Desktop Publishing Terminology

Published: 07th January 2010
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In the recent past, the ability to design, compose, and produce professional documents was available only to professional printing companies. However, with the advent of the digital age, the resources of the printer's shop have been co-opted by the laptop, allowing anyone with a little knowledge and the right software to execute their own DTP documents.

DTP stands for Desktop Publishing, referring to the practice of using a personal computer to work with text and graphics in order to produce documents such as brochures, illustrated reports, newsletters, informational packets, booklets, and more-either for personal or commercial use. It can also refer to the creation and distribution of solely electronic documents, such as PDF files or digital slideshows.

Thanks to the availability and increasingly impressive functionality of DTP software, the power to design and produce professional documents has never been more accessible.

DTP software automates a variety of tasks that, in the recent past, had to be done manually which made them heavily time-consuming endeavors. In the days before cutting and pasting were simply right-click options on your mouse, documents were composed by literally cutting and pasting elements of text and graphics into a desired design. Massive industrial machines were once required to produce what can now be competently designed and executed on a laptop computer. As a result of the freedom made possible by DTP, an exciting world of options has been opened up to the modern consumer.

Although DTP is almost always mentioned in the same breath as "graphic design," there is a distinction between the two (although DTP can incorporate graphic design). Desktop publishing is the use of computer software to arrange digital files in the proper layout for printing. This can be text, images, or both. Graphic design, on the other hand, is the art of communicating a message through the creation of images (such as logos or illustrations). So while desktop publishing can certainly feature graphic design, it also incorporates all of the elements necessary to produce a final document.

Before you dive into the world of desktop publishing, you might want to familiarize yourself with some of the basic terminology you're likely to encounter. You might find this information especially useful when you're ready to have your DTP document produced by a professional printer.


Whether you'll be printing a hardcopy of your document or simply sending it out as a digital file, you'll want to be familiar with CMYK if you're going to be working with color.

The CMY stands for cyan, magenta, and yellow, with the K standing for black (the "key" color). These are the tones of the four inks most commonly used in color printing, also known as "four color" printing. The colors are applied to the printed document according to their order in the abbreviation.

These four colors can combine in various ways to produce a plethora of colors, working as a "subtractive color model." As the inks are applied to white paper, they subtract brightness from the page to different degrees, resulting in the desired colors.


The trim refers to a margin within the confines of a page layout, typically close to the outer edges of what would be the printed page. This area serves as a guide to prevent the layout from straying too close to the edge of the page and potentially losing text or images outside the printed area. While the trim can sometimes be a self-imposed border intended to keep the layout clear, it can also refer to the final printed borders of the page if the document is going to be cut down to a different size.


When elements of a layout extend past the trim and onto the outer edges of a page, they are said to bleed out. The area between the trim and the edge of the page is also referred to as "the bleed." When parts of a design carelessly extend into the bleed, the results can be costly as the printer will often need to go with a larger size of paper in order to accommodate a "bleed allowance."


When it comes to DTP graphics, there are basically two types of image formats suited to your printing needs-vector and raster. Vector files store image information as mathematical data, charting the relationship in distance between various points on the image. These files can be found in popular graphic programs such as Adobe Illustrator. Because vector graphics are based on mathematical data, they can be infinitely resized and retain their quality. However, vector images are limited when it comes to sharp colors, intricate detail and photorealism, and best suited for simple designs such as maps, logos, and flat, minimal cartoon images.


On the flipside, raster images utilize a grid of pixels, each assigned a color value and arranged along an X and Y coordinate. In contrast to vector images, raster images are capable of reproducing a wide array of colors and effects. However, because they are bound by their pixel grid, raster images are subject to degradation if they are resized. While slightly resizing an image won't lead to much noticeable quality-loss, significant resizing can render a raster image unrecognizable. When choosing an image format, it's important to know the exact kind of graphic (including the level of detail and color) you'll want to use and choose accordingly: For richly detailed, multihued images go with raster but be sure to initially create the graphic to the same size specifications it will need to meet in your layout. For flat, simple iconic images, logos, or characters, go with vector.

These are only a few of the terms you'll encounter while creating your first brochure or booklet. Equipped with this information, you should be able to lay the groundwork for your desktop published masterpiece.Go Green! At we help the environment by offering options for green printing. For all your postcard printing needs, visit online today for more information.

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