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What is the Difference Between Graphic Design and Desktop Publishing?

Similar but not exactly the same


A stack of the letters DTP

Graphic design chooses the blocks. Desktop Publishing puts the blocks in place; All the FAQs: Career & Business | Software | Design & Layout | Graphics | Type & Fonts | Prepress & Printing

Image by Jacci Howard Bear; licensed to About.com Business Card With Bleed Elements

Creating a business card in Microsoft Publisher desktop publishing software.

Jacci Howard Bear; licensed to About.com Principles of Design

Desktop publishing software aids in the application of the principles of graphic design.

Jacci Howard Bear; licensed to About.com
Graphic design and desktop publishing share so many similarities that people often use the terms interchangeably.
There's not really anything terribly wrong with that but it is helpful to know and understand how they differ and how some people use and confuse the terms.


Answer: The short answer:

  • graphic design jobs involve the creative process of coming up with the concepts and ideas and arrangements for visually communicating a specific message
  • desktop publishing is the mechanical process that the designer and the non-designer use to turn their ideas for newsletters, brochures, ads, posters, greeting cards, and other projects into digital files for desktop or commercial printing

While desktop publishing does require a certain amount of creativity, it is more production-oriented than design-oriented.

Desktop Publishing Software Is A Common Denominator

Graphic designers use desktop publishing software and techniques to create the print materials they envision. The computer and desktop publishing software also aids in the creative process by allowing the designer to easily try out various page layouts, fonts, colors, and other elements.

Non-designers also use desktop publishing software and techniques to create print projects for business or pleasure. The amount of creative design that goes into these projects varies greatly. The computer and desktop publishing software, along with professionally-designed templates, allow consumers to construct and print the same type of projects as graphic designers although the overall product may not be as well-thought out, carefully crafted, or polished as the work of a professional designer.

  • Graphic design is the process and art of combining text and graphics and communicating an effective message in the design of logos, graphics, brochures, newsletters, posters, signs, and any other type of visual communication.

    Desktop publishing is the process of using the computer and specific types of software to combine text and graphics to produce documents such as newsletters, brochures, books, etc.

Graphic Design = "Good" and Desktop Publishing = "Evil" Myth

Graphic design and desktop publishing are often used interchangeably but, in part because it is an activity also used by non-designers, desktop publishing is often considered a lesser activity than graphic design. In truth, the two are separate but intertwined disciplines.

Not everyone who does desktop publishing does graphic design, but most graphic designers are involved in desktop publishing - the production side of design. The term desktop publisher can refer to a designer or a non-designer but it often carries negative connotations of an amateur.

Some graphic designers are quite vocal about their distaste for desktop publishing, which is somewhat amusing since much of what they do does involve desktop publishing. What they are really upset about is not desktop publishing itself - it's an invaluable part of the entire graphic design process - but rather the misuse (real or perceived) of desktop publishing software by non-designers.

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