Desktop publishing (DTP) really was a revolution, of sorts. The arrival of low-cost personal computers in the Eighties completely altered the nature of publishing. Instead of relying on expensive printers and typesetters, publishing companies could bring their design and typesetting work in- house. This trickled down to other types of businesses, which began to design reports and other types of corporate literature.
Now, personal computers are so powerful that even home users can produce slick, highly illustrated page layouts using low-cost software, laser printers and colour ink-jet printers.
The leading DTP programs are still the old stalwarts - Quark XPress (pounds 450) and PageMaker (pounds 750). These are extremely powerful programs aimed at professional newspaper and magazine designers.
However, there are some versatile DTP programs aimed at the home and small business user that cost a fraction of these prices. One of the most well known is Microsoft Publisher, which is bundled free with a lot of new PCs. Its main rivals are PagePlus from Serif Software and GSP's PressWorks, though there are about half a dozen other DTP programs available from less well-known companies.
The trouble with low-cost DTP software is that few of us have the design skills or training to use it properly. Because of this, it's important that any DTP program you buy has a good selection of templates. These allow you to create a range of standard documents using ready-made layouts that you can modify as you gain experience with the program.
Printers at the lower end of the range tend to work at a resolution of 300 dots per inch (dpi). This is adequate for text and simple graphics, but if you want to print photographs, you will be better off with the finer detail provided by a 600dpi printer such as Brother's HL-730. Colour ink-jet printers are coming down in price as well as improving in quality. Look out for whether it prints with three inks or four.
Brother HL-730 (pounds 350) available from Brother (0161 330 653). HP DeskJet 850C (pounds 400) from Hewlett-Packard (0990 474747). Microsoft Publisher (pounds 75) from Microsoft (0734-270001). PageMaker (pounds 450) from Adobe Systems (081- 606-4000). PagePlus (pounds 50) from Serif Software (01625 539 494). PressWorks (pounds 60) from GSP (01480 496 575). Quark XPress (pounds 750) from Computers Unlimited (0181-200-8282).