that did make the effort and invested in themselves to learn the new skill sets were able to stay in the industry as digital prepress people. At first those with traditional and new skill sets were in the biggest demand. As time has gone by digital prepress workers no longer need the skills of the traditional strippers and people with just digital prepress skills have all the tools for the modern prepress jobs.

Traditional offset and web press operators are now in a very similar situation. Those segments of the industry are shrinking and with that comes fewer jobs. Those that are relectant to increase their computer skills and spend time learning about the new digital equipment will find themselves with fewer and fewer job options. While I do feel at this time that having both offset/web skills and digital print skills will be valuable in some situations, it seems that a digital printer doesnt need to rely only on an ink on paper back ground. Many digital prepress operators are able to run the digital printers at this point. In fact most firms will ask for someone  with offset backgrounds OR prepress backgrounds to be trained on a digital printer.

If you are an offset or web press operator and pondering your career moving forward, please heed the lessons of strippers in the 1990’s. Look at gaining better computer skills and seeking opportunities to get your hands on digital printers. Do this while your current skills can still keep you employed. This way you will be positioning yourself for your future, as it is likely you may need both skills sets to finish out your career.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Pat Pruitt permalink
    October 30, 2009 4:14 pm

    Yes you are right Brian!
    I was a key part of the movement of the shift from conventional stripping to digital prepress departments in the Atlanta Area, I was in high demand in the 90’s because I came from a conventional platemaking and stripping background and I was already into digital prepress by early 1989. I worked at the Quebecor Atlanta facility as applications manager for their CTP department. I was in charge of training the conventional strippers in digital prepress to format the plates for their web press facility, the learning curve was that many of them had little or no computer skills. Now many of the press operators have under gone training on digital units on their press equipment if there companies are staying competitve, but there is is new curve to the mix coming. They will in fact have to know and understand web programming like XML, that is where JDF comes into the picture. That is to say, the files for direct to press and docutek will need to be programmed for the internet as well. We are fast becoming a paper less society.
    Prepress Web Developer or Graphics Workflow Operator will probably be the title.

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