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15+ Best Desktop Publishing Resources and Beginner Tips

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Desktop publishing has become a critical business skill today, and the use of the Internet means that creation of print content is no longer the only consideration.

Now the documents you create likely have to be displayed in both print and on the web.

This article looks at how to determine the right tools for the job, as well as resources for getting the best possible desktop publishing results (such as where to find the best free desktop publishing fonts).

No matter what the final format, never forget that quality content is the primary goal, and following a proven desktop publishing process will result in higher quality results.

It's easy to get distracted with the technical side of desktop publishing layouts. The real key is to communicate your information effectively. No matter how well-designed, how great the layout, and how clever the typography selection — if you don't get the important information to the right people, nothing else matters.

Jump into this article and learn desktop publishing tips that will give your work the professional edge.

What's the Final Format?

Where will the documents you are creating be used in their final format? Is it a physical newsletter you will mail out? Is it an online catalog? What about an article to be published on a corporate website? In some cases your content will be published in several formats. For example, a newsletter may be sent by both email and mail.

For documents delivered entirely via the Internet, consider developing the document in an HTML editor like Adobe Dreamweaver or the free PageBreeze software. You can write HTML documents in Microsoft Word, but the final results can be inconsistent — they will look great in Internet Explorer (a Microsoft product) but may not look right in Firefox or Chrome.

For documents to be delivered in printed form, you have more decision-making to do. Text-based documents without a great deal of graphics can be developed in something like Microsoft Word. As soon as you have a lot of graphics, you should consider a more robust software tool like Adobe InDesign which gives you complete control of the final document.

For documents delivered in multiple formats, you should develop in whatever package you are most comfortable and transfer the content to the appropriate software for final development. For example, if you are writing a newsletter that you will send in the mail, as an email, and posted on the company website; you should focus first on writing quality content and transfer that content to each software package as needed.

You might write the document in Microsoft Word and transfer the content to InDesign for the mailer, to Dreamweaver for the email, and to WordPress for the company website.

Graphic Considerations

A standard approach to desktop publishing is to always have high resolution files on hand so you can use them for either print or web.

Any images — photos and graphics — used in your content will have specific requirements based on the final format.

Printed materials should include graphics that are at least 300 dpi to ensure that the images look clear, clean, and crisp in print. But the Internet has different standards: images are generally only 72 dpi because this is fine for display on computer screens and the smaller file sizes download faster.

A standard approach to desktop publishing is to always have high resolution files on hand so you can use them for either print or web. Places to get quality graphics abound. You can purchase photos and stock graphics on marketplaces, or search for free sources.

Just make sure to check the usage rights and restrictions on these materials (especially free material) as some graphic designers and photographers limit the use of their images to personal use only. If you do want to use their work for commercial purposes (and the usage rights don't indicate commercial usage), then you need to contact them first and get permission, or not use the stock.

  • PhotoDune and GraphicRiver - the ultimate sources for photos and graphics.
  • Stock.xchng - 99% photograpy, but an excellent source of free images.
  • DeviantArt - all kinds of graphics, but not always appropriate to browse at work. However, if you're looking for edgy designs, start here.

Layout Basics: Content

How you layout your content is critical to helping the reader grasp the intent and purpose of the document. The most important and obvious piece of content on the page is the title. This tells the reader in a nutshell what they're reading. A subtitle can help set expectations further.

The next most important content on your page after the title are the headers. Headers help organize the content logically and visually for the reader. If they are only interested in a part of the content, headers help them find it quickly. For example, let's say you plan to send a newsletter to company employees. One of the sections of the newsletter is a calendar of events in bulletpoint by date. Put a heading over this section like "Upcoming Events" to help readers find this information quickly on the page.

The actual body text in your document is the next most important content. This is where the reader finally drills into the details of the content. Topic sentences, bold and underlined passages, and italics are visual cues you can give your readers to help them find important details. Just remember to use stylized fonts, such as bold, with care. Too many colors and styles can make your body text unreadable.

Other content layout considerations could be elements like prices, callouts (important quotes), and sidebar items for contact information and the like. When in doubt, look up other people's work to test your layout or to get new ideas.

Formatting the Layout

A grid can help you keep information organized and consistent from page to page. Two and three-column grids are the most popular for catalogs, newsletters, and similar documents; but you will need to decide the amount of columns based on the look you desire, as well as the amount of content and pages you will produce.

Minimalism is quite a popular trend these days.

When deciding on columns and layout, keep in mind the ever-important white space — the empty space around text and images that can be any color depending on your background. Leave enough white space so that the page looks balanced and clean; today, the more white space, the better. Minimalism is quite a popular trend these days.

Boxes and borders also help to set apart extra or important information. However, too many of these design elements will make your layout look cluttered, so limit them to only one or two per spread.

If your document will be printed, be sure to ask your printer for guidelines. For bound and folded documents, take inner margins into consideration as well as outer. Every printer has their own standards, but usually you will want to keep text within 1/8 inch of the trim line.

If you place any images along the edge or across the entire background, such as may occur with a postcard design, be sure to allow for bleed. Most printers require you to extend the background color and images at least 1/4 inch past the trim line.

Color Requirements

Designing in color is almost always a must today, especially since the cost of full color printing is often just as affordable as black and white printing, depending on which printing company you use.

As with most other design elements, keep the amount of colors to a minimum. Usually, two or three different colors are all that you need in any design. You may want to make sure these colors are consistent with your brand colors.

Color can be somewhat annoying to deal with if your document is one that you will publish both on the web and in print. The web uses RGB colors, while print uses CMYK colors. There's quite a bit of technicality behind these two color schemes, but you only need to know that you will have to produce the right color version for the right format. Thankfully, most design programs will convert a document's color scheme from RGB to CMYK or vice versa for you. Keep in mind that the colors will not be exact when converted, but they will be close.

If your program, however, doesn't convert for you, just use a free color converter such as Web.forrett.com, which allows you to manually enter each individual color. Or you could use one that converts all colors at the same time, such as with RGB2CMYK.org.

Need some color scheme generators? The following are the best found on the web:

  • Kuler - Directly from Adobe, this one allows you to browse through more color themes than you could ever use.
  • ColorSchemer - Enter an RGB color to see a handful of colors that blend well.
  • Whatsitscolor - Upload any image to see the color scheme generated from it.
  • ColourLovers - This is a highly respected online color community with lots of color resources.

Font and Typography

A common mistake when starting out with desktop publishing is the inappropriate use of fonts and typography. Following a few rules will make sure that you get professional looking results that are readable across multiple formats.

  1. 10-12 point font is generally the smallest you want to go for lengthy body text (which are more than 2-3 sentences).
  2. Use sans serif fonts for headings and titles. These are easy to read in large print with short phrases: Arial and Helvetica are the most common examples.
  3. Use serif fonts for body text: Times New Roman is the most common example.
  4. Try not to use script fonts at all unless part of a special graphic like a signature, title, or brand.
  5. Avoid using more than 2-3 fonts on a single page. Titles and headings are one font, body text a second, and special cases for a title or signature for a third font.

The Internet is full of quality font resources:

Summing it Up...

Desktop publishing can be a serious challenge if you are brand new to the task. Remember that the goal is to effectively communicate. This means the most important thing to keep in mind is to deliver the critical information.

Formatting, graphics, layout, and typography are all just approaches to making delivery easier to digest. So don't get too caught up in the details. Focus on the content and the other pieces will fall into place, even if you need to hire a designer to clean it up for you.

Shape up your skills with InDesign (the industry standard for desktop publishing), get started with our Session on Beginners Guides to InDesign, which is located over on our Vectortuts+ site.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by blas.

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