Setting up desktop publishing in-house — software

Once you’ve decided which platform to go for, you’ve then got to think about software. Whatever you choose, it isn’t going to be cheap, so be prepared to put your hand in your pocket.

Which DTP package should I buy?

This is really a choice between QuarkXPress and InDesign. I’ve been using Quark for about ten years and basically can’t be bothered putting in the effort to get to know another package to the same standard. I’ve used InDesign too, in a more limited sense, and it’s very good as well.

Bear in mind that a lot of the heated debate that surrounds these packages emanates from designers. We are not designers — I probably only use 50 per cent of Quark features and those features suit me fine. If you’ve been using a particular package for a while, is it really worth the hassle of going on training courses and using unfamiliar software?

Because of this, the website is essentially built around QuarkXPress. Having said that, the people at Quark severely tested my loyalty with version 7.0 and it’s only nearly a year later (with version 7.3) that I feel it’s now working the way it should.

A word about Microsoft Publisher

Microsoft Publisher is worthy of discussion, simply because it’s bundled with MS Office. I spent a week playing around with the Office 2003 version and, to be honest, it really wasn’t up to the job. In addition, you might struggle to find printers who’ll accept native Publisher files.

Having said that, it’s far better than MS Word for page layout and I’d certainly recommend it for simple office publications. And if you’re only doing short one-colour jobs for repro, it might be worth considering — you would have to install Adobe’s generic PostScript driver into your printer folder, save the file as PostScript, then make a PDF using Acrobat Distiller. (I wouldn’t fancy risking it for a colour job.)

Bitmap editors and illustration software

Nearly all projects you work on are going to include some sort of images, be they flowcharts, photographs or graphs.

For years, the holy trinity was Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator. Now, personally I use all three, but more through accident by design — when I started my current position, the IT guy for some reason had a (legitimate) copy of Photoshop. I got Illustrator because I had some money left and had to spend it before the financial year ended.

Now, I’m very fond of Photoshop and can happily wile away hours on it. If you can afford it, and have some familiarity with it, then get it. However, we’re not doing high-end design here and there are cheaper packages that will do the things you need. Both Xara Xtreme Pro and CorelDraw suite have good features and importantly both support Pantone colours. They’re also much cheaper than buying Photoshop and Illustrator. I rarely use Illustrator for anything other than graphs, not because I’m down on the programme, but largely because I can’t draw to save my life.

A word about graphs

Graphs are probably the most common illustration you’ll need to produce. If you’re in research or business and need to produce very complicated graphs, you’ll need a specialised program that can export into a variety of formats and supports Pantone colours (something like DeltaGraph).

Many illustration packages will have facilities to do basic graphs. Oddly enough, I’ve found the solution to graphs of intermediate complexity to be PowerPoint, albeit in a roundabout way. Basically, you originate your graph in PowerPoint, save it as a Windows Metafile (an editable format) and recolour it in your illustration package.

Adobe Acrobat

I rate Adobe Acrobat very highly and these days it’s very difficult to do without. Turning all the buttons up to eleven — as Nigel Tufnel would say — produces a single encapsulated PDF with embedded fonts, of a manageable file size, which will display exactly as it will appear in print and can be emailed straight to a printer. It wasn’t that long ago when sending a job to print involved a lot of patience, a Zip or SyQuest drive, sellotaping slides to a laser proof and a hairy motorcycle courier.

Acrobat also allows you to produce electronic proofs for your collaborators and also low-resolution versions of documents for the web. And it does several other useful things that I’ll discuss at a later date.

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