Our guide to desktop publishing
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to desktop publishing

First published date November 08 2013 Amended date November 08 2013

Every book you read, every magazine you browse in the shops, and every brochure or leaflet that lands on your doormat has been created through the marvels of desktop publishing. Page layout can be the forgotten companion to journalism and photography, but without desktop publishing software, everything we read would simply resemble black text on a plain white page. That makes desktop publishing (or DTP as it’s sometimes shortened to) a vital skill underpinning billboard adverts, website pages, product packaging and greetings cards, to give just four examples.


Careering forwards

There are numerous career opportunities in the visual communications sector, which makes a desktop publishing course particularly worthwhile from an academic and employment perspective. Design and page layout skills (not to mention familiarity with specific packages) can be useful in numerous industries, including advertising, publishing, graphic design and printing – wherever people are responsible for designing or printing documents, or uploading them onto the web. Although DTP was pioneered by Apple in the 1980s, it is now commonly used across all computer formats.

A desktop publishing course will complement anyone’s CV, and it’s bound to impress potential employers. Having learned the basics and dabbled with more technical elements, impressive portfolios can be created, showcasing each individual’s abilities and potential. In visual industries like this, a good portfolio can be even more important than a good interview manner…


The complete package

Some desktop publishing courses will focus on general aspects of DTP and page design, while others concentrate on teaching users about specific packages. The most popular programs currently include Serif PagePlus, Quark XPress, Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Publisher. Although there are various shared elements between these rival packages, their specific abilities and commands will vary from one program to the next, so it might be worth doing a little research before committing to a particular package. If you’re considering a career in desktop publishing, look at job adverts and read the descriptions of what software is used by that company, to get a better perspective on which course might be best for you. Designing for the web involves a very different approach to working on A4 print publications, for instance.


On the canvas

One of the great beauties of studying desktop publishing is the ease with which a complete beginner can grasp the basics. It takes very little time to create a simple document design by inserting text and images, before tweaking and refining its appearance using a spectrum of modifications and options. For instance, a standard font can be embellished with bold, italic or underlined formatting, or it can be replaced by one of a thousand other fonts, to suit personal preferences or the style of the document in question.


Seeing is believing

Desktop publishing relies on the WYSIWYG principle – in essence, What You See Is What You Get. If a photograph covers half a page on-screen, it will cover half a page in the finished document - anything a person does in the design process is directly replicated in the output. Starting with a blank page, items like text, images, multimedia files and links can be dropped in wherever they work best, with imagination providing the only real limits to what can be accomplished.

In the three decades since it became a recognised concept, desktop publishing has exploded into the public consciousness. Its creative nature enables people with an artistic streak to forge a lucrative career, and desktop publishing is a relatively easy industry to establish a new company in, as well as being supportive of home-working. All that’s required is a reasonably powerful PC or Mac computer, some desktop publishing software and an internet connection.


Two examples of desktop publishing packages

1. InDesign. Like the best DTP packages, InDesign allows users to produce all manner of written documentation, from books and magazines to flyers and sales brochures. Launched in the late 1990s, InDesign courses extend from creating simple leaflets to generating QR codes and automatically resizing text frames. Furthermore, InDesign is almost identical on PCs and Macs, and knowledge of this package can be helpful with other DTP programs. 

2. Dreamweaver. This is one of the biggest and most popular packages for website design, enabling people to create complex sites from a blank canvas. There are many courses in Dreamweaver that will allow people to become competent, proficient or expert at website design, and a Dreamweaver course represents the ideal way to unlock the huge capabilities this program offers. After all, websites need page design just like printed publications.


And now for something not entirely different

If you’re just looking to present text neatly, with an occasional image or hyperlink, it might be advisable to consider a word processing course instead. Modern word processing packages are excellent at laying out text, and they offer some functionality for inserting tables and images. Their immense flexibility in terms of text adjustment and formatting makes word processing software ideal for simple documents or reports, where text is the dominant component. 


By Neil Cumins

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