Machine-print-operator-copyright-zefart_bannerMachine Print Operator © zefart

Machine Print Operator

Photo Imaging
Personality type:
Photographic Laboratories and Image Producers

The lowdown

  • Producing high quality photographic prints to meet the requirements of photographers and graphic designers

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • have a good eye for colour, contrast, ratios and density when preparing images for print
  • have good maths skills to calculate processing times, exposures and film speeds
  • be skilled and confident in using PCs and Macs
  • be skilled in image-manipulation and image-management software
  • be well organised
  • have strong analytical and mechanical skills to monitor and maintain machines
  • work well under pressure without compromising quality
  • have strong powers of concentration to avoid damage to films and equipment
  • have good communication skills
  • be able to interpret instructions accurately
  • be aware of health and safety issues when dealing with chemicals and machinery

What does a Machine Print Operator do?

Machine Print Operators are skilled laboratory technicians who produce high quality photographic prints on a variety of materials to meet the exacting requirements of photographers and graphic designers.

They are skilled technicians who perform the role previously performed by the film processing technician and the photographic printer. They will often be expected to combine knowledge of traditional photographic processing and printing skills with the operation and maintenance of sophisticated laboratory equipment. While most of these machines are computer-controlled, the Machine Print Operator is responsible for setting, monitoring, adjusting and calibrating them, as well as refilling paper, ink and chemicals.

Machine Print Operators will often be expected to discuss the processing of film and the printing of print and digital images with photographers and designers.

Their duties usually combine these four activities:

  • Printing - producing the best possible print from film or digital sources.
  • Large format printing - using specialist machinery to print billboard, large format and poster displays, as well as for fine-art canvases, banners and exhibition stands. 
  • Film processing - using computer-controlled equipment to process films before printing, or scanning and transferring onto a disc.
  • Digital Imaging - carrying out photo-retouching, re-cropping, design and layout work using standard photo imaging software packages.

Occasionally, Machine Print Operators may be asked to help mount prints onto special board or card for advertising or display purposes.

The majority of Machine Print Operators are employees who work a regular 38-40 hour week, Monday to Friday, although shift work may be required in some larger laboratories. Gloves and protective clothing are often worn when handling films or prints and always when working with chemicals.

Will I need a qualification?

You don't need to take a formal qualification to become a Machine Print Operator.

Laboratories will usually expect you to have an interest in photography and good computer skills. It can also set you apart from the crowd if you have training and qualifications in using photo imaging and desktop publishing software, such as Photoshop, Quark, Illustrator or InDesign.

Employers may support work-based qualifications, such as Apprenticeships and NVQ/SVQs.

What’s the best route in?

The most common route into becoming a Machine Print Operator is for you to first gain experience as a Minilab Operator in a photo retailer.

Most professional laboratories will expect you to have an outgoing customer-oriented manner, an interest in photography and a willingness to learn. On-the-job training on additional equipment will usually be provided in-house at the laboratory or with the supplier.

Where might the role take me?

If you develop a good understanding of all the equipment, processes and the workflow within a professional laboratory you could be promoted to senior technician (in larger labs) or to Laboratory Manager.


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