What Is Desktop Publishing?

Using PageMaker for Desktop Publishing
A document being prepared in desktop publishing software | All the FAQs: Career & Business | Software | Design & Layout | Graphics | Type & Fonts | Prepress & Printing. Image © Jacci Howard Bear; licensed to About.com

Desktop publishing is a term coined after the development of a specific type of software. It's about using that software to combine and rearrange text and images and creating digital files.

Before the invention of desktop publishing software the tasks involved in desktop publishing were done manually, by a variety of people and involved graphic design, typesetting, and prepress tasks which sometimes leads to confusion about what desktop publishing is and how it is done.

See Desktop Publishing in the 21st Century for a detailed explanation of this new definition:

Desktop publishing is the use of the computer and software to create visual displays of ideas and information. Desktop publishing documents may be for desktop or commercial printing or electronic distribution including PDF, slide shows, email newsletters, epub, and the Web.

Things To Do With Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishing is or can be:

  • designing print communications such as brochures, fliers, ads, and posters
  • designing print communications such as catalogs, directories, and annual reports
  • designing logos, business cards, and letterhead
  • designing and publishing newsletters, magazines, and newspapers
  • designing books and booklets
  • converting print communications to formats for the Web and smartdevices such as tablets and phones
  • creating resumes and business forms (including invoices, inventory sheets, memos, and labels)
  • self-publishing (books, newsletters, ebooks, etc.)
  • designing and publishing blogs and Web sites
  • designing slides shows, presentations, and printing handouts
  • creating and printing greeting cards, banners, postcards, candy wrappers, and iron-on transfers
  • making digital scrapbooks and print or digital photo albums
  • creating decorative labels, envelopes, trading cards, calendars, and charts
  • designing packaging for retail merchandise from wrappers for bars of soap to software boxes
  • designing store signs, highway signs, and billboards
  • taking work designed by others and putting into the correct format for digital or offset printing or for publishing online
  • creating more attractive, readable reports, posters, and print or on-screen presentations for school or business

How Desktop Publishing Has Changed

The main difference between desktop publishing today and how it was defined in the 80s and 90s? Before, it was for print almost exclusively. Today, desktop publishing includes much more than just print publications. It's publishing as PDF or an ebook. It's publishing to blogs and designing Web sites. It's designing content for multiple platforms including smartphones and tablets.

Properly speaking, desktop publishing is the technical assembly of digital files in the proper format for printing or for electronic distribution. In practical use, much of the "graphic design" process is also accomplished using desktop publishing and graphics software and Web design software and is sometimes included in the definition of desktop publishing.

Comparison between desktop publishing and graphic design and Web design:

  • What is Desktop Publishing - It is the process of using the computer and specific types of software to combine text and graphics to produce documents such as newsletters, brochures, books, Web pages, etc. (print and Web design)
  • What is Graphic Design - It is the process and art of combining text and graphics and communicating an effective message in the design of logos, graphics, brochures, newsletters, posters, signs, and any other type of visual communication. (print and Web design)
  • What is Web Design - It is a spin-off of graphic design and desktop publishing that focuses exclusively on visual communications (to include text, graphics, sound, animation, and video) for display on Web sites and (increasingly) mobile devices. (Web design only)

    Someone doing print design may or may not also do Web design. Some Web designers have never done any type of print design.

    Desktop publishing software is a tool for graphic designers and non-designers (that is, anyone) to create visual communications.

    The Present and Future of Desktop Publishing

    At one time, only professional graphic designers used desktop publishing software. Then along came the consumer level desktop publishing software and an explosion of people who did desktop publishing for fun and profit, with or without a background in traditional design. Today, desktop publishing is still a career choice for some but it is also increasingly a required skill for a wide range of jobs and careers. Find out why everyone needs to know desktop publishing.

    Some may argue that desktop publishing is as dead as print. Not so fast. Find out the reasons put forward for why we don't need desktop publishing and counter-arguments for why it's still here.

    Desktop Publishing Q&A
    Who does Desktop Publishing?
    When was Desktop Publishing Invented?
    Where is Desktop Publishing Used?
    Why is Desktop Publishing Important?
    • How do you do Desktop Publishing?

    All the FAQs: Software | Design & Layout | Graphics | Type & Fonts | Prepress & Printing