Best Desktop Publishing Software

considering dtp packagesDesktop publishing software may be wise purchase because:

results will be more professional-looking, which translates into acceptance by bookshops and decent sales.

digital output (i.e. files) can be sent directly to commercial printers.

If you don't want to purchase the software yourself, then:

1. You can design the pages of your book with a word-processing package, and run off the camera-ready copy from your laser printer. You'll have limited control over complicated layouts, and the text won't look so pleasing, but that won't matter for the in-house publication or family history booklet.

2. You can get a friend, perhaps a graphics design student, to use her software (PageMaker, Quark Xpress or InDesign) to lay out the pages and save them onto CD. Half of professionally trained graphic designers seem to work outside their calling, and your friend may do a first-rate job for very little. (Or she may not: good layout comes with experience, and neither she nor you may spot what's immediately obvious to the trade.)

3. You can follow the practice of most small publishers and send the text out to a prepress company.

Typesetting is expensive, and it may be worth purchasing the best software and doing the job yourself if the plan includes more than the one book. Options:

Word Processors

More can be done with packages like Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect than is commonly supposed.

Problems arise when you need to flow text around complicated arrangements, add appendices and make changes quickly. Not all commercial printers accept their file formats.

Desktop Publishing Software

DTP software is not cheap, but the programs make it easier to integrate text and images, manipulate the page elements, create artistic layouts and multi-page publications such as newsletters and books. The better programs offer colour separations, imposition, and fine typographic controls. Not all are difficult to learn. Some suggestions:

Home Publishing: The Print Shop, Sierra Print Artist

Small Business Publishing: Microsoft Office Publisher, Adobe PageMaker, Serif PagePlus

Professional Page Layout: Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress

Long Documents: Adobe FrameMaker, Corel Ventura, InDesign CS2 V.3

Business Publishing: Adobe FrameMaker, Corel Ventura, Quark XPress

Database Publishing: Adobe FrameMaker, Corel Ventura, QuarkXPress

Graphics Programs

Fiction is mostly text, but there's no reason why it shouldn't be made more appealing with illustrations or well-chosen photos.

Illustration programs work with vector graphics formats, which allow more flexibility when creating drawings that have to be resized or go through multiple edits. Well known programs include Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, and Macromedia Freehand.

Image editing programs, also called paint programs or photo editors, work with bitmap images, which are needed for work with photos, scans, or other "realistic" images. They are also best for web graphics. Well known programs include Adobe Photoshop, Corel Photo-Paint and Jasc Paint Shop Pro.

What's Best?

For most purposes today, the choice is between InDesign and Serif Page Plus. Professionals in magazine art departments who do nothing else but layout use InDesign, in conjunction with Illustrator and Photoshop. I've used both, but would recommend Page Plus for those whose skills lie more with writing. The program is much cheaper, easier to use and comes with tutorials and a wealth of templates. Quality differences in output are indistinguishable, certainly in ePub format (which they both provide) but even in PDF format, either as a final product or as submissions to printers. Far more important than hairsplitting degrees of control are the aesthetics of overall design and content.

DTP: Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat is not a page layout program but a way of compiling pages created by other programs, anything from simple HTML to pages set to the most discerning requirements with InDesign, etc. Pdf files can be large (especially in generic versions), but layouts are closely preserved, and pdf pages can placed inside webpages for Internet viewing. The program is increasingly used for company brochures and white papers, and will also make attractive literary documents.

The best desktop publishing software calls for design skill, and takes time to master. Do some reading before making up your mind.

Professional Desktop Publishing Software

Desktop publishing is not for amateurs. The programs are expensive, call on considerable design experience, and take time to learn. Nonetheless, it may very well pay you to master these skills if you're self-publishing more than the one book.

A broad and somewhat subjective ranking of desktop publishing programs, based on our experience and Internet reading. Ranking is from 1 (missing) to 10 (superb).

