What Makes a Good Pressman

Not everyone has got what it takes to be a good pressman, so here are a few qualities to look for when deciding whether to train one.

by Harold Stansted

I think most would agree with me that being a printer is not for everyone. Okay, it takes mechanical ability and a good production mentality. But let’s face it, there is enough chemistry and physics in this trade to show up those that really know what they’re doing.

I will not venture into those details, but I will tell you some qualities to look for whether your deciding to hire a pressman or you’re contemplating whether it’s worth it to train that promising new guy. A good pressman must have the following abilities:

1. A Good Pressman Is Quality Conscious. This is one that’s not hard to figure out. Many guys can fake it by hiding those bad copies in the middle of the pile or bundle coming off the machine. But at the end of the day this one shows through in their habits of cleanliness. The guy that is conscious of keeping his workspace clean and tidy had good quality habits already built in. The one that sweeps up a mess and then hides it, is the pressman who will hide bad quality work. Trust me, they are one and the same.

2. Patient. No one likes to work with someone who is impatient. I speak from experience on this one. The pressman that I worked for not only took his frustration out on others, but he took it out on the machine too. When he lost his temper, he would throw tools and kick the machine. Needless to say he didn’t last long, but I think guys like that can be spotted early.

Stress brings out the best and worst in all of us. A fast paced pressroom will reveal really how patient any worker is. Spot these ones early and you will have a good leader in your pressroom.

3. Good With Detail. I don’t just mean that he is a perfectionist, but he must be able to work at something that is very monotonous and not zone out to problems that may not be so easily perceived.  That is the nature of offset printing.

I’ll also add to this the need to be good with color. This is imperative for anyone entering the pressroom - a color blindness test. I’m not just talking about determining if someone sees in black and white. A good number of people have trouble distinguishing greens and blues. Make sure everyone entering the department takes this test before they come and you’ll never have a problem with it.

4. Problem Solving Abilities. This is another quality that can be evident early on. In printing, there are thousands of variables. The answer may not always be so evident and this can be a significant source of stress on a pressman. Good pressroom troubleshooting abilities are essential for any pressman.

In the pressroom, I’ve seen two types of people. Those who take and active interest in finding out what is the cause of a particular problem. For example, even though a worker may not have the experience and training to solve a problem, he is actively interested in presenting ideas, though he has a limited perspective. The other type is very passive. He doesn’t really care what the problem is because it’s ‘not my problem.' Later on, these are the type that would rather pass the problem on to another shift or someone higher up then taking the initiative to do something about it.

5. Honesty. In so many cases it is a judgement call for the pressman to decide if something can be saved or thrown out. Especially when starting up the press. It’s easy to let bad stuff go. The pressman lets it go for the following reasons:

1. It makes his numbers look good (eg. Low waste)
2. Saves costs in paper and time
3. Laziness

Yet the following problems are created.

1. Creates a risk that the customer will complain
2. Decreases morale of the crew
3. Risks an ultimate loss in company revenue

From my experience, the last three reasons demand a higher price than the first. When a pressman comes to you to report even embarrassing mistakes, take this as a sign that he is one that does not allow those first three rules to override the right decision. Give him something he doesn’t expect: commendation. Hang on to these guys.

Add to these are the job abilities to follow direction, good communication skills and the ability to get along with others. All attributes of any good employee for the job. But in my experience the aforementioned qualities are the mainstay of a good pressman. It is said that a company ends up paying $100,000 in qualifying a lead pressman, so choosing them wisely for this job is no small task. But training the right one will pay you dividends in the long run. Needless to say this job as a pressman is a valuable one.


  1. Anonymous8:54 PM

    I worked for company for 25 years quality was my first priority. 58 inch 16 unit 2 folder. My eye for quality and running crew was my pride to send best out. This had me in touble quite often. Was told if you can read send out door,worked 12 hours hardley ever took break. the way they moved up color people was stackers they tore up ink keys like crazy. they did not understand ink water balance no training was a knightmare, lost alot of customers on quality issues, good accounts made me very depressed but could not do anything was all bottom line of bean counter. If somthing wrong on machine run it and fight till it broke, quess thats why large corp went backrupt GREED

  2. Anonymous6:10 PM

    Although I'm not at pressman level yet, as a roll tender I too see this sort of mentality. Disorganization and run it until it dies mentality wrecks our productivity and morale. I see a lot of turnover forcing us to grab many unqualified/unmotivated employees from temp agencies. My Company has many great leaders, unfortunately not many are in a pressman capacity.