There is one primary requirement for desktop publishing and that is a page layout application, also known as "desktop publishing software." However, the realistic mininum requirements depend on what type of desktop publishing you plan to do, most notably how you plan to print your documents.
Desktop Publishing Software Needed for Desktop PrintingFor personal publishing, SOHO/small business publishing, and even freelance desktop publishing, if the final product comes from your desktop printer or if a desktop printer is used to produce camera-ready artwork, then the minimum requirement is any type of page layout application (the primary type of Desktop Publishing software) from the creative printing programs such as The Print Shop to the industry standard QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign. As long as the desktop publishing software can print to your printer and your desktop printer prints acceptable quality then you can spend from under a $100 to over $1000 and still be able to do desktop publishing for fun and possibly for profit.
Desktop Publishing Software Needed for Commercial PrintingWhether using a quick print shop or producing 4-color work on an offset press if you need to provide digital files to your service provider, the minimum desktop publishing software requirements become more stringent. Programs used primarily for home publishing, such as The Print Shop and PrintMaster are generally no longer an option. The bare minimum in terms of cost will be programs such as Microsoft Publisher, Serif PagePlus, and Adobe PageMaker because they can produce digital files acceptable for commercial printing.
For serious freelance desktop publishing a minimum suite of desktop publishing software tools would be:
- Word Processing Software
- Page Layout Software (and/or Web Design Software)
- Graphics Software (two kinds)
- Word Processing Software
Your word processing software doesn't necessarily need to be the latest versions of Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect but should provide features such as spell checking and be able to import/export file formats that are compatible with your page layout software including RTF and TXT. If not producing text-intensive documents, word processing software could be forfeited in favor of utilizing the less robust text editors found in most page layout software. For a full-featured but less costly option consider the free OpenOffice suite.
- Page Layout Software
The industry standards of QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign are not the only available choices for desktop publishing software but should be seriously considered. Where cost is a major issue, Microsoft Publisher, Serif PagePlus, Xara Designer Pro, and Adobe PageMaker offer most of the essential features required. Scribus is a free page layout option worth considering as well. Where multi-page documents are not needed, Illustration programs — primarily Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, Macromedia Freehand, and Inkscape — could stand in for page layout software. Many of today's page layout programs can also be used for creating Web pages and may be sufficient for your Web design needs. If you do primarily Web design or need more options, a program such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver may be necessary.
- Graphics Software
For most print publishing an illustration program and an image editor are the types of programs needed. Some graphics software programs may incorporate a few features of the other type, but for most professional work you'll need each one. If you are engaged exclusively in Web design then you might be able to do without an illustration program.
Illustration or drawing programs work with vector graphics formats. Vector-based drawing programs allow more flexibility when creating artwork that is to be resized or must go through multiple edits. Logos, for example, should be created first in illustration programs.
Examples: Adobe Illustrator | CorelDRAW | Inkscape
- Photo/Image Editing
Image editors, also called paint programs or photo editors work with bitmap images. Bitmap graphics tools are needed for working with photos, scans, or other "realistic" images. Although illustration programs can export images in bitmap formats, paint programs are still usually superior for final output of images for the Web or for many special effects to photos.
Examples: Adobe Photoshop | Corel Photo-Paint (part of the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite) | The GIMP
Mix and Match Desktop Publishing Software to Meet Your Needs: Try out one of these combinations of Page Layout + Image Editing + Drawing For Professionals and Non-Designers. Just add a word processor to round it out.
Top Reasons to Upgrade or Not Upgrade Your Desktop Publishing Software: Even if you go with the bare minimum in software, when should you consider upgrading or adding to your toolbox? Is it OK to stick with software that is several versions behind or that has been discontinued or is no longer supported? Should you upgrade from a word processor to a page layout program or simply keep using the most up-to-date versions of your word processor as desktop publishing software? Is free software good enough? Why should you upgrade? Why should you stick with what you alredy know and use? State your case in Old vs. New Desktop Publishing software and see what others say.