Career Guide for Desktop Publishers

Desktop publishers use software to format and create documents to be printed – often in high resolution at a commercial printer. A majority of desktop publishers, or page layout professionals, work in the publishing and printing industries.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career as a desktop publisher.

Desktop Publisher Summary

  • About 38 percent work for newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers; another 21 percent work in the printing industry.
  • Employment is expected to decline rapidly.
  • Most employers prefer to hire experienced desktop publishers; among persons without experience, opportunities should be best for those with certificates or degrees in desktop publishing or graphic design.

Working as a Desktop Publisher

Desktop publishers use computer software to format and combine text, data, photographs, charts, and other graphic art or illustrations into prototypes of pages and other documents that are to be printed. They then may print the document on a high-resolution printer or send the materials to a commercial printer. Examples of materials produced by desktop publishers include books, brochures, calendars, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and forms.

Desktop publishers typically design and create the graphics that accompany text, find and edit photographs and other digital images, and manipulate the text and images to display information in an attractive and readable format. They design page layouts, develop presentations and advertising campaigns, and do color separation of pictures and graphics material. Some desktop publishers may write some of the text or headlines used in newsletters or brochures.

Desktop publishers use the appropriate software to enter and select formatting properties, such as the size and style of type, column width, and spacing. Print formats are stored in the computer and displayed on its monitor. New information, such as charts, pictures, or more text, can be added. An entire newspaper, catalog, or book page, complete with artwork and graphics, can be created on the screen exactly as it will appear in print. Then, digital files are used to produce printing plates. Like photographers and multimedia artists and animators, desktop publishers can create special effects or other visual images with the use of film, video, computers, or other electronic media.

Computer software and printing technology continue to advance, making desktop publishing more economical and efficient than before. Other innovations in the occupation include digital color page-makeup systems, electronic page-layout systems, and off-press color proofing systems. In addition, most materials are reproduced on the Internet as well as printed; therefore, desktop publishers may need to know electronic publishing software, such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), and may be responsible for converting text and graphics to an Internet-ready format.

Some desktop publishers may write and edit, as well as layout and design pages. For example, in addition to laying out articles for a newsletter, desktop publishers may be responsible for copyediting content or for writing original content themselves. Desktop publisher’s writing and editing responsibilities may vary widely from project to project and employer to employer. Smaller firms typically use desktop publishers to perform a wide range of tasks, while desktop publishers at larger firms may specialize in a certain part of the publishing process.

Desktop publishers also may be called publications specialists, electronic publishers, DTP operators, desktop publishing editors, electronic prepress technicians, electronic publishing specialists, image designers, typographers, compositors, layout artists, and Web publications designers. The exact name may vary with the specific tasks performed or simply by personal preference.

Work environment. Desktop publishers usually work in clean, air-conditioned office areas with little noise. They generally work a standard workweek; however, some may work night shifts, weekends, or holidays, depending upon the production schedule for the project or to meet deadlines.

These workers often are subject to stress and the pressures of short deadlines and tight work schedules. Like other workers who spend long hours working in front of a computer monitor, desktop publishers may be susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most desktop publishers learn their skills on the job. Experience is the best training, and many desktop publishers get started just by experimenting with the software and developing a knack for designing and laying out material for publication.

Education and training. There is generally no educational requirement for the job of desktop publisher. Most people learn on the job or by taking classes online or through local learning centers that teach the latest software. For those who are interested in pursuing a career in desktop publishing, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts, graphic communications, or graphic design is preferred. Graphic arts programs are a good way to learn about the desktop publishing software used to format pages, assign type characteristics, and import text and graphics into electronic page layouts. Courses in other aspects of printing also are available at vocational institutes and private trade and technical schools.

Other qualifications. Although formal training is not always required, those with certificates or degrees will have the best job opportunities. Most employers prefer to hire people who have at least a high school diploma and who possess good communication abilities, basic computer skills, and a strong work ethic. Desktop publishers should be able to deal courteously with people, because they have to interact with customers and clients and be able to express design concepts and layout options with them. In addition, they may have to do simple math calculations and compute ratios to scale graphics and artwork and estimate job costs. A basic understanding of, and facility with, computers, printers, scanners, and other office equipment and technologies also is needed to work as a desktop publisher.

Desktop publishers need good manual dexterity, and they must be able to pay attention to detail and work independently. In addition, good eyesight, including visual acuity, depth perception, a wide field of view, color vision, and the ability to focus quickly, are assets. Artistic ability often is a plus. Employers also seek persons who are even tempered and adaptable—important qualities for workers who frequently must meet deadlines and learn how to operate new equipment.

Advancement. Workers with limited training and experience assist more experienced staff on projects while they learn the software and gain practical experience. They advance on the basis of their demonstrated mastery of skills. Some may move into supervisory or management positions. Other desktop publishers may start their own companies or work as independent consultants, while those with more artistic talent and further education may find job opportunities in graphic design or commercial art.

Employment as a Desktop Publisher

Desktop publishers held about 26,400 jobs in 2008. Approximately 38 percent worked for newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers, while 21 percent worked in the printing and related support activities industry. Other desktop publishers work for professional, scientific, and technical services firms and in many other industries that produce printed or published materials.

The printing and publishing industries are two of the most geographically dispersed industries in the United States, and desktop publishing jobs are found throughout the country. Although most jobs are in large metropolitan cities, electronic communication networks and the Internet allow some desktop publishers to work from other locations.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to decline rapidly because more people are learning basic desktop publishing skills as a part of their regular job functions in other occupations and because more organizations are formatting materials for display on the Internet rather than designing pages for print publication.

Employment change. Employment of desktop publishers is expected to decline 23 percent between 2008 and 2018. Desktop publishing has become a frequently used and common tool for designing and laying out printed matter, such as advertisements, brochures, newsletters, and forms. However, increased computer-processing capacity and the widespread availability of more elaborate desktop publishing software will make it easier and more affordable for nonprinting professionals to use. As a result, there will be less need for people to specialize in desktop publishing.

In addition, organizations are increasingly moving their published material to the Internet to save the cost of printing and distributing materials. This change will slow the growth of desktop publishers, especially in smaller membership and trade organizations, which publish newsletters and brief reports. Companies that produce more extensive reports and rely on high-quality, high-resolution color and graphics within their publications, however, will continue to use desktop publishers to lay out publications for offset printing.

Job prospects. There will be some job opportunities for desktop publishers because of the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force. However, job prospects will be better for those with experience; many employers prefer to hire experienced desktop publishers because of the long time it takes to become good at this type of work. Among individuals with little or no experience, opportunities should be best for those with computer backgrounds, those with certification in desktop publishing, or those who have completed a postsecondary program in desktop publishing, graphic design, or Web design.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Number Percent
Desktop publishers 43-9031 26,400 20,400 -5,900 -23
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Desktop Publisher

Wages for desktop publishers vary according to level of experience, training, geographic location, and company size. Median annual wages of desktop publishers were $36,600 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,140 and $47,870. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,210 a year. Median annual wages of desktop publishers in May 2008 were $39,870 in printing and related support services and $33,130 in newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers.

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