Introduction to Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishing put the power to communicate visually in our hands

Graphic designer working with drawing tablet in office
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It was the introduction of the Apple LaserWriter, the PostScript language, the Mac computer, and PageMaker software that kicked off the desktop publishing revolution in the mid-1980s.

Desktop publishing is the process of using a computer and specific types of software to combine text, images, and artwork to produce documents properly formatted for print or visual consumption. Items destined for commercial printing such as newsletters, brochures, books, business cards, greeting cards, letterhead, and packaging are all designed on a computer using page layout and graphic design software.

Before the explosion of desktop publishing, the tasks involved in preparing files for print were done manually by skilled individuals working on expensive equipment with rudimentary software. It wasn't that long ago that publications were assembled with scissors and wax on boards that were then photographed on huge cameras. Printing in colors of ink other than black was limited to only high-end printing. The color photos that are ubiquitous in today's newspapers and other publications were rarely seen because of the complexity of producing them.

Desktop Publishing Opened Visual Communication to All

Desktop publishing isn't limited to professionals. With the advent of desktop publishing software and affordable desktop computers, a wide range of people, including non-designers and others without graphic design experience, suddenly had the tools to become desktop publishers. Freelance and in-house graphic designers, small business owners, secretaries, teachers, students and individual consumers do desktop publishing.

Non-designers can create visual communications for commercial digital printing, printing on a printing press, and for desktop printing at home or in the office. Although desktop publishing encompasses everything from the initial design to printing and delivery of the finished product, the core parts of desktop publishing are the page layout, text composition and the prepress or digital file preparation tasks.

The Modernization of Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishing has expanded beyond the print-only applications that made it so popular. Desktop publishing hardware and software is also used to design and produce web pages. In this case, the content is viewable, not designed for print. It is accessed on computers and mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones. Examples of other non-printed desktop publishing results include slide shows, emailed newsletters, ePub books, and PDFs.

Desktop Publishing Tools

The primary software used in desktop publishing is page layout software and web design software. Graphics software, including drawing software, a photo editor, and word processing software, are also important tools for the graphic designer or desktop publisher. The list of available software is lengthy, but some software is seen on just about everyone's must-have list depending on what they are trying to accomplish.

Page Layout Software for Print

  • Adobe InDesign
  • PagePlus Series from Serif
  • QuarkXpress

Page Layout Software for Office

  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • Apple iWork Suite

Graphics Software

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Corel Draw
  • Inkscape (free)

Photo Editing Software

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Corel PaintShop Pro
  • GIMP (free)

Web Design Software

  • Adobe Dreamweaver CC
  • Adobe Muse
  • Kompozer (free)

You can be a graphic designer without knowing how to use desktop publishing software and you can learn how to use desktop publishing software without being a graphic designer. Owning desktop publishing software doesn't automatically make you a good designer, but in the right hands, desktop publishing vastly expands the possibilities of visual expression.