What Is Desktop Publishing Software?

Publishing software is a crowded field with only a few standouts

Person using desktop publishing to print a book

Joshua Seong

Desktop publishing (DTP) software is designed for creating visual communications such as brochures, business cards, greeting cards, web pages, posters, and more for professional or personal printing online or on-screen.

Programs such as Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Publisher, QuarkXPress, and Scribus are examples of desktop publishing software. Professional graphic designers and commercial printing technicians use some of these, whereas office workers, teachers, students, small-business owners, and non-designers use others. Their choices depend on capabilities, budget, and personal preference.

Among professionals, "desktop publishing software" refers primarily to high-end professional page layout software applications including Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress.

QuarkXpress on screen
 Quark Software Inc.

Desktop Publishing Software as a Catch-All Phrase

Other applications and utilities often included in the desktop publishing software category are better classified as graphics, web publishing, and presentation apps. Nonetheless, they play important roles in print and digital media. The DTP programs discussed here all accomplish the core task: composing text and graphics into page layouts for publishing. 

Increased Home Publishing Options

Since the 1990s, the explosion of consumer programs and the associated advertising hype has stretched the phrase "desktop publishing software" to include software for making greeting cards, calendars, banners, and other crafty print projects. This resulted in a wide range of low-end, low-cost, easy-to-use software that doesn't require traditional design and prepress skills to use. 

In contrast, the primary page layout applications that professional graphic designers and commercial printing prepress technicians use is quite advanced and draws on refined skills ranging from graphic design to computer proficiency. These most often include Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress.

Who Makes Desktop Publishing Software?

The main players in this arena are Adobe, Corel, Microsoft, and Quark, with products that stick close to the original intent of desktop publishing software for professional page layout. Additionally, Microsoft, Nova Development, Broderbund and others have produced consumer-oriented creativity and home desktop publishing software for many years, of varying quality.

Adobe

Adobe makes many professional software packages used by designers. You've probably heard of Photoshop and Illustrator, for example. The company's other programs are not page layout software applications for print publishing; they are graphics software, web design software, programs for creating and working with the PDF format, all of which are important adjuncts to the publishing process. Adobe InDesign dominates the field of professional page layout software.

Adobe InDesign 2020 screenshot
Adobe

Corel

Corel is best known for its CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, which includes apps and tools for vector illustration, layout, photo editing, and typography. In the past, Corel produced creative printing and home publishing programs, too, but the primary page layout software from Corel is the vector-based CorelDraw.

CorelDRAW screenshot
Corel

Microsoft

Microsoft produces Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and various consumer graphics and creative printing programs used alone or in conjunction with other applications to do some form of personal desktop publishing. Microsoft's entry into page layout for print is Microsoft Publisher.

Microsoft Publisher 2020 screenshot

Quark

Quark makes other software, but the one most closely associated with desktop publishing is QuarkXPress. Its many XTensions enhance and expand the software package's basic capabilities, allowing users to customize the app to their needs.

QuarkXpress 2019 options page
 Quark Software Inc.

Types of Software Used in Desktop Publishing

Generally, four types of software make up the tools for desktop publishing: word processing, page layout, graphics, and web publishing. The lines between them are blurry, though, in much the same way as that between professional and home apps are. Much of the best design software is used for both print and web, and sometimes, it also serves as page layout and graphics software, creative printing and business software, or other combinations. For this reason, manufacturers often offer these interrelated apps as suites.