If you ever had the opportunity to work on a school newspaper, yearbook, or web site, you may have had an early experience with desktop publishing. For many individuals who have strong writing, editing, and computer skills, a career as a desktop publisher (DTP) may have particular appeal. It is one of those professions for creative people who enjoy working with computers and like to solve problems related to text and image design.

Desktop publishing is a rapidly growing career option. The employment of desktop publishers is expected to grow much faster than other occupations through 2010 according to the US Occupational Outlook Handbook.

It is the task of a desktop publisher to produce clear, readable, and attractive publication originals that include text, data, and images. These originals are then printed by traditional methods or are converted into electronic formats.
Some of the materials a DTP might produce include charts, proposals, presentations, newsletters, post cards, newspapers, direct mail campaigns, books, graphics, posters, and sometimes websites. The primary emphasis in desktop publishing is on print media.

The knowledge required to work in desktop publishing includes the ability to word process,edit by proofing for errors and making corrections, understanding layout design, how to select and use fonts, scan photographs, do photo editing, and, of course use print production software.

Desktop publication requires attention to detail. It takes a lot of attention to make sure the print is easily read and flows properly across the page and that images are so positioned as to reinforce the printed word. 
Robert MacNevin, a Vancouver, B.C. based freelance Desktop Publisher suggests that the following skills are required for success (see suggested references at end of the article):

  • First and foremost, a solid grounding in the principles of Typography.
  • A comprehensive overview of the history of Graphic Design (many trips to the library, and/or training from a design school)
  • A comprehensive understanding of Print Production and its attendant technologies, including an understanding of hardware and software color management and calibration; knowledge of scanning principles and technologies.
  • A grounding in business skills for creatives.

MacNevin also suggest that an individual working in this field develop an expertise in the use of:

  • Adobe Creative Suite®: Photoshop®, Illustrator®, InDesign®, Acrobat Pro® (and Distiller)
  • Word Processor software: MS Word®, WordPerfect®, others as client needs arise
  • MS Excel®for business clients' work
  • Type/font management software (varies with platform)
  • Knowledge of CorelDraw® and Freehand®, Quark®, and InDesign®
  • Billing and Tracking software for the freelancers (varies with platform)

Surprisingly, being physically active is one more key to success as a desktop publisher, writer, or editor. It is a healthy individual who takes break from the computer screen to reduce eye strain and to relax the arm muscles.
Most careers are in business and industry many of which publish newspapers, periodicals, books, catalogues, and sometimes unique material such as greeting cards. Jobs can also be found in health, finance, government, entertainment, lodging, education, and insurance industries.

Although one can become a desktop publisher without a college degree, further education always enhances one's career options.

Individuals seeking a career in desktop publication can find training at many community colleges. Course work in graphic design, layout, and computer applications provides the basics for working in the desktop publication field. Those with certificates, two year degrees, or further study will have the best job opportunities.

A desktop publisher differs from that of a graphic designer in that emphasis is on technical expertise rather than artistic skills. However, one who has training as a graphic designer and a desktop publisher is further ahead in securing a career in this relatively new field of publication. Creativity is always a welcomed attribute
Developing a working knowledge of media production, communication, and dissemination methods and techniques facilitates one's desktop publication ability. Knowing product standards for print and other media helps one solve design issues related to layout and organization of content.

Knowledge of the Internet is required of today's desktop publisher. More often than not, a career in desktop publishing requires distribution of documents and other resources in digital form. Having experience in web design is yet another skill that will enhance employment opportunities. The digital distribution of documents will only increase in the coming years.

Locating a job in Desktop Publishing often starts with a good portfolio of work demonstrating one's competency. These prepared examples provide a potential employer with an overview of an applicant's ability to design and layout material. A personal web site is of value as well for presenting one's work samples.

The salary range for desktop publishing ranges from about $28 to $36,000 a year. Management positions and those with advanced training of a college degree will earn more. Most desktop publishers work "in-house".
With increased knowledge and experience, workers in large firms can move from basic DTP tasks to those with greater responsibilities. An example is being the lead designer for a major publication project for which one supervises all the steps from design concept to print distribution.

Some of these desktop publishers leave firms to start their own companies and become consultants to business, industry, or government. Those who independently contract for work need to have knowledge about running their own business. Small business courses at a community college provide such knowledge.

If you are a student in media design give some thought to desktop publication as a possible career track. It can be a creative and rewarding profession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects for 2000-2010, that eight of the ten fastest growing occupations will be in the computer and technology fields. Desktop publishing is number 6 with a projected growth rate of 67% and 25,000 new jobs for specialists in the field, making it an attractive career option.

Suggested Reading

Typography References:

"The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst
"The Complete Manual of Typography" by James Felici
"About Face; Reviving the Rules of Typography" by David July

Print Production (these types of book tend to go out of date every few years, as technologies advance):

"A Guide to Graphic Print Production" by Kaj Johansson et al.
The "Real World" series of books on DTP software and workflows.

Business Side of DTP:

"The Business Side of Creativity" by Cameron Foote

Online Interviews

The Business of Design, an Interview with Rita M. Miller of Desktop Design. Rita M. Miller is the owner of Desktop Designs, a desktop publishing and word processing business in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In this interview by Michael S. Spears, Rita talks about her first year in business