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Desktop Publishing Explained

written by: Camesha White•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 1/28/2010

This article gives a better understanding of the term desktop publishing, its uses, and how it came to be.

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    What is Desktop Publishing?

    Over the years, desktop publishing has had different meanings. The one definition we can all agree on is it’s the creation (or printing) of a document from a computer. Desktop publishing is present everywhere in our everyday lives. A credit card receipt is a product of desktop publishing, as well as an origami template. In other words, DTP projects come in many different forms. Here are some of the most common uses:

    • Banners
    • Brochures
    • Business Cards
    • Calendars
    • Certificates
    • Correspondence Materials
    • Greeting Cards
    • Invitations
    • Newspapers
    • Newsletters
    • Postcards
    • Posters
    • Resumes
    • Technical Documentation
    • Web Pages

    Do not confuse desktop publishing with graphic design. Although closely related, these are two different things. This misunderstanding is attributed to the one-in-the-same relationship the terms shared years ago. Here’s proof.

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    What Led To the Concept of Desktop Publishing?

    When the term desktop publishing term became an actual reference is unclear. Before there was desktop publishing and typesetting machines, all printing and publishing was done manually and could take hours. Below is a timeline detailing some of the most important events in the desktop publishing industry.

    DTP Timeline (events listed in order of occurrence):


    • In the late 1970’s, the TeX program was created. This program made it possible to create high-quality documents (books, manuals) from a computer desktop.
    • Word processing was introduced and quickly became popular. Word processing is the act of entering text via electronic machines, such as typewriters and mini-computers.


    • The Apple Macintosh (Mac) was introduced. During this time the Apple Mac was highly preferred due to its What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) utility. WYSIWYG is a computing term referring to the ability to edit and view text as it is typed.
    • Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus Corporation and PageMaker, coined the term desktop publishing after printing a hard copy of a document from a desktop terminal.
    • The Apple LaserWriter is created. The Apple LaserWriter is the first laser printer with Adobe Systems compatibility.
    • QuarkXPress was introduced and PageMaker rose to new heights. With the introduction of these new DTP tools, everyone could design documents and publish work themselves.


    • Adobe Photoshop was introduced. Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress began to dominate the desktop publishing industry, leaving competitors such as PageMaker behind. Desktop publishing has now become far more advanced, allowing the possibility for anyone to use a DTP program and create complex, detailed, more attractive documents in far less time.

    It’s evident a lot has changed over the years and desktop publishing has evolved quite quickly. Today there is a list of applicable professional, home-use, paid and free desktop publishing programs. Adobe is still ahead of the race, but finds itself in close competition with QuarkXPress and other open-source programs. Although there are many misconceptions about DTP, knowing what led to the concept of desktop publishing will give you an overall better understanding of the topic.

Understanding Desktop Publishing

Confused about what desktop publishing is and what it's used for? These articles gives users a better idea and more concrete understanding of desktop publishing, DTP software, and its many uses in the DTP field today.
  1. Desktop Publishing Explained
  2. Desktop Publishing Rules and Standards
  3. Most Common Uses of DTP Software
  4. Top Desktop Publishing Programs for Windows
  5. Desktop Publishing Extensions for the Mac