 

Feature

InDesign CS

Quark Xpress 6

PageMaker 7

Framemaker 7

Corel Ventura 10

MS Word

market

commercial design studios

commercial design studios

business users

long technical manuals

long technical manuals

home and business users

text flow

7

8

6

7

7

4

typographic control

9

6

4

7

6

5

master page control

8

6

5

8

8

5

section saving

7

7

6

7

7

1

drag and drop

8

3

7

2

7

5

program to program conversion

7

5

7

7

5

3

macros

8

7

7

3

7

8

layout tools

8

8

6

8

8

5

colour control

8

5

6

3

3

2

image manipulation

9

5

7

6

6

2

PDF handling

9

8

8

7

7

2

preflighting

7

9

5

6

6

1

integration with Adobe programs

9

3

4

8

5

1

backward convertible files

1

9

9

8

8

9

output to (non-postscript) printers

5

8

5

7

7

9

table creation

6

5

5

8

8

8

foreign language support

8

5

7

5

3

6

webpage output

7

7

4

5

5

3

ease of use

7

6

8

8

7

8

price

$700

$950

$350

$500

$700

$400 (Office Suite)

price with extra tools (passport in Xpress)

$700

$1800

upgrade to InDesign: $350

 

The groupings are very general, but many graphic design studios are moving to Adobe's InDesign. Plug-ins exist for both InDesign and Xpress (indexing, tables, etc.), and for all shortcomings there are work-arounds. Backward convertibility remains an important issue (you can't read InDesign CS2 files with InDesign 2), but InDesign is a program engineered from scratch, and seems easier to learn. Corel Ventura and Framemaker address a loyal but specialist market (long, highly-structured technical manuals in XML).

Microsoft Word is not a page layout program but a word processing package with advanced features — one that, with basic image manipulation, macros and DBA programming, can be made to do most things in the commercial and scientific environments.

You will also need manuals to get the best from Desk Top Publishing programs, for which visit your local computer book store, secondhand booksellers like Alibris and Abebook, and/or booksellers like Amazon. Also consider sites and books on page layout. Some suggestions:

Resources

Using PDF for Print Production. Some background on PDF.

Page Layout Programs. Look carefully at the typesetting examples.

The Self-Publishing Manual . A thorough and popular guide: $13.50

Complete Guide to Self Publishing: Everything You Need to Know to Write, Publish, Promote, and Sell Your Own Book. Includes much common sense. $13.60

Desktop Publishing StyleGuide. Basics of design, without which the best software is useless. $37.20

How to Start a Home-Based Desktop Publishing Business. In case you want to publish other people's work. $12.20

Microsoft Word for Publishing Professions. Editorium. Site also sells useful software.

Desktop Publishing: Adobe InDesign vs. PagePlus X5. StraightDope. 2010. Bulletin of views on earlier version, including printer requirements.

Perfect Pages: Book design, typography, and Microsoft Word. Aaron Shepard. 2006. 140 pp. $15.

The Complete Manual of Typography. James Felici. 2002. 384 pp. $29.

Typography Workbook: A Real-World Guide to Using Type in Graphic Design Timothy Samara. 240 pp. 2004. $38.

Typesetting. Extensive Wikipedia set of articles.

Typography 101. Covers basics, with brief listing.

Mark Boulton. Professional's site with much good sense.

Free e-texts on typography. Short listings but useful.

Editorial Freelancers Association. Resources for editors and publishers.

All Graphic Design. Article and examples.

The Elements of Typographic Style. A long-established favourite. $19.77

Desktop Publishing StyleGuide Basics of DTP design. $37.20

The InDesign Idea Book by Chuck Green. Ideabook. 300 pages of prepages/templates. Also an excellent blog on design issues.

Instant InDesign by Gabriel Powell. Peachpit 2008. Designing templates for fast and efficient page layout.

Check with the publisher if you're taking the PoD route, as the final product may not preserve the DTP layout in your PDF and/or MS Word submissions — i.e. your MS will be typeset again.

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