What is Desktop Publishing?

In 1985 the introduction of an inexpensive laser printer and a software program called Pagemaker triggered the creation of what today we call Desktop Publishing. Prior to the introduction of those two items, it was common to spend over $100,000 for specialized computer hardware, software, and film printers. Then you would hire 'a typesetter' or two and you were in business. By 1986 there were no more typesetters. Most of them had gone into business for themselves by buying a Macintosh computer, a laser printer and Pagemaker. The advantage that typesetters had over a novice who bought the same equipment, was they knew what they were doing and how to do it whereas the novice had the potential to be able to do the same things but did not have the knowledge of how to do them. The novice had to learn how either by trial and error or the had to be taught by someone who knew.

This actually created an excellent opportunity for an existing typesetter to teach the newcomers the ropes. However, they were so focussed on their businesses that it took an outsider to see the opportunity. Within a few years there were several good books on how to do what formerly had been the exclusive domain of the typesetter.

Desktop publishing replaced the first 6 steps of the traditional printing process. To perform it you need:

These componenets, some time and some know-how allowed you to place text and graphics on the same page in an attractive layout. The only thing added from then until the present, is the ability to do this for online layout as well as printed layout. These pages will walk you through most of the essential knowledge to do desktop publishing (hereafter DTP).

Before diving in, it is very helpful to remember just what we are going to do first. I suggest the following be carefully considered before launching on each project. By carefully consider I do mean think about it and write it down!

First: Determine the purpose of your piece.

Second: Know your target audience.

Third: What are the major points you want to communicate and in what priority.

After deciding these important items you will be doing the following, often repeating and fine tuning as you go:

  1. Gather information about your topic
    This is your research phase. You need to read books, interview people and gather information. In general you will need to know more about what you intend to write about than you will actually write. Otherwise you are writing everything you know and exercising no discretion about what is more valuable to your target audience.
  2. Write the piece
    One you have gathered the information and allowed it to percolate for a time, you need to sit down and write. Those who do a lot of writing know that when when you are ready and have the concepts organized in your head you can usually sit down and the material will flow. The opposite of this state is writers block which is also, unfortunately, common. It takes a lot of preparation for this to happen, but when it does the writing that comes from this flow state is noticably better than that which doesn't.
  3. Edit the piece
    Editing can be done by the author, and at least the first editing should be done by the author. For an author's editing to be the most effective it is a good idea to put the piece aside for a time and then come back to it. A few days to a week usually works.This is necessary because as the author we often do not see our own mistakes unless we allow some time to elapse between the original writing and the edit. If you are in a hurry, or have the budget to afford it, then an editor can greatly speed up the process. Good editors are also
  4. skilled in what they do. They can often see errors musch wuicker than the author can.
  5. Proof the text
  6. Add background to your piece
  7. Find pictures, logos and artwork
  8. Edit your images
  9. Create the layout
  10. Assemble the finished product
  11. Prepare the piece for printing
  12. Final proofing of the finished copy before the print run.

It is a lot of work! It is an aweful lot of work, but it can be tremendously rewarding!

Remember - the main purpose of DTP is to communicate! Communicate what:

Information, Ideas, Feelings.

These three objectives are the basic objectives of all communication. Indeed the balance between the three is the main difference between different kinds of communication. To create the particular slant we desire, we use two principles to help the reader focus:

  1. Set the desired mood - formal, artistic, etc.
  2. Create Readability - attract the readers attention and make it easy to acccess and absorb the information.

Publishing Programs

Today there are two high end DTP programs: Quark Express and Adobe InDesign. Quark Express appeared shortly after Pagemaker and quickly established itself as the preferred program of printing professionals. It was more precise and had several features that printers found useful. Indeed it was, at one time, so entrenched that most people in the field felt it would be impossible for any competing product to displace it.

InDesign is relatively new but has surged to the front as the preferred DTP program for most publishing professionals. This came about because Quark was very slow to upgrade Exppress. In a span of three years InDesign went through three major releases while Express barely eeked out one major release. Many users of Quark's program grew tired of waiting for that next elusive upgrade and embraced Adobe's InDesign.

To be sure there are other publishing programs. The best known of these is Microsoft's Publisher which is available on its own and as part of Microsoft's Office package. It is cheaper than those mentioned above. The following table compares the three programs.

ProgramAdvantagesDisadvantagesPlatform
InDesignFollows publishing standards
Newest publishing program
More CostlyMac & PC
ExpressFollows publishing standardsMore CostlyMac & PC
PublisherCheapest programDoes not follow established publishing standardsPC only