Desktop Publishing with

Dazzle your clients, boss or friends with this freely available tool you probably installed with your latest Linux distribution.

Desktop publishing is easy, and it also can be fun. With you have a rich selection of tools to create high-quality documents for personal or business use.

Desktop publishing (DP for short) differs from word processing. In word processing, you type pages of characters and numbers to create documents for others to read. They might include graphics, such as tables and charts, to illustrate points made in the text, but the goal is to create a written document to convey information. In DP, you use graphics, along with text, to create a document with more visual appeal. Look at any printed advertising--the graphics in the document often are more important than the written word.

A while ago, I needed to create a simple one-page document--a Christmas gift card--to give with a set of open-source CDs ( 1.1.0 for Microsoft Windows and Knoppix 3.3) that I made for colleagues and friends. I also wanted to test the abilities and performance of OO.o 1.1.0. I had used previous versions of OO.o for simple tasks with less than enthusiastic results. I was anxious to see how OO.o 1.1.0 would perform on a real DP test.

I am not a desktop publishing professional or a graphic artist. My DP experience has been limited to writing documents for my employer or for personal use, such as Letters to the Editor, resumes and cover letters. I've used other desktop publishing programs, such as Microsoft Publisher and CorelDraw for Windows, to create simple documents and to make signs and flyers.

The computer I did this work on is a home-built box with a 1.2 GHz AMD Athlon Thunderbird processor running on an ASUS mainboard. It has 512MB of RAM and has two IDE hard disks. I am running SuSE Linux 8.1 Professional with a SuSE-compiled 2.4.21-athlon kernel. The desktop is KDE 3.1.2.

Desktop Publishing Basics

Before you begin planning a project, you need to understand a few basics of DP. Text is letters and numbers and special characters typed on a page. Text is put into a DP document exactly where you want it by placing text boxes on the page. You then type your text in the box (see Figure 1_. Text boxes can be moved, rotated and resized. Clicking on the text box allows you either to type characters or to paste them in from another document. You can format text fonts and sizes and other attributes such as making it boldface, italicized or underlined.

Figure 1. A simple text box in editing mode, indicated by the hatched border. The green squares are the "handles" used to resize the text box.

You must make sure your text fits into the box and does not overrun. You can reformat and resize the text (or edit it) to make it fit. You also can resize the text box, as we will see below.

Graphics and images are considered to be objects. These also are inserted into the document and moved to their desired location. With, you have a tremendous amount of control. You can precisely place your image and resize it by shrinking or stretching it or by resizing it and keeping the proportions in tact. You can rotate it and choose the axis of rotation, as well.

Graphics can include charts, tables, graphs, raster or vector graphics and images of any format including JPEGs, GIFs, TIFFs and PNGs. For more information on these file formats and on the differences between raster and vector graphics, see Resources.

So, how do you manipulate text boxes and images? Clicking on a text box or image object activates it by making it the active layer. You can see small green boxes at the corners of the object (including text boxes). These boxes are "handles" you can "grab" with your mouse pointer by clicking on them, holding down the left mouse button, and move by dragging the mouse. Figure 1 shows the mouse pointer changed to a double-arrowed line indicating the handle--and the side of the text box--can be moved to the left or right. Releasing the left mouse button sticks the handle in place. When you place your mouse pointer over the active object, you should see arrows indicating that you can move the object. A set of arrows in a cross formation indicates you can move the object in any direction. A diagonal, vertical or horizontal arrow set indicates you can move only that corner or handle to resize the entire object.

Figure 2 illustrates an object--our beloved Tux--being moved to a new location on the page. The shadowed Tux is at the original location and the full-color image with the handles is being moved to its new location.

Figure 2. Graphics and text boxes can be moved on the workspace. Here we are moving Tux from his original location indicated by the shadowed Tux to his new location. The active layer is indicated by the visible object handles.

