Printing Industry

Significant Points

* Employment is expected to decline due to increasing computerization, declining volume of printed matter, and the expanding use of the Internet in advertising and communications.
* Computerization has eliminated many prepress and production jobs, but has also provided new job opportunities for digital press operators 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

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. Increasingly, printers also are providing database management, mailing, or distribution services to meet customer needs.

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 quick printing of documents for the consumer or support services, such as prepress, embossing, binding, finishing, and mailing.

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 smooth metal plates, 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 29 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, including 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.

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. Much of the work done using digital printing processes is for short run or personalized orders and often done by small shops, but plateless printing is being used more and more throughout the industry, making digital printing the fastest growing printing segment. Digital printing, also known as “variable data printing,” offers quick turnaround capabilities and the ability to personalize printed materials.

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 offering 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, trade binding, enhancement finishing (or specialty detailing) and related work.



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