Desktop Publishing for Newbies

So this post is primarily for my friend Steph who is in charge of producing the magazine for the local Scientology Mission in Poole, but is obviously equally applicable to anybody who wants to knock up a brochure or newsletter etc. and is new to desktop publishing.

Now, I am no master at this myself, so please forgive any blunders. In fact, the sole extent of my authority on this subject is that I know more than Steph, so be warned!!

Getting the Software

First step is obtaining and installing the software you will need. We will be using two packages, one for general photo editing and another for the ‘DTP’ layout.

PixBuilder Studio

This software is free (thank you to WnSoft) – download it from and run the downloaded file to install the program. The installation is pretty straightforward.

Scribus – DTP Software

This is another free program called Scribus which is a desktop publishing program (a bit like Microsoft Publisher). Before downloading and installing this, it is best to download and install a utility called Ghostscript from – choose the download from the GPL column for your system.

Once installed, head over to the Scribus Download page and choose the install for your system. You may get redirected to the Sourceforge site to download the program – that’s okay. Run the installation for Scribus, and you’re ready to go.

Getting Started – The Basics

Desktop Publishing is the art and technology of taking images and text and laying them out on a page in an arrangement which is both easy to read and visually appealing. There is a huge amount of technology behind this, but the basics are fairly simple. First, a basic understanding of some of the terms will help.


Images in electronic format (from a camera, downloaded from the net, etc.) are made up of millions of tiny dots called pixels. Each pixel can be a different colour, and placed together the pixels make up a complete image. There are two things which determine how good the image looks – number of pixels and number of colours.

Number of pixels

Obviously a picture made up of just 4 x 4 pixels (16 in total) would not be much of a picture.

This image is about 2 inches square (this will vary depending on your monitor) – 4 pixels in two inches gives us a resolution of 2 pixels per inch.

More pixels, say a 20 x 20 grid (400 pixels in total) starts to become recognisable, but very blocky.

This next picture is 100 x 100 pixels – about 50 pixels per inch. You can still see the pixels, but the quality is much better.

Obviously, if this image were half the size, you would not notice the pixellation so much. It has the same number of pixels, but because it is printed smaller it has more pixels per inch (about 100 in this case).

To get good quality printed pictures, the general standard is 300 pixels (or dots) per inch – ‘300 dpi’. Therefore if you want a picture an inch square, it should be at least 300 pixels square it it’s going to look any good (a total of 90,000 pixels). If you want the picture to take up half an A4 page (thats about 5 x 8 inches) then you need 1500 x 2400 pixels, a total of 3,600,000 pixels or 3.6 megapixels.

Number of Colours

This is less of an issue nowadays as there are plenty of colours available to modern digital images, but its worth a mention. This is the same image, but rendered using a pallet of only 256 different colours.

The number of different colours is usually described by the number of digits the computer uses to represent each colour, and is actually expressed as binary digits or bits. The above is an 8-bit image (total of 256 different colours). Poor quality or old images may be 16-bit or 65,353 colours. Modern digital cameras usually generate 24-bit images with millions of colours, and the best high end devices can generate images at even more than this.

A Note on Image Sizing

When working with images on your computer, each image takes up a certain amount of memory space. Modern digital cameras will generate images which are several thousand pixels across – for example a 12MP camera produces an image about 3000 x 4000 pixels – thats enough to print at 10 inches by 13 inches at 300 dpi. However, those 12 million pixels take up a lot of memory, and if you have several such pictures then things will start to slow down, especially if you have an older pc.

If you actually only needed a half an A5 page image, you really only need about 1800 x 1200 pixels – that’s only a 2 megapixel image and takes up about 80% less memory than the 12MP image.

The lesson to learn here is to trim your pictures to a sensible size before using them in your DTP package.

Video Lesson 1 – Straighten, Crop, Resize, Brighten



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