Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 158 / NOVEMBER 1993 / PAGE S9

DTP with your word processor or draw program. (Compute's Getting Started With: Desktop Publishing)
by Bill Harrel

The question many would-be desktop publishers must be asking themselves is, why bother with expensive, hard-to-learn page layout software? That's a good question. And the answer is that in many situations you shouldn't. In some cases, word processors and draw programs are a better choice than desktop publishing software.

Easy Does It

The best reason to use a word processor or draw program for page layout is that often they're easier to use. When it comes to utilizing the Windows interface, desktop publishing software hasn't kept up. Features such as ribbons and toolbars have not only revolutionized document formatting, but they also make creating graphics fun.

In Word, for example, you can create numbered lists or multiple columns simply by clicking on an icon. Tabs are set by dragging markers along the ruler at the top of the screen. Fonts and text size are changed with the click of a mouse on a font list.

In word processors, almost every task (except typing) is automated, and those that aren't can be automated with macros. In WordPerfect, for example, you can easily create a macro that enters special characters, such as fractions (,), typeset-quality em dashes (--), and quotation marks (""). After recording the macro, each time you press a certain key combination (say, Ctrl-H), the characters are entered, saving numerous keystrokes. To perform the same functions in Ventura or Microsoft Publisher, you must use Alt-Number Pad combinations that are impossible to remember. To date, no page layout program has macros (PageMaker has Additions, but they require programming).

And if all these conveniences weren't enough, most word processors and draw programs come with rudimentary charting applications built in. Many DTP packages require charts and graphs.

Translating Documents

One area where layout software can't even begin to measure up to word processors and draw programs is in support for each other's files. Word processors and draw programs easily swap files. You can create a document, complete with graphics, text boxes, and tables, in Word, and give it to an associate (who uses WordPerfect) for editing. He or she can access it with little fuss. And often the transfer requires little or no reformatting.

To date, there's no way to open a PageMaker document in Ventura, a Quark-XPress file in FrameMaker, and so on--even with a conversion program. And there probably won't be any time soon. Each program approaches document layout from almost an entirely different point of view. And, to make matters worse, they accept only text files from word processors. If you try to import one that has embedded graphics, they're stripped out. You're back to square one.


Today's word processors and draw programs let you manipulate text on the page in sophisticated ways. Typesetting and page layout aren't the same. Page layout means combining elements--type, graphics, and photographs--on a page. Typesetting is simply working with text, or typefaces and type styles. Computers have brought the two together in the same application--desktop publishing.

Like a layout program, word processors can use any font (installed in Windows) at any size in .5 increments (WordPerfect allows .01 increments). Nowadays, with inexpensive TrueType fonts being readily available, it's easy (and painless) to add typefaces to your system. And you're not confined to printing them out on a laser printer. From Windows, you can print your word processor and draw documents on transparencies, slides, and even the same high-resolution typesetting equipment used in print shops.

Word processors and draw programs provide other typesetting controls, such as kerning (the space between characters and words) and leading (the space between lines). These controls allow you to improve the appearance of text. For example, you can increase the spaces between characters to eliminate unsightly gaps in columns of justified text. Or you can decrease the spacing between lines to make headlines look better, or fit more text into a tight space.

With the right printer, you also can reverse type (white type on a black background), create drop shadows for a 3-D effect, and change text colors. You can rotate text at any angle in all draw programs and some word processors. Many layout programs restrict text rotation to 90-degree increments.

Formatting With Style

Page layout applications depend heavily on styles (or tags, as Ventura calls them) for formatting text. A style is simply a set of instructions, such as type style, size, alignment, placement on the page--almost any attribute you can think of. You can even include text color and add rules (lines) above, below, or around a paragraph, and place text in relation to other text.

Word processors and many draw programs have styles--and they're just as powerful as the style sheets in desktop publishing packages. Almost any text attribute you can assign to text in the word processor, you can include in a style. Furthermore, other word processors can convert them.


Although some desktop publishing programs have table editors, they're not nearly as easy to use or as versatile as those found in the top three Windows word processors. Tables are simply combinations of text and graphics, and since they display data in columns and rows of cells, they also can be likened to spreadsheets.

To create a table in, say, WordPerfect, you just click on a button, then select the number of rows and columns. In Ventura, you define your table in a clumsy dialog box. PageMaker requires you to use another program all together, and then import the table as a graphics file, which means it can't be edited easily. And you can link word processor tables to spreadsheets, so that data is updated automatically when the spreadsheet changes.

Another powerful use for tables is creating forms, such as invoices or expense sheets. The ability to shade or apply solid fills to cells, change line patterns, and assign separate text attributes to each cell lets you design forms rivaled only by form-making software.

Actually, a word processor table is preferable, because you can flow data into it from other files, even from other programs, such as a database or spreadsheet. Then you can apply formulas for performing sophisticated math functions, such as adding up several columns and then figuring a percentage of the sum for sales tax--right inside the table (PageMaker's Table Editor adds up columns, but that's all).

Bottom Line

Using a draw program or word processor for page layout isn't a perfect solution. Word processors don't support color separations, and draw programs are much slower at redrawing the screen, which means you can spend a lot of time waiting, especially while working on complicated layouts. Of course, there are trade-offs for everything. If you don't mind spending a little extra time, and in some cases doing a little extra work, you can save some money by using a program you already own.