Desktop Publishing - what is it exactly?

There is no such thing as a stupid question, right? At least that’s what my teachers kept telling us …

Is Desktop Publishing just a fancy term for making Word documents look pretty? Or is there more to it than that?

It’s generally used to describe creating documents that can’t be done on a typewriter. Back at the dawn of DTP (1984), being able to use multiple fonts, different type sizes, justification, graphics, etc. in a document was a big deal. Now you can do it on any computer.

Desktop publishing is what allows you to do layout and production on a computer. Prior to that, you could compose text articles on a computer, but you would have to print them out in “galley strips” and use wax to paste them on to a full-size “pasteup,” which would then be photographed in order to make the printing plate. Desktop publishing allows you to skip the wax and Xacto knives and go straight to the finished composition.

To be more specific, the advent of the computing era brought a revolution to the graphics, layout and commercial art area. DP usually involves applications like QuarkXPress, InDesign, PhotoShop, Illustrator, etc. It’s mainly used to refer to the subset of professional print design and layout. Apps like Word come into play usually on a support basis, but is by no means equipped to do full layouts and spreads for the professional (or even consumer) level artist.

Be carful, some of us who do this for a living feel slighted when we’re referred as just making a Word file look “pretty”. There’s a LOT of skill and experience involved in the DP area that usually overlaps the artistic side. Skill of not just the tools but with one’s artistic accumen can make what we do look easy. But rest assured, there’s a ton of hard work that goes into dressing up that Word file to make it look good.

Look into some of the apps mentioned above to get a glimpse on what makes them necessary, unique and powerful in the right hands.

Word can do basic desktop publishing, but for professional work, you need something like Quark or Pagemaker, which give you finer control and more options.

Didn’t mean to offend! That is why I asked - a question I fielded at a job interview today was regarding my abilities with Desktop Publishing.

I answered that I could use Word to make things look pretty, and I dabbled in PhotoShop but that I didn’t consider myself a capable Desktop Publisher.

That’s why I posted, so that I could understand the extent of Desktop Publishing, as it’s not something I’ve been exposed to, but of course I’ve heard the term for years.

ETA - I am in complete awe of people who can use the applications that have been mentioned in this thread!

From my experience, having grown up with waxers, pica poles and x-acto knives, and using said items since junior high school, desktop publishing lets people produce frighteningly ugly pages with remarkable ease.

DTP apps don’t have any capacity to teach the rudiments of layout and design, and they certainly don’t have any artificial intelligence that can “look” at the page and say “Hey buddy, cool it on the fonts, will ya?”

On the other hand, I do not look back fondly on the pre-DTP days of needing to do things like change column width when the typsetter’s too busy to reset the galleys. With DTP, it’s trivial - just grab the column, slide it whichever way and watch the word flow around. In keyline, it’s ***wicked * ** - start by slicing the galley apart, line by line, then physically re-set the words to fit the new column. If it’s a minor change, you can just cut the words apart and either air them out a nudge more, or push them together a scooch.

But, what if it’s a major change and you need to actually re-wrap the lines? Hopefully, you’re a smart cookie and keep a galley’s worth of hyphens at your desk so you can hyphenate words on the fly so it all fits properly. By the time you’re done, the pasteup looks like someone tried to assemble a ransom note, and you pray that nothing pops off on the way to the stat camera.

Also, a historical note - the Macintosh computer in conjunction with laser printing is generally credited with bringing desktop publishing “to the masses”. Unfortunately, as with many other things facilitated by computers (webpage design anybody?), just because someone can do it doesn’t mean they should do it. Designing web pages or newsletters or brochures or ads doesn’t require only technical knowledge, but also artistic talent.

Just wanted to add that Quark XPress and Adobe InDesign are the two main professional-level DTP programs, with InDesign rapidly chipping away at Quark’s former near-complete dominance of the industry. I only have experience with Quark myself, but it seems a lot of places have been switching over to Adobe’s product in the past few years, something that was unthinkable in the mid-to-late-90s.

This takes me back. Back in high school in 1987 or so, I took journalism to fullfil an English requirement, but it also included the production of the entire paper. At the time, it was one of only two weekly high school papers in the state (and award winning, at that [and me, too, for that matter]). We had a Macintosh lab, but it only had a single SE and a bunch of Mac Pluses, plus it was the teachers’ smoking lounge! The adjacent lab, though, was the TRS-80 lab. I still don’t know what these computers were – they weren’t home computers, and they were all networked. This is where all of the news and feature stories were written, and printed on a daisywheel printer. Needed to change a column width? No big deal, the software handled it. I never really was forced to use them, though, because as a GEOS user at home, I was also immediately a Mac expert so I got to use the Mac. Also, the Macs were used for headlines, since they could print, you know, headline sizes. We did all of the layouts on light boards using X-Actos, wax applying machines, and tape. We specified instructions for the printer using layout blue right on the layouts, and this included references to photos, cropping, and so on. We did spot color with physical layers, and never did full color layouts (such as for photos). I think the layouts were 150% to 200% of the end size.

