Desktop Publishing 101

As the administrative assistant for a small company, Susan had to make sure her boss "looked good" in front of an upcoming meeting of venture capitalists. That meant their marketing plan had to look great. She knew the stakes are high. But when she picked up the marketing plan from the printer, she was disappointed. What went wrong?

Specifically, the printed pages did not resemble what she had created on her computer. In some places, the words appeared in a font she has never used. Some graphics she imported from another document looked "pixelated" into a mosaic of small squares. What's more, the company logo had changed color; it was purple when it was supposed to be blue.

As Susan's tight deadline got closer, her frustration mounted. Knowing a few basic principles, tips and techniques could have prevented this taxing scenario. Sound familiar? Before you tackle any desktop publishing job, review these guidelines about the printing process and make the right decisions from the start.

Decisions Leading Up to Printing

First, determine the budget, turnaround time and level of quality your document must have to meet the company's objective. Next, determine the best software for creating your document. If you print the document on a color laser as Susan did, the requirements are flexible; you can use a word processing program such as Microsoft Word. If you have it printed by an offset printer, you should use a professional page layout or illustration program such as Adobe PageMaker, Illustrator, Corel Draw, Quark Xpress and Macromedia Freehand.

Once those choices are made, you can specify the colors in your computer programs accordingly. For example, for a simple 1-color or 2-color printing job on an offset press, you would choose a "spot color" job using PMS inks. (PMS stands for Pantone Matching System, a color system similar to those used for house paints.) For a document that includes full-color photos, you would go with either laser printing or a process color offset job. Both of these methods use CMYK inks (a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks, hence the name CMYK). However, if you select PMS inks for a CMYK job or vice-versa, your colors will print incorrectly. Like Susan experienced, your color logo could turn out purple instead of blue.

Be aware of the type of fonts used on your computer. Never combine Postscript and True Type fonts in one document because the printer software will get them mixed up. Documents printed on an offset press require higher resolution scans than laser-printed ones, so ask your offset printer what resolution is required. If you import graphics into your document – for example, showing graphics from an advertising campaign – save them in the correct file format (again, ask your printer) or they will print incorrectly or not at all. Graphics copied from the Web (identified with a "jpg" or "gif" extension) may print at a low resolution (pixelated) or not at all.

The color you see on your monitor is not likely to be the exact shade printed on your job. Color laser prints especially do not match PMS colors accurately. A logo's PMS ink color will not print accurately on a setup that uses CMYK process color inks.

Pre-flight Your Document

Collect all your fonts and imported graphics (links) and put them on the disk along with your document. You may want to use Adobe Acrobat software to convert your document to a "pdf" file format and automate this process. First, talk to your printer on how to make the proper eps file and to get specific pdf settings.

Choosing Color Laser Printing

Color laser printers can print a wide range of colors and costs the same whether you use two colors or 100 colors. Advantages and disadvantages include:

  • Cost-effective for low runs of full color (fewer than 100 copies)
  • Expensive for high quantities (suggest going to CMYK or digital offset printing)
  • Lower quality than CMYK offset printing
  • Requires special white paper of a certain weight
  • Quick turnaround time (24-48 hours)

Choosing Offset Printing

Offset printing gives you a choice of PMS inks or CMYK process inks. The simpler one, spot color using PMS inks, has some pros and cons:

  • For one color – choosing black ink is the least expensive
  • Two or more colors – price goes up for each color added
  • Select from thousands of pre-mixed colors using a swatch book to specify the ink colors you want
  • Can print on a wide range of paper colors, weights and finishes
  • Higher quality than laser printing
  • Longer turnaround time than laser printing (3-5 working days)

The CMYK process always uses four inks: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The size and density of millions of dots in the combination of these four inks create a full range of colors. (You can actually see these dots in printed color photos when you look through a magnifying glass.)

Because this process requires complicated specifications, have a professional designer create the document or at least check it before giving it to the printer. Its advantages and disadvantages include:

  • High quality full-color photos (accurate flesh tones, color reproduction, etc.)
  • More expensive than spot color
  • Much better quality than color laser printing
  • Longer turnaround than color laser printing (5-10 working days)
  • Requires an expensive match print or digital color proof for each page printed
  • Cost-prohibitive in low runs (fewer than 100 copies). (Use laser prints for print runs under 100 copies and digital offset printing for quantities between 100-5000 copies).
  • Can print on a wide range of paper colors, weights and finishes
  • Photos will "pop" on glossy or coated papers
  • Requires a high level of technical expertise to guarantee quality results

Susan could have prevented a lot of heartache by asking the right questions first – especially when high stakes make it critical to look good in print.

About the Author
Karen Saunders is the author of "Turn Eye Appeal into Buy Appeal: How to easily transform your marketing pieces into dazzling, persuasive sales tools!" Hundreds of business owners have used her simple do-it-yourself design system to create stunning marketing materials that really SELL their products and services! Pick up FREE articles, audio classes, eCourse and ezines at