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PS, Do I Really Need You?

PostScript Printers and the Language of Desktop Publishing


A PostScript Printer is a valuable Desktop Publishing tool.

If you are a professional desktop publisher or graphic designer who works with commercial printers and service bureaus you will probably need to know and use PostScript.

Desktop publishers often ask "Do I really need a PostScript* printer?" and "Do I really need to know how to create PostScript files?" The answer is it depends. To help you decide here's a brief introduction to PostScript and some examples of when it is good to have a printer that speaks this language and why you should be familiar with PostScript.

What is PostScript?
Simply put, PostScript is a programming or page description language. It is a way of describing what a page should look like. Another such page description language is PCL (printer control language) found in HP printers. For the differences between PostScript and PCL see PS and PCL Comparisions.

Printers print dots. How these dots (raster images) are arranged on the page determines what you see, how the page looks. A printer uses an interpreter (printer driver) to translate digital documents created by your software into a raster image that the printer can print.

Some types of documents such as those created by graphic designers and desktop publishers, contain an intricate combination of fonts and graphics that are best described using PostScript. The PostScript language and a PostScript printer driver then tell the printer how to print that document. PostScript is generally device-independent, that is, if you create a PostScript file it will print pretty much the same on any PostScript device.

Do I Need PostScript?
Developed by Adobe, a leader in desktop publishing applications, PostScript technology (currently at level 3) is often called the language of desktop publishing. Its strength is in its ability to handle the often complex text and graphics typical in graphic design and desktop publishing.

If you do little more than type business letters, draw simple graphs, or print photographs, you may not need the power of PostScript. For simple text and graphics your non-PostScript printer driver may be sufficient for turning your documents into raster images. Otherwise, PostScript — specifically a PostScript-capable printer — is a good investment for most desktop publishers. Some types of text and graphics simply "look better" printed with PostScript. Or, as Adobe says on its Web site, "Adobe PostScript translates your great ideas into print — exactly as you intended."

Commercial printers speak PostScript, making it a common language for sending digital files. Due to its complexity, creating PostScript files can be tricky for the novice but it is a worthwhile skill to master. If you don't have a PostScript printer, troubleshooting any PostScript files you create becomes trickier. PDF (Portable Document Format) is a file format based on the PostScript language and is increasingly used for submitting digital files for printing. With or without a PostScript printer, a basic understanding of the PostScript language is useful when creating and working with PDF.

Additionally, one of the two primary graphics formats used in desktop publishing is EPS. EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) is a form of PostScript. You'll need a PostScript printer to print EPS images.

Next Page: What If I Don't Have a PostScript Printer? & the Bottom Line on whether or not you need a PostScript printer to do desktop publishing.

*Is it Postscript, postscript, or PostScript? Although you'll find it written all three ways all over the Web, Adobe writes it PostScript (uppercase P & S). PostScript is a registered trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.

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Tips & Tutorials:How to Do Desktop Publishing
Training, Education, Jobs:Careers in Desktop Publishing
In the Classroom: Back to School With Desktop Publishing
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