Desktop Publishing: The Future Is Now

Doug Miles, who owns and manages an apartment house in Ellensburg,
Washington, uses his computer system to create attractive, professional
signs like “Out of Order” and “Don’t Slam the Laundry Room Door,” as well
as rental applications, agreements, notices and building rules. He also
generates large type templates for professional sign makers to use as style
guides when they produce more permanent signage for the property.
Binnie Perper, owner of Writing By Design, a copywriting and graphic
design firm in San Rafael, California, not only uses her computer system to
“write anything that a company can use to sell its products or services,”
but she also creates her own quarterly newsletter, postcards and other
promotional mailings.
Miles and Perper are only two of the thousands of entrepreneurs who
have invested in desktop publishing — using a computer to design and
produce artwork that can go to a professional printer, or actually print
finished pieces, such as the apartment house signs.
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to do
your own desktop publishing. The advantages include being able to save
money that previously went to graphic designers and typesetters, especially
if you are doing large multi-page documents. You can do things faster
since you have the equipment on your premises and are not dependent on
someone else’s schedule or slowed down by sending proofs back and forth
between the two offices. You can easily make last-minute changes without
paying rush charges, and if you already own a personal computer, you may be
able to greatly expand the usefulness of this existing investment.
On the downside, you must take into consideration the time involved in
researching your needs and then finding the most appropriate combination of
equipment, software and personnel. It may be that the ongoing investment
of money and time is more than your existing structure can handle. For
example, if you decide on the “do-it-yourself” approach, can you really
devote the necessary hours? Also, even if you hire a new employee to take
on all the desktop publishing responsibilities, you will still have to
manage that person.
With these considerations in mind, let’s take a look at how Miles and
Perper are using this technology, while also reviewing the various
components that make up a typical desktop publishing system.

Starting Out

“Doing desktop publishing for my own business was a natural outgrowth of
already having a Mac Plus, as well as an ImageWriter” printer,” Doug Miles
explains. A Mac Plus is an Apple” Macintosh” computer that is still
available on the used equipment market, although Apple no longer makes new
ones. The ImageWriter is a dot matrix printer which prints with a series
of thin wire pins that put dots onto the paper, some of them as many as 360
dpi (dots per inch). Miles’ ImageWriter was not quite this good, but
passable for his purposes initially. And he was just not ready to invest
in a more expensive laser printer, since the only one on the market at the
time was Apple’s LaserWriter at $7000.
Binnie Perper has been in marketing and advertising for more than 20
years, and “in the old days” was accustomed to handing over her words to a
designer and typesetter to be incorporated into a brochure or newsletter.
“I had been using a word processor, and then got a Compaq DeskPro” in 1984
so I could do more than word processing,” she reminisces. But in 1985,
when Apple made its major debut with the Macintosh 512, she started to get
interested in desktop publishing. Perper finally took the jump in 1987,
getting a Macintosh SE, the Plus’ big brother, which is also not currently
available new. However, her first projects were not for Writing By Design,
but for her clients. Later on she developed a newsletter, ADvantage Point,
and started doing regular direct mail projects that promoted her own
Both Miles and Perper were already somewhat computer literate when
they decided to add desktop publishing to their repertoire of computer
activities. (If you don’t yet use a computer in your business, read
“Introduction to Technology” in Volume IV of Small Business Success.) Both
wound up with Apple Macintosh systems. However, with the recent
introduction of Windows” (a program that makes a DOS machine work like a
Macintosh), DOS users have a similar view of their work. DOS stands for
MicroSoft’s Disk Operating System, the basic system software for IBM
personal computers and the multitude of IBM clones on the market.

