Idiots Guide To Desktop Publishing

An incomplete, and possibly biased, article on desktop publishing.


Be aware of the difference between raster and vector graphics - vectors can be scaled to ANY resolution with no loss in detail - raster graphics are fixed resolution and look blocky and ugly when scaled too far.1

Also be wary of image formats. Some formats are lossless and some are lossy - try and keep all artwork has high-resolution lossless format if possible (and if vector format isn't possible). .JPG (sometimes .JPEG) is lossy meaning that some quality is lost but it takes up less physical space, with better programs like Photoshop, you can have the option to compress it less, keeping almost perfect quality. .PNG is lossless but is most efficient for lots of text.

The best tactic is to avoid any loss of quality until the very last possible moment. In Photoshop for example this means keeping text as editable text - in a separate layer - until you are FORCED to change it. If you have to work in a raster format (like in Photoshop) then make sure you're working at a high dpi (600+).

Ideally EVERY bit of text or simple graphic should be in vector format and only handdrawn art or photos should be in (high dpi) raster format.

From the start work in CMYK format as that is what printers print in so you want to avoid creating artwork with colours outside the CMYK gamut English translation; Usually you edit in RGB (red/green/blue) but as printers use CMYK (cyan/magenta/yellow/black, have a look at any printer cartridge pack) the colours may mess up when sending to the printers - decent photo editing programs will let you do change this.

DTP packages

The best choices for programmes, are packages like:

  • Adobe InDesign
  • Quark XPress

Though other programs that handle multiple page documents with precise layout can be used:

  • Microsoft Publisher
  • Microsoft Word
  • Adobe Illustrator


Try to restrict font choice to two or three:

  • A title font - possibly more fancy and reflecting the theme and feel of the show
  • (Optional) A readable title font - a bold and readable serif font to use for subtitles where comprehension is more important (see Gil Sans, Century Gothic etc.)
  • A paragraph font - A nice Serif font which aids legibility in paragraph text - try to avoid cliche fonts like Times New Roman, but don't go for anything too outlandish. Somthing like Georgia or Palatino works nicely.

Friends don't let friends use Comic Sans.2


Block text becomes much more readable when it has a leading of 1.5 times the font size (go look at your favourite magazine or book and see it in action!). Your DTP software should also allow you to specify an 'after paragraph' spacing (in Word this is in Format->Paragraph) which allows you finer control than pressing 'Return' twice.

Try to avoid 'orphan' paragraphs - where a paragraph is separated from its title by a page break.

Preparing work for print

As soon as possible in the project check with your print shop what their desired format is (particularly with programmes - some places like to layout booklets themselves and so only want the raw pages).

Most print shops will want work in PDF format. If you need bleed then set up your page size to be a few millimeters bigger than A4 (or A3, A5 etc.) and ensure

  1. Your background extends into the bleed area
  2. All your foreground artwork and text stays within the A4 area

Get the printer to print you a test copy to ensure everything looks OK (page order, resolution of text, colour reproduction …).


  • Bleed - A small border (2-3mm) for artwork that needs to print to the edge of the page. Necessary to avoid white borders.
  • Duplex - Printing on both sides of the sheet.
  • N-up - Printing more than one page on a single sheet (e.g. 2x2 pages per sheet).
  • Lossless - Graphics format that preserves all original information and so always looks like the original (e.g. TIFF, BMP, PNG)
  • Lossy - Graphics format where some information is lost and so can cause ugly artifacts if not used well (e.g. JPEG, GIF)
  • Serif - A font with little 'decorations' on each letter - rather like you get at the top of Roman columns (e.g. Times New Roman)
  • Sans-serif - A font with no decorations on the letters (e.g. Arial)
  • CMYK - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black - the colour inks used in most colour printers
  • CMYK gamut - The range of colours reproducible with CMYK inks. Some colours (some greens in particular) aren't in the CMYK gamut and should be avoided in designs.
  • Leading (pronounced led-ing) - The line spacing of a block of text - comes from when printers used real lead characters and used extra 'leading' to space lines.
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