What is Desktop Publishing?

James Withers

Desktop publishing refers to the act of using software on a personal computer to combine mixed-media elements, such as text, photos, or charts, into printable documents. Once created, these documents can either be printed on a home printer or outsourced to a professional printing service. One of the key features is the ability to preview a page layout before prior to printing, via a feature called What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG), pronounced wizzy-wig. While this was once taught through advanced education programs, advancements in software means that the process is less difficult to master than in past decades.

Many different types of documents can be created through desktop publishing, such as charts, reports, ebooks and more.
Many different types of documents can be created through desktop publishing, such as charts, reports, ebooks and more.

The practice exploded in popularity in 1984 and 1985, when MacPublisher was produced to capitalize on the capabilities of Apple's Macintosh® computers. Additionally, the Aldus Corporation introduced its PageMaker® software, which was later acquired by Adobe Systems. Each of these programs introduced users to the ability to easily manipulate page elements while producing a document.

Documents are generally created using desktop publishing software, and are then printed using a laser printer.
Documents are generally created using desktop publishing software, and are then printed using a laser printer.

In recent years, word processing services have provided users with many of the perks once exclusive to desktop publishing programs. In addition, electronically-formatted documents, such as PDF files or eBooks, have diminished user reliance on the software. These popular programs don't provide quite the same amount of fine control over documents that desktop publishing does. In the design industry, high-end software is considered fundamental to quality document design when producing catalogs, brochures, or business cards. Not only is it used to produce high-quality documents, but it also used for high-volume printing as is used in book publishing.

Unlike word processing applications, desktop publishing software permits users to modify multiple elements within a document through master pages. Instead of needing to change each instance of an element on several pages of a document, users can modify a single linked element and thus change every occurrence of this element in the document; typographical elements, such as column width, spacing, or font size, can be easily altered, and text can be modified to wrap around graphical images, or enlarged or reduced on command.

Printing plates can be produced through these programs, downloaded as files, and printed through a range of printing methods. While desktop publishers are compatible with standard lasers printers, they can also function with more specialized devices such as the flexographic printers used in product packaging, photogravure printers used for making art prints, or thermographical printers used to make raised lettering on wedding invitations.

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Discussion Comments


Is there a easy to use desktop publishing system that you can just put the word document in and then it almost automatically spits it out in a particular format, so people who aren't desktop publishers or graphic designers can use it?


@Cupcake15 - I just wanted to say that since the desktop publishing courses are usually available online it is great way to slowly get into this field.

The only downfall with online courses is the limited interaction with the instructor as well as devoting the amount of time necessary to do well in the course.

People that take classes online always underestimate how much time the class will actually take.


@Latte31 - I know that if you have a degree from a reputable design school with a great portfolio you can get an internship before graduation and probably have a great chance of landing a fulltime job when you graduate.

If you don’t have any design schools nearby, you can always take classes at a local community college. They often have certificate programs that focus strictly on courses that will help you find a job.

Also, taking desktop publishing classes at a community college is a lot cheaper than going to a regular college and they may even have courses available online which really makes it easy when you have a full time job and are trying to transition to this career.


I would love to learn desktop publishing. I have always had a artistic bent and always wanted to take courses in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.

I friend of mine showed me what these programs can do and it is amazing. The great thing about the internet is that it allows more people to get into online desktop publishing and provide these desktop publishing services to clients all over the world.

There are even agencies that specialize in finding desktop publishing jobs for experienced graphic designers and desktop publishers.

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