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Graphics Software for Desktop Publishing

Choosing Drawing and Image Editing Software


Adobe CS4 Screenshot by J. Bear

Adobe Photoshop CS4 with photo open for editing

Adobe CS4 Screenshot by J. Bear
The primary tool for desktop publishing is the page layout ("DTP") software program. However, by definition desktop publishing is using the computer to combine text and graphics into documents for print or electronic distribution. While you might only use canned clip art and unmodified stock photography, at some point most designers will want to create original artwork or make substantial changes to existing images. For that you need a dedicated graphics software package.

For most print publishing an illustration program and an image editor are the types of programs needed. Some programs may incorporate a few features of the other type, but for most professional work you'll need each one.

Graphics Formats Determine Graphics Software Needs

The two basic graphics formats are vector and bitmap. Illustration or drawing programs work with vector formats. Image editors, also called paint programs or photo editors work with bitmap images.
    Vector images are scaleable drawings created from mathematical calculations. (Don't worry, the software handles the math.) Vector images can be reduced and enlarged with little loss of quality. For the most part, vector images tend to have an artificial, rather than realistic appearance but because they are made of lines and objects they can be easier to create and edit than bitmap images.

    Bitmap images are made up of dots or pixels and are dependent on the output device for proper sizing. Reducing or enlarging a bitmap image beyond the size at which it was created can result in jagged edges or distortion. Photographs or images composed of photorealistic components are bitmap images. They can contain a great deal of detail but should be created at the size they will be printed, in most instances. All images (at present) for the Web are bitmap images.

The best graphics formats for print desktop publishing are EPS (vector) and TIFF (bitmap). The drawing program you choose should be able to generate EPS files. The image editor you choose should be able to create TIFF images. The exception — if all your printing is done to your desktop printer you may get satisfactory results with other formats. However, if you think you may need to have your work commercially printed at some point in the future you'll save yourself hours of frustration if you start out working in the standard formats used by professional designers.

Using Graphics Software for Page Layout

Illustration programs can often double as page layout applications. The key illustration or drawing programs for professional desktop publishing are:

See: Illustration Software for Mac | Illustration Software for Windows

Image Editing Is Key Part of Desktop Publishing

While you can't do page layout in an image or photo editor, they are an integral part of desktop publishing. The main players for professional image editing are:

See: Photo Editors for Mac | Photo Editors for Windows

These are not the only choices, simply the most widely used in professional design circles. For a more complete look at the many types of graphics software available explore Graphics Software Categories and Buying Advice from About.com Graphics Software Guide Sue Chastain.

Pick Your Path to Desktop Publishing
Get Started:Basic Guidelines and Requirements for Desktop Publishing
Choose Software:Desktop Publishing and Design Software
Tips & Tutorials:How to Do Desktop Publishing
Training, Education, Jobs:Careers in Desktop Publishing
In the Classroom: Back to School With Desktop Publishing
Make a Gift: Things to Make for the Holidays
Use Templates: Templates for Print and Web Publishing
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