Pre-Press Technician

Pre-press technicians use computer software and computer controlled machines and equipment to generate and combine text, graphics and other visual elements to prepare copy for printing.

NOC Number(s):9472.5
Minimum Education:High school diploma
Employment Outlook:Job openings generated due to employment turnover. Occupational outlook currently unavailable.
Interests:O M I

Duties | Working Conditions | Personal Characteristics | Education | Employment | Salary | Other Information | Related Occupations | Related School Subjects | Related Field of Study


After authors write the text and artists or graphic designers translate ideas into images, publishing materials such as books, magazines and pamphlets involves the following three stages:

  • The pre-press stage includes the assembly of design elements such as illustrations and text on a page, photography, scanning, imposition, proofreading and the transfer of images to printing press plates or digital printers.
  • The press stage involves using digital printers or printing presses to produce single to full colour copies.
  • The binding and finishing stage includes folding, cutting, collating and binding large sheets of paper in various ways and packaging for delivery.

This profile describes work done in the pre-press stage. For information about work performed in other publication stages, see the Digital Printing Machine Operator, Printing Press Operator and Binding and Finishing Machine Operators occupational profiles.

Most printers use computer systems to enter text, format it, add graphics and create a layout design, all in one operation. In general, electronic (desktop or digital) publishing specialists:

  • discuss requirements and specifications with the producers of information to be published
  • use computer software to prepare sample layouts for approval
  • key in textual material according to specifications for typeface, point size, column width, line justification, depth of copy on page, headings, location of columns, page numbering, table of contents and indexing
  • spell check copy and correct errors
  • use page layout software to format and place text and pictures on the page
  • combine, convert and prepare various types of digital files for printing
  • produce final copies according to design specifications
  • store copies of publications on paper, film or electronic storage media.

In process colour printing, visible colours in art work or photographs must be colour separated to create printing plates or cylinders. The nature of the plate or cylinder will depend on the type of printing press to be used. Lithographic or planographic processes require plates that have image and non-image areas on the same plane, separated by chemical interaction. Computer systems or CTP devices often are used to transfer digital images directly onto lithographic plates or directly to a specially equipped printing press. Newer digital presses do not use printing plates; they produce images directly from electronic files.

In large printing shops pre-press technicians may specialize in specific processes:

  • Scanner operators use flatbed or drum scanning equipment to capture images digitally. The original photograph or slide is scanned to create a digital image that can be manipulated using colour correction software. Scanner operators ensure that each image is colour corrected and has the correct tone reproduction curves for the printing process.
  • Customer proofing specialists use computer files to create laser or plotter prints for customer approval. They check proofs for colour matching, typing errors and page impositions, and rule, trim and fold proofs to represent the final printed piece.  
  • Platemakers take approved electronic files and position them onto a printing plate. They expose, process and quality approve the plate before sending it to press operators.  

In most printing shops in Alberta pre-press technicians are responsible for the whole pre-press process from opening the files to plate making which is mostly automatic.

When necessary, pre-press technicians may modify film or computer files to produce the best possible print results. They must understand the entire production process to make appropriate decisions.

Working Conditions

Working conditions vary. In large companies, pre-press technicians may work in specialized departments such as a desktop publishing department or a scanning department. Most printing companies employ eight to ten people and have one pre-press area for all pre-press operations. These shops usually are located in industrial bays.

Shift work may be required and overtime often is required to meet print deadlines.

Personal Characteristics

Pre-press technicians need the following characteristics:

  • accurate colour perception
  • analytical skills
  • full body mobility and good hand-eye co-ordination
  • the ability to pay careful attention to details
  • the ability to work under the pressure of deadlines
  • tact and discretion when dealing with customers' material
  • a willingness to keep up to date with changing hardware and software technology.

They should enjoy having clear rules and guidelines for their work, operating computers and related equipment, and experimenting with document layouts.

Educational Requirements

Many pre-press technicians have learned on the job but technological advances are making this increasingly difficult. Related computer skills are essential for new entrants into this field. Employers generally prefer to hire applicants who have related training or experience.

