Desktop Publishing

Szu-chia Wang (Editor: Veronique Autphenne)

Can you image how to do all the papers without the word-processing software Microsoft’s Word? Or drawing a three-dimension graphic with lots of statistics by hand? While it is so common for most of us to use computers handling our writing assignments, one decade earlier the same quality of outputs would involve several processes (typing, composing, calibrating), would take at least a couple of days, and would be expensive. Desktop publishing, which simplifies the once-complicated publishing process and technique, enables non-professionals to produce primary printing by themselves and also helps professional publishers to save money and time.

Not surprisingly, the wide acceptance of desktop publishing technology has had an incredible impact on the publishing industry as well as on our everyday lives. In short, it has accelerated the dissemination of diverse information because of the low cost of production. The primary drive of the communication field relates to the capabilities of novel transmitting channels and receivers, such as the Internet and web, and the development of desktop publishing technology is one catalyst in this change. It makes everyone able to post their work on the web, which enriches the media and motivates people to get on line. Therefore, we need to take a closer look at this technology in order to understand the trends in the communication industry.


Desktop publishing is defined as a tool which makes ‘… it possible to create newsletters, reports, even books…’ (Levine 1997:157). In other words, with a personal computer and appropriate software, people can generate a book from anywhere.

The basic idea of desktop publishing is to enable people to create neat-looking documents with a little help from the software. For example, what the first desktop publishing software, PageMaker, provided several kinds of fonts and templates. Later, in order to meet the increasing users’ demand for more alternatives like drawing graphics and integrating them with the text, more features were added to desktop publishing packages. Today the most popular advanced function is incorporating interactivity into a web page.

Another sector of desktop publishing is the hardware. There are two key points that should be taken into consideration in relation to future upgrades. First, the power of computers will determine the ability and the speed of processing multiple programs. The second issue is whether the computer can support the large range of peripherals that are used to enhance the quality of outputs such as scanners and printers. For instance, due to the limitation in connecting various peripheral equipment, it is difficult for PCs to enter the professional market whose publications need more polished tools.


There are two main players in the desktop publishing business. The first is the software industry, which keeps introducing improved packages with lower prices and advanced capabilities. For an example of a cheaper but better quality product, we can compare the price Microsoft Publisher, as quoted in PC magazine. In 1994, the entry-level package Microsoft Publisher was $139. In 1997, it was available for $79.95 with the increased ability of publishing on hard paper and on-line. Another interesting aspect of the desktop publishing business is that even though there are numerous companies jumping into this business, users seems very loyal to their original software providers. As a result, the market is dominated by few big brand names. In fact different versions of the same product, such as Adobe PageMaker, QuarkXPress, Corel Ventura at the professional-level, and Serif’s PagePlus, Microsoft Publishers at the entry-level have remained the most popular packages on the shelf.

The second set of players in desktop publishing is the hardware business. IBM compatible PCs and Apple’s Macintosh have been occupying different areas of desktop publishing users: non-professional and professional respectively. Whether the situation will last or not remains to be observed. For a long time, IBM compatible PCs have suffered from the lack of an adequate supporting system. Today, IBM is associated with NT5.0 by through which major publishing software was made available in 1997. Apple, which has lost a lot of the market share recently, continue to focus on bringing more powerful computers and advanced proprietary software tools in an effort to keep their loyal customers.


Experts usually divide desktop publishing tools into two levels: entry-level and high-end by the ability of delicate typography and accurate color separation. Of course, price is another indicator. People employing the entry-level desktop publishing program are mostly students and small entrepreneurial companies. Entry-level products are frequently used for creating reports, newsletters, business cards, mailers, flyers, ads, greeting cards, and brochures. With the help of service bureaus, they also can produce large size materials.

The high-end software adopted by professional publishers used to generate newspapers, magazines, and books. The software allows the publishers to have full control of the whole process. Instead of sending the content around different departments in order to integrate the text and graphic and to design the layout, content providers can organize the whole themselves with desktop publishing packages. This integration will minimize the time of coordination and avoid misunderstandings between different departments. The other advantage of desktop publishing is that it is convenient for storing archives on computers. Furthermore, upgrade software facilitates the pace toward the electronic publication such as CD-ROMs or web sites.


Entry-level consumers want software that is comprehensive and easy-to-use. On the other hand, professional-level publishers use desktop publishing both to simplify the workflow in order to cut the overhead fee in different departments and to achieve a higher quality of outputs, so they demand a technology that is compatible with peripheral equipment and that has a high speed.

Desktop publishing involves people in business, publishing, and computer fields; field with a varity of needs and opinions. The annual Seybold publishing conference, is one forum for the different players to exchange their views and experiences. The emergence of professional computer magazines such as PC magazine, Mac world, and Computerworld, also helps bridge the printing industry and the computer industry.


The purpose of desktop publishing is to reinforce both content and design of print materials. The desktop publishing field has continued to refine and improve its applications and I believe the future of this technology in refining is promising.

However, two important issues should be mentioned. The first is that the ability to generate publications without special training and extra expense may lead to an increase in unnecessary junk mail. It is not only a waste of time but also a waste of scarce resources (paper, power). Freedom of publication could also lead to the abuse of information, an issue which is the topic of much discussion among experts but to which no conclusion has been reached.


Anonymous (1995) ‘Desktop publishing: the good, the bad, and the promise’, Editor and Publisher, v128 n14.

Heid, J. (1997) ‘NT moves to capture publishing – but falls short in key areas’, PC World, August issue.

Hotch, R. (1994) ‘Refined desktop publishing’, Nation’s Business, v82 n8.



Karney, J. (1994) ‘Entry-level desktop publishing’, PC Magazine, v13 n9.

Levine, D. (1997) ‘Entry-level desktop publishing tools’, PC magazine, v16 n8.

Marshall, P. (1994) ‘Meet the press’, INC, V15 n12.

Walford, L. (1993) ‘Desktop publishing capabilities grow while prices shrink’, The Office, V117 n4.