Choosing Desktop Publishing Software

If the documents you are creating are becoming
too complex to deal with using a word processor,
you may want to think about investing in desktop
publishing (DTP) software. Software like Adobe InDesign and Quark XPress are specifically designed to make
it easy to create documents that combine text and graphics in complex layouts. Many people have
historically avoided using DTP software because
they were afraid it was too difficult to learn and you
had be an expert in graphic design to use it.
Although many graphic artists and desktop publishers do
use these programs, you don’t need a design degree
to understand the basics of laying out a page. You
may find that for many tasks, these programs are
actually easier to use than your word processor.

When you are shopping for desktop publishing software, talk to a your favorite printer or service
bureau first. Obscure software that doesn’t create
output in industry standard formats will give you
and your printer nightmares. Think about the
documents you want to create. All desktop publishing
software includes powerful typographic and graphics
features, but certain products excel at creating certain types
of documents. For example, Adobe InDesign is
geared toward creating short documents like
brochures, whereas Adobe FrameMaker is designed for
long documents like technical manuals. Although you
can create a brochure in FrameMaker, it’s really not
the best tool for the job.

How DTP Works

Most word processors force you to work on a
document rather linearly paragraph by paragraph
and page by page. However, in
a desktop publishing program, you place elements
on the page and move them around at will. They
also generally include non-printing layout guides, so
you can place your items more accurately. If you have
repeating elements, such as a logo that appears on
every page, you can place these elements on
master pages rather than setting up each page
individually. You can set up as many different master pages as
you wish and apply a master page to any page in
your document to quickly add or change formatting.

You can create a new publication from scratch
or use a template. A template is a document that
contains a prebuilt design you can use as a starting
point. If you plan to reuse a layout for a document such as
a newsletter, you can save the document as a
template so you don’t have to recreate your setup every time.

In a desktop publishing program, you add text
by importing it from your word processor or by typing
it in directly. Text is generally placed into a box
called a frame. This way, you can create the layout first,
link the frames together, and flow the text into them
later. This approach works well for structured
documents such as newsletters or magazines where the layout
is often set up before the text is available.

Once you have your text in your document, you format it by applying attributes such as font
settings or colors. You can apply the formatting to each
individual piece of text or using paragraph styles.
Styles are an often under-utilized feature, in both word
processors and desktop publishing programs, but
they are very useful. It’s a good idea to set up any
moderately complex document using styles, so your
text formatting remains consistent throughout the
document and among documents that must look the same.

Quark XPress

Quark XPress was the most popular
desktop publishing program for many years. If you need to transfer files
to service bureas or graphic artists, it’s likely they’ll
be able to work with your files. However, XPress
has shortcomings that make it cumbersome, or expensive, to use. XPress relies heavily on
outside Xtensions for some added features that have
been standard in word processing software for
years. XTensions let you customize the program to
your needs, but they add to the expense of an already
expensive program.

Although XPress does have a number of shortcomings, it excels in other areas. If you have text
or graphics that you use a lot, you can save them into
libraries so you can just drag and drop the
elements onto the page when you need them. It also
includes Bezier drawing tools that let you create curved paths you
can use for frames, text baselines, or drawings.


Adobe InDesign was billed as the "Quark
Killer" when it was released and like XPress offers a lot
of powerful typographic controls. It also is designed
to work well with Adobe’s other products such as
Illustrator and Photoshop. InDesign is an expensive
program and has lots of powerful features that
make designers swoon, but it has a couple of shortcomings when it comes to creating long documents. Although it has a book feature, it doesn’t include a few basics like the ability to do cross-references automatically

Adobe FrameMaker

FrameMaker has long been the darling of
technical writers who use have used it for years to create
giant tomes. The software is designed for creating
long documents — really long documents. It includes
extensive indexing and table of contents tools and makes it easy to enforce consistency across
many pages of text. (If you are wondering how to
choose among all Adobe’s offerings, check out Filed Under: Book Consultant, Graphics Tagged With:

About Susan Daffron

Susan Daffron is the author the Alpine Grove Romantic Comedies and multiple award-winning nonfiction books, including several about pets and animal rescue. Check out all her books on her Amazon Author page.