Faster Is Better

Desktop publishing is probably the most demanding function you will ask
your computer to perform. Many processes can be slow on the lower-end
machines, and you could spend a lot of time waiting for the image to
rebuild itself on your screen when you are moving around a document in a
page layout program.
Both the Mac and IBM PC type computers are available in a wide range
of models, organized around their “brain” or microprocessors. The current
Mac family ranges from the Classic (the new low-end model, replacing the
Plus and SE) up to the Quadra (leave this one to the professional
designers). The IBM PC family is a little simpler. The minimum machine
worth considering for desktop publishing is the 386 computer. “386” means
that the computer works off of the Intel 80386 microprocessor. There are
286s (slower) and 486s (faster) on the market, but the 386 will do the job
nicely. Its speed is comparable to the high-end Macintoshes.
Both Miles and Perper chose from the Macintosh family, even though
Perper is an avid DOS fan for her writing and other business activities.
Her Mac SE has a special accelerator board, while Miles has now moved up to
a Mac SE30.
Although the Macintosh changed the face of desktop publishing when it
was introduced in the mid-80s, the IBM clone is catching up, and can
compete head to head in most areas. Its main advantage is that, in
general, it costs less than a Mac. However, if you are just getting
computerized you should seriously consider getting a Macintosh. The
learning curve is comparatively short, even for someone completely
unfamiliar with a computer, and the latest models give you a lot of value
for your investment. If you already have an IBM clone, you may only need
to increase the speed and add Windows to upgrade it enough for desktop
publishing. There are other choices (Amiga and NeXT among them), but the
Macintosh and IBM platforms (basic operating systems) are the most widely

Have a Place to Keep Things

Once you have created your desktop published documents, you will need
somewhere to store the computer files. In addition, most of the software
you will be using takes up sizable amounts of space on your hard drive.
Storage mediums come in a range of sizes, from floppy disks to optical
drives, with floppies and hard disks the most common and economical.
Removable hard drives are becoming increasingly popular. Typically holding
44 MB (megabytes) of data, they are used for storing and transporting large
documents, and as backup storage. Optical drives are similar in technology
to your home CD and hold a sizeable amount of data. However, they are
expensive and not essential for basic desktop publishing functions.
To ensure adequate storage, your system should have a minimum of one
floppy disk drive and a 40 MB hard drive. However, as the cost of an 80 or
120 MB hard drive is not significantly higher, it makes sense to get the
greatest storage capacity your budget will allow. Remember that the more
complex your documents, the more storage you need, with Macintosh documents
taking up more room than their DOS equivalents.
Miles now has three different and very large hard drives (80, 173 and
425 MB respectively), but he first started out using two 800K floppy
drives. Perper has a 40 MB internal hard drive, but is running out of room
and plans to upgrade to a larger drive soon.

Seeing Is Believing

Monitors come in a wide range of sizes and configurations. Comprised of a
video display and a graphics adapter card, monitors enable you to see your
work. They are essentially your window into your computer. Monochrome
monitors show your text and graphics in one color, usually white, green or
orange against black for the IBM PC family, and black against white for the
Macs. The Mac Classic is now the only current model that has a built-in
monochrome monitor. With all other Macs and all IBM PC clones, you select
a separate monitor. If your work is fairly simple, and you are not using
a lot of color, stick with monochrome. Color monitors can be expensive,
although they are becoming increasingly affordable (especially for IBM
types), and are essential for anyone who plans to produce color documents.
Monitors also come in a variety of sizes. Typical is a 13-inch screen
(like a 13-inch TV), but if you want to view a full page, or two pages side
by side, the single-page and dual-page displays may better suit your needs.

If you plan to include scanned black and white photos, you should consider
a gray scale monitor that will enable you to see a maximum of 256 different
levels of gray.
Miles began working with the nine-inch monitor that was part of his
Mac Plus, but soon got a full-page, black-and-white display that shows 16
levels of gray. Perper still works with the original nine-inch monitor on
her SE, but is planning to purchase a black-and-white two-page monitor as
her next system investment.

Software: Handling Words & Pictures

Although Miles was already producing signs and greeting cards with the
drawing and paint programs that came with his Mac, he did a lot of research
on available page layout programs before settling on ReadySetGo” 2.1, and
has subsequently stayed with that software. Perper’s firm, Writing By
Design, started out with the first version of QuarkXPress” and still uses
that program for both client and company projects.
Page layout programs enable you to combine a variety of text and
graphics into one document. ReadySetGo and QuarkXpress are examples of two
levels of complexity in page layout software. Ready-Set-Go is a rather
basic system, while QuarkXpress, the page layout program of choice by
professional designers, offers many additional features. A third type of
program is excellent for long documents such as books and manuals.
Examples include Ventura Publisher” and FrameMaker”.
For elementary purposes, a word processing program may be sufficient.
Word processing programs are designed to do just that — process words —
and not necessarily to do page layout. However, most of the word
processing programs on the market today have some page layout capabilities
such as multiple columns and insertion of basic graphics such as clip art
or scanned photographs. If your documents are more complex, you should
consider a regular page layout program. For example, you may want more
precise control over leading (the space between the lines of type) and
tracking (the space between the letters) than what is available through
word processing software alone.
In addition to page layout and word processing programs, some desktop
publishers use draw, paint and illustration programs, as well as image
editing software that enables them to modify photographs or other images
that have been scanned into the system. Miles has used MacDraw” and
MacPaint” in the past, but now does almost everything with ReadySetGo.
Writing By Design uses Adobe Illustrator” and Adobe Photoshop” for
occasional projects that require special graphics or image editing.

