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A flexographic press operator prints designs, logos and lettering on packaging materials used for industrial, commercial and consumer products. These rolls of materials typically include absorbent-resistant paper cups and plates, paper, and waxed and plastic food storage bags. She also commonly operates presses that print patterns and words on plastic film and paper wrapping supplies.
After she sets up the press with the materials to be printed, she confirms the job specifications with the work order. These instructions typically include required dye colors, the length of the press run and other directions to help make the finished product acceptable. If she has any concerns, she normally resolves them with her manager before proceeding.
To get the press ready to run, the flexographic press operator mounts the job’s specially made rubber plate and dies with the design or letters on it onto the press cylinder. She securely mounts the cylinder onto the shaft. Her last step before filling the dye fonts with ink is to firmly fix the assembly into the press bed.
After the appropriate dyes and inks have been loaded, the flexographic press operator commonly adjusts the levers on the dyes to evenly distribute them. She is commonly expected to properly align the cylinders to prevent smearing or mixing of the dyes. Once the ink is installed, she secures the paper or plastic rolls into the feeders and manually gets each roll started on an even path with the correct amount of tension.
As the printing project gets underway, the press operator is usually required to make minor adjustments to the alignment, speed and tension on the press. After these corrections are made, she customarily cuts a test piece from the end of the paper or plastic roll to check it for conformity with the job specifications. She commonly makes necessary adjustments to the ink or paper to ensure the images are clear and have the correct color and placement on the surface of the materials.
At the end of each press run, a flexographic press operator is generally required to clean her press. She typically uses specially made solvents to clean the fonts, cylinders and rubber plates. Regular maintenance normally necessitates using a grease gun to keep all parts of the press running smoothly.
Press operators are generally required to have a high school education or equivalent to qualify for an apprenticeship program. In lieu of an apprenticeship, courses and classes in press operations are often acceptable. This training is normally offered at trade schools, technical training facilities and community colleges. Good mechanical abilities and attention to detail are desired traits for applicants for this position.
@Markerrag -- you have described a lot of the things typical in the early days of flexographic printing. Back then, the technique was still being developed and problems were fairly common as the process was still being refined.
But, things have improved as the technology has aged and innovations have been made. Does that mean there are no longer problems associated with flexographic printing? Not at all. However, a lot of the more serious problems have been addressed and a print run that is monitored closely will produce great, full color pages.
A major problem with this method is that it is very easy to get color out of alignment due to the fact rubber printing plates can warp a bit (unlike metal plates in traditional presses) and colors can also be knocked out of alignment. The result is a blurred image -- see some comic books from the 1980s for a good example of how those problems result in poor images if the printing process is not monitored closely.
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