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Commentary & Analysis

Making a Pitch to the Printers of the Future

The printing industry is undergoing rapid changes. How do you discuss the industry and its future with high school students who are considering various careers? Coming up with a pitch provided a lot of food for thought and speculation about our future.

By John G. Braceland
Published: February 8, 2013

I recently received an email from my daughter’s high school counseling department looking for parents to talk at their Career Day.  Under the list of careers, grouped as Arts, A/V Technology and Communications, was Printing Technologies. As I considered whether or not to accept I started thinking about how I would pitch our industry to high school students.

With printing in such transition what will it look like in 2018 to 2020 when these students graduate from College? It is hard to imagine what 2014 will look like, much less 2020. Our county does have a center for Arts and Technology that teaches printing and design. But beyond that how do you present to the youth of today careers that they would be interested in?

Most paper mills are continuing to predict declining output of printing papers and are diversifying into other areas. It is hard to say if this will level off or continue to decline year after year. If the decline continues our industry will be less paper focused and more media focused. Dr. Ronnie Davis, the PIA chief economist, has predicted the future by looking at different types of printing, those that inform/communicate, market/promote and product logistics. He expects total printing growth to increase a few percentage points or become flat by 2021. Inform/communicate would decline and marketing and logistics would grow. That prediction would continue to see a strong paper based industry.

What are colleges doing? How do they see the future? I checked out Printing Degrees on the web and found eleven schools on Campus Explorer. Many of the schools listed offered Advertising, Graphic Design, Communications and Public Relations. Clemson University, who used to offer a Printing Management degree, now offers a Packaging Technology degree geared towards Packaging Engineers, R&D and Material Testing.

Rochester Institute of Technology no longer offers a printing degree either.  You now graduate with a Media Arts and Technology degree. This program is geared towards advertising production, digital imaging, print production and web design.

Some of the careers listed on this website in the printing area include:

  • Visual and Exhibit Designer
  • Advertising Designer
  • Database Manager
  • Social Media Marketer
  • Print Media Marketer
  • Print Buyer
  • Web Developer
  • QC Manager

Clearly, colleges are looking at a changing landscape as well.

The industry is consolidating and continuing to look at various forms of cross media. Digital imaging is continuing to grow but still represents a small percentage of total output. High speed inkjet printers are growing faster and wider. Over time they will continue to change the landscape, hopefully opening up new applications and making existing ones more efficient.

So what do I tell these high school students? To me it looks like a great time to be considering the printing industry. While we are undergoing some major changes look around at other industries, which are experiencing rapid changes as well. This is part of the world we live in. Someone is always going to be selling something to someone. We need packaging, signs, printed circuit boards and ways to communicate.

The Graphic Arts will always appeal to the creative types. The same concepts apply, whether you are designing a brochure or a web page. As for other people, a changing industry provides plenty of opportunity. The concepts of mobile technology, mobile apps, one to one marketing, database marketing and social media marketing are all fitting into the printing industry.

And for the entrepreneurs of the group there will be plenty of opportunity to start your own business.  One of my neighbors’ sons started an online vinyl sticker business and is doing quite well. As for sex appeal, the wide format inkjet area has plenty: vehicle wraps, large graphic applications and printing on almost anything.

I found this whole exercise to be very thought provoking. Perhaps trying to imagine what your future will look like would also be a useful exercise as you navigate the changing waters of our industry.

John G. Braceland is Managing Director for Graphic Arts Alliance a member run purchasing cooperative. He is also President of JB Solutions, a company that creates and manages purchasing cooperatives in various industries. Previously, he was President and owner of Braceland Brothers, a multi-plant printing company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA.

Please offer your feedback to John. He can be reached at john@jbsolutionsllc.com.



By Margie Dana on Feb 09, 2013

John, I love this subject and thank you on behalf of a lot of us for writing this. It is a very tricky topic, isn't it? How to sell printing as a career path to kids. As you wrote about the coolest apps and products - the car wraps, the printed circuit boards, and packaging - it reminded me that printing is one of those things you truly have to see to believe. Ours is a visual industry, so the show-and-tell piece of impressing high school kids about printing is more important today than ever. The good news is, there's a lot of really exciting apps to show. I think of magazines using Augmented Reality. I think of scented inks. I think of lenticular. I think of stunning direct mail pieces that are part of an integrated campaign. And personalized books. And laser-cut invitations. And so much more. Now is the time to wow them. Thanks again, enjoyed this!


By Samuel Ingram on Feb 12, 2013

Clemson still offers the Bachelor of Science degree in Graphic Communications with approximately 350 majors (and a Masters as well). Nearly 60 current Clemson students have requested transferring in to our major following successful completion of our 1st lab course. Our graduates have entered practically ALL markets associated with print and digital applications. Our curriculum is highlighted by technology, business and creativity.

Pick-up at http://www.clemson.edu/cbbs/departments/graphics/

And, there is also a Packaging Science major at Clemson. Our students and those of other majors collaborate often. Lastly, the university supports, as does industry, the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics a tremendous resource for all Clemson students and industry.

Any questions can be directed to Dr. Sam T. Ingram, Chair and Professor, Department of Graphic Communications.


By Greg Imhoff on Feb 13, 2013

Great topic. Like the Football concussion topic I would not let my son play, even though I did and thoroughly love the game.

As for future print studies I would suggest focusing on excellence in: Innovation, Packaging and Digital communications ... with a bit of 3D print apps to eclipse all.


By Chris Bondy on Feb 13, 2013


RIT - School of Media Sciences offers a Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Technology that incorporates education on all traditional printing (litho, flexo, screen, and letterpress) and digital printing (EP/ink jet) systems and the management and simultaneous deployment of content to all media channels (Web, print, mobile, tablet and social media).

We also offer a 2-year Master of Science in Print Media that incorporates the operations and process management of print including a thesis project.

We are in the development process of a 1-year Master of Science program in Media Arts and Technology to provide a cross-media focused graduate program that delivers print "plus" the integration with all other media.

Students from our programs become "Media Architects" and are in high demand across the communications industry worldwide.

For further information, please contact:
Chris Bondy Administrative Chair, Gannett Distinguished Professor, School of Media Science at RIT (cxbppr@rit.edu).


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