Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 5 NO. 3 / NOVEMBER 1990




Since its introduction five years ago, desktop publishing has become the third most popular application for which a home computer is used (preceded only by word processing and databases). One industry source claims 40 percent of all personal computer users own DTP software (pirated copies of the software probably make that figure much higher). With current popularity and market growth that suggests a promising future, DTP will continue to play an important role in the way we use computers.


What is Desktop Publishing?

Desktop publishing is still a new concept and most sources only provide a rough definition of its purpose. It's not hard to understand the confusion. Desktop publishing employs terminology and concepts familiar to publishers and computer users alike, but it combines them in a new way. The result is a hybrid that is difficult to classify. Think about it. Before reading further, can you provide a coherent description of DTP that won't leave a layman floundering in confusion?

How about this: Desktop publishing is an integration of computer and publishing technologies that lets you produce high quality documents quickly and easily at a fraction of the cost normally charged by most commercial services.

This definition can be expanded upon greatly, but it simply states the case. Desktop publishing encompasses most types of hardware and software. It's not, as some individuals seem to think, simply a page-layout program used to design and print pages. DTP systems use a variety of software including word processors, draw-and-paint programs, CAD packages and page-layout programs. It combines computer hardware to increase its power and versatility, including scanners, high-resolution monitors, hard disks, laser printers and more.

Why Desktop Publishing?

There are many reasons that DTP systems have flourished in the last five years. Some of the primary reasons users embrace DTP include:

Cost Effectiveness: When you break down the per-page cost you'll find that DTP is extremely inexpensive when compared with other options. Many commercial publications use DTP systems to produce preview copies of documents for examination by writers and editors. One large publishing house noted a savings of $200,000 annually when they began employing DTP systems in-house. One person can produce quality documents without the assistance of layout specialists and other technical staff, thereby saving money on salaries, office space, etc.

Faster Production and Timeliness: Creating documents by yourself can dramatically decrease production time. Instead of waiting hours for a backlogged printing house to produce a report or sales presentation, you can print it yourself. When you can create page layouts yourself, you spend less time telling a printer what you want, it reduces foot work and lets you make last-minute changes without returning to the print shop.

START magazine is now produced on an Atari DTP system. It helps reduce our lead time by about a month, making issues more timely than before. Likewise, a DTP system will help businesses produce documents that meet the needs of clients in a more relevant manner. Instead of penciling in data on a brochure because the old copy is outdated, you can quickly print a new version with your changes. When a customer wants revisions in a layout, a few minutes of work will let them see an actual copy of what will be printed.

Quality: Documents you produce with a word processor generally rely on a printer's built-in font set or a limited range of fonts included with the software. Page-layout programs include a wider range of fonts in a variety of sizes and styles that word processors can't access. Graphics can be imported, lines and boxes can be added and each component can be precisely placed without the telltale signs of cut and paste. DTP systems produce camera-ready copy that is identical to the final version which means, no more mockups to approximate the finished product.

Control: When a document is finished it looks exactly the way you want it to, not the way a layout artist or editor thought you wanted it. From the size of the headline to the font style and line width used, DTP lets you display your message in exactly the format you want. If the printout is inadequate, you can make some quick changes and print it again.

Satisfaction: Doing it yourself can be enjoyable. It is a creative form of self expression that can be used for virtually any type of document. DTP requires a little patience but the results are quite pleasing. I actually find that DTP is fun (unless I'm approaching a deadline) and the compliments I get on the catalogs and manuals I produce are quite satisfying.

Who Uses Desktop Publishing?

Small businesses have embraced the technology more firmly than any other group. Many businesses that can't afford to patronize a print shop can still add DTP capabilities to their existing computer system at a reasonable price.

Educators are avid fans of DTP as the quality documents they produce can be directed to a specific group of students and help improve grades and increase comprehension.

Home computer users desire DTP systems to produce documents such as garage sale flyers, school reports and church bulletins. Documents are more likely to be read when they are carefully prepared with a variety of fonts and graphics.

The general public frequently uses DTP services. Dataquest, a marketing research firm, reports that the demand for these services has risen from $ 2.5 million in annual sales in 1985 to an estimated $5 billion in annual sales in 1990. The growth in this field is staggering as people realize the savings and potential benefits of DTP.

Desktop Publishing Systems

Once you've made the decision to go DTP, consider the various systems based on quality, support, service and price.

One of the fastest, most versatile and professional DTP systems available bears the Fuji symbol. It runs the same 68000 microprocessor used by the Macintosh and, unlike the IBM, it can perform DTP without adding on special cards or interpretive software. Best of all, an entry-level system costs under $2,000.

In the ST, Atari has produced a machine that was made for DTP. It's fast, easy to use, flexible and on a system that includes a laser printer, pages come flying out in as little as 30 seconds. The ST is a DTP workhorse that outshines the competition at a fraction of the price.

The Survey Says...

In the START Reader's Survey conducted in the May 1990 issue, we received many requests for more coverage of DTP. It seems that many of us have the same idea and are using our ST DTP systems to their utmost. Beginning with this issue we'll cover Atari DTP from start to finish - every month. We'll also discuss the latest in word processors and even throw in a hint or two on how to use them more efficiently.

Next month we'll discuss DTP system configurations and software.

Word Processing/Desktop Publishing Editor Dan Fruchey is a paramedic, computer junkie and sometimes writer who runs his own DTP business on the side.