Ads, though, were mixed between the Macs and physical, light table layout. I’m actually the one that transitioned us to doing 100% of the ads using MacDraw and CricketDraw. By my senior year, we’d dumped the daisywheel TRS-80 thing, and wrote all the copy on the Macs, but we still did all of the layout on the light boards. Our major coup for the seniors, though, was doing the senior magazine 100% in Aldus PageMaker, even the photos.

Sometimes we had to share the lab with the Yearbook Committee, who did things in an even more archaic fashion than we did. That interaction made me ad manager, though, and it saved them hundreds of hours by being able to do the ads electronically, at least.

After high school while dicking around before going full-time in the Army, I got a keylining job at a local classified ads paper (I loved the owners, kudos to you all if you’re still out there). This was getting really fancy – we had photo reproduction equipment, special photographic paper, non-negative processes, type-writer like machines with interchangeable wheels that printed onto self-sticking tape (kind of like a huge labelmaker), wax rolling machines, and several lightboards laid out at ergonomic levels (this is 1990/1991 now). All of the classified ad copy (not the display ads), were still done on an IBM Selectric typewriter! As ads were expired/cancelled, we’d cut them out of the column, and move them together, and put new ads on top. We did all of the layout on a smaller light board, but instead of wax we had some type of aerosol 3M adhesive in a can (I should get some; I can think of plenty of applications). At about this time, the Detroit Newspapers went on strike, and so one of my coworker’s husband (owner’s son-in-law) was brought in as a keyliner, since that’s what he’d done at the News/Free Press. At the time, he indicated that was still mostly how the big newspaper still did layout!

I brought my Mac SE in day to show the owner how we did things electronically, but he wasn’t interested. I’m not saying it’s related, but he was out of business a few years later, and I don’t know what happened to them.

DTP was pretty dubious until Aldus came out with PageMaker in 1985.
The phrase was all the rage at the Macworld expo (SF) of 86.
QuarkXPress appeared only in 1987, and then it was years before it began to challange Pagemaker’s market share.

Not only to the masses, but also those of us in small companies with limited budgets. When Aldus PageMaker became available in July of '85, I was able to get the money to get Macs and PageMaker for the three of us in the documentation group. The summer previous, I had looked at a Lisa/laser printer combo that the printer company was offering at $24K for the set. Ack. When the Mac came out at a fraction of the price, my path was made smoother.

My first day with a Mac was heady. As a test, and in MacDraw of all things, I recreated a simple illustration I had originally done using the standard collection of non repro pencil, French curves, Rapiograph pens, waxer, Zipatone, and transfer type. The original had taken 45 minutes. On the Mac it took 15, and that included learning how to use MacDraw.

Color was a ways off, of course, so I still had to cut rubylith and use downboards for that kind of stuff.

Oi! Once the technology spread, I had to start staking out the laser printers at work to forestall some really awful stuff going out to customers. Especially appalling were the attempts to recreate the company logo using the draw tools in Word.

My boss still draws everything in Word :smack:

Desktop publishing includes creating illustrations and the actual printing.

As a freelance graphic artist, I used to make a living producing letterhead, flyers, brochures–mainly simple pieces. Then came DTP and any precocious secretary was assigned these tasks. (This is when the quality of such things went down hill, and has remained sub-par in many cases. Cool it with the fonts, indeed!)

Zillions of us graphic artists had to step up and compete with all the other graphic artists–and wannabes–who were empowered by computers.

When I started my nonprofit, we produced all our own publications in house–using PageMaker (a document layout program), PhotoShop and color laser printers. This saved us a ton of money and allowed us to begin on a shoestring.

Brochures could be done in a day, when they used to take a week or two. Changes could be done, ‘on the fly’ and we didn’t need to order 1000 pieces minimum to get a decent price per unit. Printing just what I needed meant I didn’t have back-stock that might become obsolete.

PhotoShop and PageMaker (both from Adobe ), changed the world, and for the better.

Of course, PageMaker was originally from Aldus…

Umm, err, hem-haw, given what our “standard load” is at work, I do virtually all of my drawing in PowerPoint!

Six years ago my wife and I started our own monthly publication in our hometown. We have been in the black since the very first issue. The whole magazine is put together on our home computer (using PageMaker 7 and PhotoShop 6) and an electronic file is sent to the printer, who later delivers a pallet-load of printed, bundled magazines to our garage.

Thirty years ago it would have cost us a small fortune to start a magazine. Somewhat earlier, in the pre-photo offset printing days, it would have cost us a very large fortune to start a magazine. Our only investment was around $1,000 for the Adobe Publishing software.

Today, heck, we don’t even have to have film developed in order to print a photograph.

So we’re publishers. And we do it on our desktop.

When I first started working in a printshop in 1972, I hand set lines of type from a California job case and ran small print jobs on a hand-fed Chandler & Price press. . .

gotpasswords, “desktop publishing lets people produce frighteningly ugly pages with remarkable ease,” is one of the funniest lines I’ve read in many months. It could be the basis of an advertising slogan for Microsoft Publisher.