From the April 1997 issue of Startups

If you are thinking about becoming a desktop publisher, but are unsure of your computer hardware and software needs, simply ask the experts, such as members of the Publishing Forums on CompuServe. The forums provide discussion groups, technical support, and other information for all levels of desktop publishers--from experts to beginners. For this column, forum members participated in an online roundtable discussion about starting a desktop-publishing business, with a focus on the right combination of software and hardware.

Thanks to computers and software, desktop-publishing tools enable one experienced and talented individual to do the work that, in pre-computer days, was done by five specialists: the graphic designer, the illustrator, the typographer, the retoucher, and the stripper.

The forum members emphasized that there are two keys to being a successful desktop publisher today: You must receive good training, and you must work with the proper tools. Don Arnoldy, the owner of Board Room Graphics in Santa Clara, California, and the manager of the desktop-publishing Forum on CompuServe, says, "There are people who have purchased a computer and some software, and, with no prior experience, have begun successful desktop-publishing businesses--but they are the exception, rather than the rule. I advise beginners to work for an experienced desktop publisher for at least three years before going freelance. Once you start your own business, you are no longer `just' a desktop publisher, or designer, or illustrator--you are also the bookkeeper, the sales rep, the customer service department, the marketing and advertising manager, and the janitor. If you do not have the necessary production skills down cold, these other things will so overwhelm you that you won't be able to handle it all."

Here are some of the computers and software programs that most experienced desktop publishers use.


Sandra E. Eddy lives in upstate New York and is the author of several computer and Internet books.

Relevant Hardware

There seems to be a constant conflict between Macintosh lovers and PC advocates in publishing and the arts. For example, Nigel Cheffers-Heard, who owns and operates a desktop-publishing business in Exeter, Devon, in the United Kingdom, uses a Macintosh Quadra 650. "It is `old technology,' but is proven and stable," Cheffers-Heard says. "The fact that a lot of these were sold before Apple discontinued the model, but you almost never see used ones for sale, attests to their popularity."

Judy Litt of QuaLitty Design in Austin, Texas, has an IBM-compatible Pentium Pro 200 with 64 MB of memory. Litt says, "I chose a PC for a couple of reasons: I work mainly with small businesses, most of which use PCs; also, you get more bang for your buck with a PC. On the downside, you have to find good service bureaus that accept PC files, and that's not easy. Most of the design world uses Macs."

By far, the most popular printer manufacturer for these desktop publishers is Hewlett Packard. Many desktop publishers have more than one--a laser printer for black-and-white work in PostScript (Adobe's page-description language used for high-resolution graphics, page layout, and scaleable fonts), and an inkjet printer for color jobs. To newcomers, Litt says, "Get a laser printer first. It can be used for camera-ready output--if it's at least 600 dpi (dots per inch) resolution for some circumstances. Inkjet printers don't really have the quality for camera-ready work. Their inks also smear when they get wet. They're most useful for color proofing."

Most desktop publishers own a flatbed scanner, either from Hewlett Packard or Epson. A flatbed scanner converts a document (such as a photograph or picture) into a file that is saved onto a hard or floppy drive. Then, a desktop publisher can edit the file--for example, change its size or dimensions, or adjust its colors--and insert its contents into a document. Examples of scanned files are company logos, cartoons, borders and other decorations, and photographs of buildings and people. Scanners enable desktop publishers to use professionally created art and photographs and to reuse graphics over and over.

Necessary Software

Most desktop publishers use Windows or Mac versions of Microsoft Word for word processing, such as writing letters and memos, but quickly switch to page-layout software for their publishing work. Cheffers-Heard says, "I use Microsoft Word for the Mac, only because clients submit their electronic copy to me in this format. The ClarisWorks word processing module is much better, but is only slowly gaining acceptance."

Page-layout and publishing software is the cornerstone of desktop publishing, allowing desktop publishers to merge word processor text and graphic files, move text and graphics around the page, specify margins, change fonts and font sizes, add captions to graphics, and so on.

Adobe PageMaker is the most popular page-layout software of the desktop publishers surveyed, and QuarkXPress takes second place. Litt, who uses Adobe PageMaker, says, "The software you choose should depend on what your customers use and what your local service bureaus will support."

"I use both Adobe PageMaker 6.0/6.5 and QuarkXPress 3.32, which are both excellent, general-purpose, high-end desktop-publishing packages," says Thomas W. Phinney, director of typography for Caslon & Co. in Rochester, New York. "For folks doing lengthy, technical or highly structured documents, Adobe FrameMaker or Corel Ventura 7 may be worth a look."

Graphics programs are used to create illustrations for documents and to edit and manipulate images and photographs. A full-featured graphics program enables a desktop publisher to draw precisely, handle text within illustrations, specify and change colors, and apply special effects to images.

The graphics programs mentioned most often by desktop publishers are FreeHand 7 (from Macromedia), Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator, and CorelDRAW. Litt says, "I have tried them all. I'm most comfortable with CorelDRAW and have a couple of local service bureaus that support it well."

Other Popular Items

Perhaps the most popular peripherals (hardware that attaches to a computer) are removable storage drives which store files on cartridges separate from the computer, saving a great deal of hard disk space (especially with large graphics files). Some desktop publishers prefer portable hard drives, like SyQuest, that are designed so that you can run programs and store files, while others prefer Zip and Jaz storage drives from Iomega, which are designed primarily for file storage.

Desktop Resources

You'll find many desktop-publishing resources on the Internet, including Web pages at computer companies and other commercial sites. Some of the best:




  • DesktopPublishing.com: The Ultimate Desktop Publishing Resource (http://desktoppublishing.com/) presents tips and tricks, message boards, product reviews, utilities, and Web Designers links.



  • The Publishing & Multimedia Network (http://www.dtpjournal.com/) provides links to the DTPjournal, the National Association of Desktop Publishers, and other desktop-publishing links.


Contact Sources

Board Room Graphics, 76711.437@compuserve.com.

Caslon & Co., 125 Tech Park Dr., Rochester, NY 14623, (716) 239-6034.

QuaLitty Design, 2502 Patsy Pkwy., Austin, TX 78744-5640, (512) 441-2387.