The Difference Between Graphic Design and Desktop Publishing

They are similar but not exactly the same

Smiling woman reading a greeting card

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Graphic design and desktop publishing share so many similarities that people often use the terms interchangeably. There's not anything terribly wrong with that, but it is helpful to know and understand how they differ and how some people use and confuse the terms.

  • Graphic design jobs involve the creative process of coming up with concepts and ideas and arrangements for visually communicating a specific message.
  • Desktop publishing is the mechanical process that the designer or the non-designer use to turn the ideas for newsletters, brochures, ads, posters, greeting cards, and other projects into digital files for desktop publishing or commercial printing.

While desktop publishing does require a certain amount of creativity, it is more production-oriented than design-oriented.

Desktop Publishing Software Is a Common Denominator

Graphic designers use desktop publishing software and techniques to create the print materials they envision. The computer and desktop publishing software also aids in the creative process by allowing the designer to easily try out various page layouts, fonts, colors, and other elements.

Non-designers use desktop publishing software and techniques to create print projects for business or pleasure. The amount of creative design that goes into these projects varies greatly. The computer and desktop publishing software, along with professionally designed templates, allow consumers to construct and print the same types of projects as graphic designers, although the overall product may not be as well thought out, carefully crafted, or polished as the work of a professional designer.

  • Graphic design is the process and art of combining text and graphics and communicating an effective message in the design of logos, graphics, brochures, newsletters, posters, signs, and any other type of visual communication.
  • Desktop publishing is the process of using the computer and specific types of software to combine text and graphics to produce documents such as newsletters, brochures, and books.

The Merging of the Two Skills

Over the years, the skills of the two groups have grown closer together. The one distinction that still exists is that the graphic designer is the creative half of the equation. Now every step of the design and print process is heavily influenced by computers and the skill of the operators. Not everyone who does desktop publishing also does graphic design, but most graphic designers are involved in desktop publishing — the production side of design. 

How Desktop Publishing Has Changed

In the '80s and '90s, desktop publishing put affordable and powerful digital tools in the hands of everyone for the first time. At first, it was exclusively used to produce files for print — either at home or at a commercial printing company. Now desktop publishing is used for e-books, blogs, and websites. It has spread from a single focus — that of print on paper — to multiple platforms including smartphones and tablets.

Graphic design skills predated DTP, but graphic designers quickly had to catch up with the digital design capabilities that the new software introduced. In general, designers have a solid background in layout, color, and typography and have a skilled eye for how best to attract viewers and readers.