Should I use a desktop publisher or a word processor? By Dale Cook, Product Marketing Manager at Serif

By | December 14, 2011

Marketing is hugely important to any business because, when done properly, it positively affects sales and profitability. At its heart is a focus on customers, but most know marketing for one aspect – advertising.

For small businesses wanting to create publications like flyers, posters, newsletters and brochures, there are two main types of software that can be used: desktop publishing (DTP) packages and word processors.

So which should you choose?


Laying out your documents

DTP software gives you complete control over layout – something that can’t be said of word processors. Text, graphics and even music or videos (great for enhancing online documents) can be positioned anywhere in your document, allowing for more elaborate layouts – essential for visual documents like flyers and advertising.

In one document, you can arrange as many design elements as you require. And those elements can flow around irregular shapes too – something that’s a lot more difficult in word processors.

It is true, however, that more and more word processors are integrating DTP features, but they just don’t offer the same sort of flexibility or compatibility.


Controlling text

Typing text is what word processors were made for. Simply open the program and start typing. But when it comes to how your text is laid out, the choice between a word processor and a DTP program becomes a bit tougher.

Both offer spelling and grammar checking, but, in design terms, the ability to adjust space between characters and lines (leading, kerning, tracking etc.) in greater depth might influence your choice.

For example, you’ve written the perfect headline and you want to fit it on a single line in your advert – you might need to change the point size or letter spacing very slightly. There is greater scope for finer alterations like this in desktop publishing packages.

So, perhaps you could type and hone text in a word processor then import or copy it into a DTP package where you could add it into your publication.

An area where a word processor does excel is in proofing. If copy has been written, it can be sent to another person for correcting, altering and even adding comments, all within the word processor (provided both people have the program installed). This makes proofreading much faster.


Master pages

In longer documents like books and magazines, consistency is vital and the designing of such documents is more convenient in desktop publishers.

Master pages dictate features and styles that appear on every page and are easier to set up in DTP software, as opposed to word processors. Plus, they make it quick and easy to add anything from logos and contact details to colour schemes, throughout.

This saves you the time and hassle of adding elements to each individual page and worrying about whether they’re consistently positioned in the same place.



Being able to quickly and easily share publications with colleagues and clients is very important and word processor documents make this process very easy. Such files can also be opened in desktop publishers (although they can’t be saved in a word processor format).

Where DTP packages excel though, is in being able to open, edit and save PDFs – especially common nowadays for sharing documents containing text and graphics.



Ensuring that what you see on screen appears exactly the same in print can be somewhat of a hurdle to overcome if you use a word processor, particularly if the document has a complex layout.

Elements of your page may be rearranged to suit the requirements of the printer. The printer’s settings determine things like margins and paper size, so your document can end up looking quite different to what you see on screen.

However, a DTP package gives you full control over what’s printed and where it is on the page. This is especially helpful for long documents. You have peace of mind that you can print hundreds of pages without anything (layout-wise) being different in print to how it looks on screen. Plus, they handle professional images, colours and press-ready output better than word processors too.


Which one is right for you?

The debate between desktop publishers and word processors is an ongoing one and, with DTP packages integrating more and more word processor features and vice versa, there’s no definitive answer as to which one you should use. It all comes down to what job you’re doing.

A desktop publishing package is the perfect choice for small businesses wanting to produce professional marketing materials. But don’t rule out using a word processor along the way for typing up or proofing extensive passages of text.


For more information on Serif, the award-winning creative software developer of products including desktop publishing software PagePlus, visit

Note from Editor: This was a guest post by Dale Cook, Product Marketing Manager at Serif.