Desktop publishing for everyone – overview of five evaluations of eight desktop publishing software – individual evaluation records searchable under “Desktop Publishing for Everyone” – includes related articles on the best buy and o

Desktop publishing for everyone – overview of five evaluations of eight desktop publishing software – individual evaluation records searchable under “Desktop Publishing for Everyone” – includes related articles on the best buy and on Serif’s PagePlus – Software Review – Evaluation

William Harrel

YOU WANT TO PROMOTE YOUR COMPANY’S SERVICES with a newsletter, but you don’t want the project to become a full-time job…. You’ve just had an inspiration for a Fourth of July sales special, but it’s June 28 and you have to create and post a flier to advertise it…. You’re ready to do your first direct mailing, but you haven’t a clue about how to put together a visually pleasing brochure.

You can solve all these problems with a desktop publishing package for the nonprofessional DTPer–the rookie, not the dynamo. If your main concern is creating a monthly newsletter, company stationery, or the like, you may not need a professional DTP package such as PageMaker or QuarkXPress.

Choosing a midrange program doesn’t mean going without powerful features that ease any DTP task, such as rotating text at any angle for a sophisticated look; real quotes and long dashes instead of typewriter-like ditto marks and double hyphens; automatic “Continued on page…” jump lines; multiple columns and shaded boxes; and special text effects such as shadows and outlines. When you lay out a story in a newsletter, you may arrange it so that text runs from one column to another or from one page to another. Being able to link two or more such pieces (boxes or frames) of text has many advantages–for example, when you delete some text from the middle of the story, all other text linked to that piece will automatically adjust to flow gracefully within the connecting frames.

Of course, these Windows and Macintosh products–Aldus’s HomePublisher, GST’s Pressworks and 1st Press, Microsoft Publisher, SoftKey’s Easy Working Desktop Publisher and PFS:Publisher, and Timeworks’s Publish It! and Publish It! Easy–can’t match more sophisticated products feature for feature. In general, nonprofessional programs can’t compete with such products as QuarkXPress and PageMaker in long document (books, manuals, catalogs) handling and professional printing options. (Serif’s $60 PagePlus–see “PagePlus 3.0: One Step Beyond”–pushes the envelope here. So, to an extent, does Ready, Set, Go for the Mac–an Editor’s Pick in our January 1994 issue–which at $395 was priced too high for inclusion in this review.)

But the high-end packages can’t beat products such as Microsoft Publisher and HomePublisher when it comes to encouraging people with features that make creating a layout easy–some as simple as answering questions about your design preferences. And because midrange DTP packages are not cluttered with commands and options, they’re easy to learn and navigate. They’re inexpensive, too: PageMaker and QuarkXPress list for $895, but these reviewed products are priced at $150 or less.

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The Long and Short of It In desktop publishing, a long document usually refers to multiple text files that divide a longer work–such as a 200-page technical manual–into chapters or sections. High-end packages let you compile chapters into longer works. PageMaker’s Book feature, for example, arranges documents in order, then renumbers pages in sequence with one section picking up where another ends. You can then create indices or tables of contents across the entire book.

SoftKey’s Easy Working Desktop Publisher and PFS:Publisher provide automated talbe of contents and index features, but they do not work across several document files to update page numbering. Instead, you must store the entire document in one gigantic file. These two packages are better than some competitors for lengthy documents, but we don’t recommend them for projects longer than 25 pages or so. Working with an enormous file is cumbersome and hard on system resources.

Going to the Print Shop In some cases, you won’t need to look beyond your laser printer for outputting DTP projects. But when you’re doing large print runs (maybe 50 or more copies), it’s easier to let a print shop handle the work. When DTP files contain color, you should supply color separations to the printer.

Four-color separations are used for reproducing color photographs you’ve scanned into your computer, but none of these programs supports such separations. If you need them, you can let the print shop or service bureau separate and strip them into the layout manually. The two Mac products, however, HomePublisher and Publish It! Easy, do support spot-color separations, which can be useful for printing some clip art images, for example, or for tinting boxes or backgrounds.

None of the Windows products support any kind of color separations. So for large runs that include such images, you may have to opt for the high-resolution black-and-white output your professional printer can deliver or, if color is supported in other ways, be prepared for a hassle.

Lack of support for color separations doesn’t mean you can’t get color output from your own color printer (for small print runs). But there may be drawbacks–for example, a low-cost, color ink jet can handle shaded backgrounds or a clip art image, but it won’t produce the same quality of a color photograph as a print shop can.

DTP in the Real World We laid out a four-page, two-color newsletter containing several common design challenges. Since the newsletter contains spot color throughout, color printing capabilities were tested. Several images were included to determine how well each program imports and handles different graphic formats. The programs’ drawing tools were taxed with the addition of several lines and boxes. We also tried text wraps (both regular and irregular) for flowing text around graphics or text boxes, applying paragraph styles (indents, tabs, line spacing, and so on), importing text from other programs, linking frames, and adding “Continued on…” lines. In addition to the newsletter test, we evaluated each program’s ease-of-learning and ease-of-use features, including templates and tutorials.

All of these packages import graphics files into a document file. So if you’ve got a lot of photographs in your publication, for instance, it won’t take long for the document file to become unwieldy. It is possible the file will become too big for your system memory to handle, resulting in crashes or other problems. High-end DTP packages, however, save memory (not to mention disk space) by leaving the bulky graphics file outside the document and linking it to the publication. If you think your projects will use lots of images, consider a high-end program instead.

The plethora of preplanned templates and designs offered by some of these programs is great news for the novice and occasional publisher. The downside is that your work might not be readily distinguishable from those of your competitors. So you may want to find out more about how to use these products to their best advantage. Some good books to check out for this are Welcome to Desktop Publishing and Graphics for the Desktop Publisher (MIS Press), Microsoft Publisher by Design (Microsoft Press), No-Sweat Desktop Publishing (AMACOM), and Newsletters From the Desktop (Ventana Press).

In Brief

Among the PC-based products in this review, Microsoft Publisher takes the lead for its combination of ease of use and extensive functionality. Though it’s priced higher than most of its competitors, you won’t regret spending the extra money–features from Wizards to WordArt either simplify your DTP tasks or let you add panache to your work. On the Mac side, the choice is Aldus’s HomePublisher–for less than $50 (street), the program helps the novice DTPer by blending features, such as AutoCreate, with several high-end graphic-handling and prepress options, including support for color separations.

Desktop Publishing for the Masses

All these products meet a range of DTP needs with the following features: the ability to automatically flow text to a new page and then search-and-replace capabilities; line and rectangle drawing tools; and support for image cropping. Frame linking lets you connect separate number pages; support for true quote marks, superscripts, and subscripts; built-in word processor and text boxes so your document is automatically readjusted to incorporate any changes.

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COPYRIGHT 1994 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group