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This chapter is from the book

Page layout programs

Page layout programs are the backbone of desktop publishing.

The two most popular programs are Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress. However, there are others—some, like Adobe FrameMaker, are used mostly for technical documents. Others, like Microsoft Publisher, are more basic and are designed for low-end jobs that will be printed onto desktop printers.

A page layout program is the assembly area where all the parts of a project are put together. You can write text directly in the program, but you can also import it from any word processor. You can style and format the text professionally, and import graphics, then resize and position them.

Bleed settings

One of the most important features that separates page layout software from word processing applications is the ability to create a bleed area around the page. A bleed is the area outside the trim that artwork extends into. The reason why you need to set a bleed has to do with how the pages of a document are cut to size.

Consider the triangles at the top corner of this book. When I set those triangles in my page layout software, I didn’t stop exactly at the edge of the page. I extended the artwork off to a bleed margin outside my page.

This extra area of color ensures that if the page is not trimmed exactly right, there won’t be any white area along the edge. Any time you lay out a color or photo right to the edge of a page, you need to set a bleed so the document looks right when it is trimmed. Most bleeds are set to one-eighth inch (.125″).

In addition to a bleed, you may want to specify a safety area inside the page. This area is usually a one-eighth inch margin where important text and graphics do not appear. The safety area is set so that if the knife that cuts the page comes inside of the trim area, nothing important gets cut off.

Text features

Once you bring text into a page layout program (or write it directly on the page), you can do many of the same tasks you would in a word processor:

  • Style and format text, either manually or using style sheets
  • Check your spelling
  • Find-and-change to replace text phrases or formatting

However, because you are working in a page layout program there are other things you can do with text:

  • Rotate and overlap text for special effects
  • Use justification controls to fine-tune the spaces between letters, words, and lines
  • Lock the text to a baseline grid so it automatically lines up across columns and pages
  • Change the horizontal or vertical scale sizes of the text
  • Convert text to paths (sometimes called outlines) so that it can be used for graphic elements

Some word processing features such as grammar checking, editorial revision tracking, and automatic footnotes are not found in most page layout programs. This means that the bulk of text entry should be done in a word processor and only minor or simple text entry should be done in the page layout program. However, there are programs that act like editorial partners to page layout software. Those programs let you add sophisticated editorial corrections to page layout programs.

Editorial partners to page layout applications

If you work in a large organization, you may have a special editorial program that works with your page layout software. For instance, Adobe InDesign has an editorial program called InCopy that lets editors and writers make changes to text right within the InDesign layout. QuarkXPress has Quark Copy Desk.

These editorial programs add many word processing features to the page layout software. This allows you to use macros to automate text entry and formatting, track the changes to text, revert the text to previous entries, and view how many lines of text need to be cut in order to fit the copy on the page.

Graphic features

In the early days of page layout programs, all you could do was import images from other programs. If you wanted to make changes to the size, rotation, color, brightness, or other aspects of the graphic, you had to go back to the original image program.

Even when it became possible to resize, rotate, apply colors, and make other changes to the images on a page, many people were afraid to make those changes in the page layout document. They were afraid that doing so would cause problems when the document was printed. It might add to the print time or cause the image to turn out wrong.

So, what about today? Software such as QuarkXPress and InDesign allows you to apply all sorts of incredible transformations to images. You can change their colors, brightness, contrast, sharpness, transparency, and much more. So what’s the deal? Do the old rules still apply?

No—almost every rule that was true back in the early days of desktop publishing has been changed by newer software and more powerful hardware. Unfortunately you may find a copy shop or print shop that will tell you not to use some special feature in a program. Some of them are just stuck in their old ruts and don’t realize that their newer software and equipment can handle the tasks easily.

Other times they may have ancient equipment that truly can’t handle the newer features in the software. In those instances, you may want to investigate working with a different print shop.

In my experience, I have broken almost every one of the old rules for laying out pages. And none of my jobs have ever been bounced back from a print shop!

Old wive’s tales for images

The following are some of the effects that your grandmother might have told you you couldn’t do in a page layout program. For the most part there is nothing that wrong with doing it today.

  • Resizing graphics. There’s nothing wrong with changing the size of an image ten percent bigger or smaller. That kind of change isn’t noticeable in the final output.
  • Scaling graphics down. Way back when I started, we were warned not to scale images way down in the page layout program. The printer processor couldn’t handle that much information. Today’s processors are much more powerful and scaling images down won’t tax the final output.
  • Rotating graphics. The thought years ago was that it would take too much time to do all that rotating as part of the print processing. Instead you were supposed to rotate the image in the image editing program to save print time. It’s no longer a big deal. Rotate as much as you want.
  • Changing the colors of graphics. Page layout programs allow you to colorize grayscale images. Although there are more professional ways to do this, there really isn’t anything wrong with doing it. (See Chapter 10 for more details on these techniques.)
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