Getting It All on Paper

Once you have created your document, the next step is printing it. If you
have limited resources, you may be tempted to try to get by with an ink-jet
or even a dot matrix printer. But the most widely used printer for desktop
publishing is definitely a laser printer, generating quality output at 300
dpi and based on the same technology used by photocopiers. Higher
resolution printers (600 dpi and more) are currently on the market, but the
300 dpi machines are very affordable (some under $1000) and acceptable for
a wide range of projects, as well as for proofing layouts that will
ultimately be sent out for paper or film output on a high-resolution
imagesetter (1200 dpi and up).
Miles invested in a non-Postscript laser printer that generates his
signs, as well as the camera-ready art for the forms he takes to a copy
center or printing company for reproduction. Perper first bought an Apple
LaserWriter and then a GCC BusinessWriter. Both machines generate
Postscript” output so she can proof her more complex layouts before sending
the file out to a service bureau for film generation.
Postscript is a special page-description programming language
developed by Adobe Systems for high resolution printing. Laser printers
that “speak” this language tend to be more expensive than those that don’t.

The less expensive machines (under $1000) are usually not Postscript
compatible, but are more than adequate for text-only newsletters and
similar low-end materials.
Beyond laser printers are machines that print color. Most small
businesses will not need such high-end equipment in-house. Instead, if you
want to generate a color proof, you can send your file to a local service
bureau, the same resource that can produce high resolution output (paper as
camera-ready artwork) or plate-ready film you can then take to your
printing company.

Do It Yourself or . . . ?

Making the decision to do it yourself, hire someone, or retain the services
of an independent desktop publisher is dependent on a number of factors.
The primary one is the scope of your desktop publishing needs. If you do
only one postcard mailer every month, for example, it might make more
sense to farm the project out to one of the many independent designers who
have their own equipment, the skills and the creativity to do an excellent
However, if you have seven to 10 different desktop publishing projects
a month that are currently done outside the company, the money you are
spending could be redirected into purchasing or enhancing your own system.
You could probably recoup your investment in about six months.
In addition to choosing equipment and software, you need to decide
whether or not you are going to take on your desktop publishing personally,
or find someone else (already on your staff or a new hire) to learn the
software and handle the projects. As Perper strongly maintains, “a desktop
publishing system does not a designer make.” If you don’t have the
expertise, Perper advises, “Realize the limitation of what you can do
without design talent.” Writing By Design has a free-lance designer who
works there two half days a week. Perper, knowing her own limitations,
gives creative direction but does not work on the desktop publishing system

How Much (Technology) for How Little (Money)?

While you can get into desktop publishing fairly inexpensively (compared to
a few years ago when the technology was still new), you must do some
planning and clarify your goals before making any investment. There is
nothing worse than having too little or too much technology. Too little
technology is frustrating (you can’t quite do the complex page layouts you
envisioned), and too much means you probably spent too much money and will
never experience the full value of your investment.
From independent consultants to retail stores and manufacturing
operations, desktop publishing can be an asset to every small business.
The most important thing to remember is to make the appropriate investment
for your firm: taking into consideration who will do the work, learning
curves, and expenditures in equipment and time. Whatever you decide,
desktop publishing is an integral part of bringing your company into the
21st century. The technology is here and it is affordable — take
advantage of it.


This very basic list demonstrates the wide variety of things you can do
with a desktop publishing system. Use it to spark your imagination as you
examine your own business needs.

Postcard Mailers
Customized Letters
Sell Sheets
Point-of-Purchase Materials
Presentation Folders
Customized Proposals

Order Forms
Price Lists
Internal Business Forms
Invoices, Purchase Orders
Mailing Labels

Clothing Tags
Restaurant Menus

Price Lists
Product Labels

Instructional Material


Posted by on September 1, 1999