In Alberta, many post-secondary institutions offer visual communications and graphic design programs. For a list, see the Graphic Designer occupational profile. The following institutions offer programs directly related to desktop publishing and pre-press operations:

  • Bow Valley College in Calgary offers a five course, part time Desktop Publishing program. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age or able to demonstrate to the Registrar the maturity required to benefit from the program.
  • Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton offers a one year Design Foundations program. The entrance requirement is a high school diploma or equivalent with English Language Arts 30-1 or 30-2 or a minimum overall average of 60 per cent (with no course grade lower than 50 per cent) in English Language Arts 30-1 or ELA 30-2, or equivalent plus three other courses selected from a list of approved courses. A portfolio also is required. Graduates may go on to take a two year Design Studies diploma program with a specialization in design and digital media.
  • Mount Royal University in Calgary offers a 210 hour Publishing certificate program through Continuing Education. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age, have strong ocmputer and file management skills, be comfortable working in a Windows environment and have access to an up-to-date computer connected to the Internet.
  • NorQuest College in Edmonton offers a two year Digital Graphics Communications diploma program. The entrance requirement is a high school diploma with English Language Arts 30-1 or 30-2,  or equivalent and Pure or Applied Math 20. 
  • The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton offers a one year Graphic Communications certificate program that focuses on electronic pre-press, which includes an introduction to GrafCom technology. Applicants must have in a Grade 12 English and Pure or Applied Math 20 (competitive entrance: 60 per cent in English Language Arts 30-1 or 30-2 and Pure or Applied Math 20). Printing, web, design elements, photography, digital imaging and aptitude are assets. Creativity in solving graphic problems is essential. Applicants must also possess accurate colour perception. Students must have, or acquire during the program, a minimum keyboarding speed of 50 words per minute.
  • The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary offers a two year Graphic Communications and Print Technology diploma program. The entrance requirement is a high school diploma with English Language Arts 30-1 or 30-2,  or equivalent. 

Continuing education programs may be offered on an as needed basis. Before enrolling in a program, prospective students should discuss the suitability of the program with potential employers.

For current information about programs, admission requirements and mature student admission policies, please check post-secondary calendars or websites.

Section revised April 2012

Employment and Advancement

Pre-press technicians are employed by:

  • daily and weekly newspapers
  • commercial printers
  • large corporations
  • advertising agencies and publishers
  • trade shops that specialize in pre-press work and subcontract to other printers. 

Some desktop publishing specialists are self-employed and contract out their services.

Increasing use of digital cameras has decreased the need for scanner operators. However, it has increased the need for people skilled in colour correction and image manipulation.

Experienced pre-press technicians may become customer service representatives, estimators (who quote prices for customers), production controllers or production managers, or move into marketing and sales.

Pre-press technicians are part of the larger National Occupational Classification 9472: Camera, Platemaking and Other Pre-Press Occupations. In Alberta, 84 per cent of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Section revised November 2011


According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Camera, Platemaking and Other Pre-Press Occupations occupational group earned on average from $16.73 to $25.49 an hour. The mean wage for this group was $22.58 an hour.

For more detailed information, see WAGEinfo.

Section revised February 2012

Other Sources of Information

Post-secondary institution calendars and websites (see Educational Requirements above)

EDinfo website:

Canadian Printing Industries Sector Council (CPISC) website: 

Printing and Graphics Industries Association of Alberta (PGIA) website:

Related Occupational Profiles
Binding and Finishing Machine Operators
Digital Printing Machine Operator
Graphic Designer
Printing Press Operator

Related High School Subjects
English Language Arts; and Fine Arts (Visual Arts)

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study

Produced September 2011
Top of Profile

For more information on career planning, occupations and educational programs, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-661-3753 or 780-422-4266 in Edmonton or visit an Alberta Works Centre near you.

The information contained in this profile was current as of the dates shown. Salaries, employment outlook and educational programs may change. Please check the information before making any career decisions.

Government of Alberta, Human Services