When you want to rotate an object, you have some interesting choices. You can choose a pre-determined rotation, such as 90 or 180-degrees, or you can custom rotate the object. When you choose to custom rotate, you can choose the axis of rotation and exact rotation of the object. When you drag the corner of the object to rotate it, and you see as in Figure 3 a semi-circle with arrows on it indicating rotation.

Figure 3. Objects can be custom rotated. Here Tux is being rotated clockwise as though he had too much holiday cheer. The object handles have turned to red, and the pointer turns into a visible semi-circle. The object rotation tear-off is visible.

For this project we create text boxes, move and rotate them. We need to edit and format the text we put into the boxes to make sure it fits. We'll also be hunting around the Web for an appropriate graphic and insert it into our document, move it around, resize it and rotate it.



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typo? knsapshot or ksnapshot

Anonymous's picture

In the list of resources used to make the article you list "knsapshot." Did you instead mean "ksnapshot"?

Do you know something about D

Anonymous's picture

Do you know something about DTP?

Important note for OO.o DTP and printers

Anonymous's picture

While it's all well and good to use apps like OO.o for DTP, they're not really made for it. You will quickly find this out when you try to send (say) an advertisement to a newspaper, or a job to a printing house. It's all well and good if you're printing your own work, but if you need to go through a print agency or if you're producing something to be part of a larger publication, you're likely to run into problems.

Expect comments like "Your colours are all RGB, the fonts aren't embedded, and you've produced a PDF 1.4 document - we require PDF 1.3. Please correct that and get back to us." "Your PDF failed preflight" is also not uncommon.

What I'm saying is that you need to confirm with the intended recipient what their requirements are, before going ahead and doing your document in OO.o. It could save you a lot of trouble.

Thankfully, OO.o has built-in PDF export, making it much less of a nightmare for users and publishers than Microsoft Word. Daily I have to tell people that their ad, done in Word, may not look the same on our screen (or print the same) as what they see, we don't have their WeirdFont.TTF and unless they send it to us we can't use it, etc. Word is a publisher's nightmare. Many users have it set to US Letter, even though their printer is A4, so when you open a document they create on a correctly configured machine, the layout is wrong. Font substitutions aren't highlighted and are hard to detect. The list goes on.

If you must do your document in OO.o, at least make sure to provide a PDF as the end product. Most printers will appreciate it if you also supply them with the original document (and all fonts + images used in it), but the PDF will probably get used anyway.

If you need more serious desktop publishing, look in to Scribus. It's getting to be quite a nice, easy to use and very powerful app, though definitely still being polished up. It supports PDF/X-3, so you can produce colour-managed high-quality PDFs that any PDF/X-3 compliant RIP (ask your printer if theirs is - it should be) will print without fuss.

Alternately, you might be able to beg access to a machine with QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign. Quark, in particular, isn't too hard to get the hang of for basic work. Getting access to these wallet-busting beamoths, on the other hand, isn't easy unless you have a friend in a print house, advertising agency, publisher, newspaper, or (maybe) the marketing dep't at work.

A final option is to use GhostScript or Adobe Acrobat Distiller to convert output "printed" from any app into a PDF. This approach may also be problematic if you need to send your job to a print house, as most programs don't give you control over the choice of CMYK or RGB colour spaces. On the other hand, it's probably better than sending a Word, or (worse) Microsoft Publisher document. There are tools that let you use GhostScript as a "PDF Printer" on Windows, and the function is built into many Linux distros already.

In the end, you just need to make sure that if you're sending the document for use elsewhere, that it confirms to the requirements the recipient sets. Checking this will save you time and frustration.

Also, as others have noted, the usual acronym for desktop publishing is DTP. Expect confused looks if you say "DP" instead.

Craig Ringer
IT Manager
POST Newspapers

OOo needs handy layer management

Anonymous's picture

I'd like to see a handy layer management in OOo (something like in Photoshop maybe: separate floating layer menu with opacity [slider], layer locking and visibility indicator).
For a start that would be really nice.

Re: OOo needs handy layer management

Bruce_Byfield's picture

OOo handles layers by giving each one a separate tab at the bottom of the screen. I don't think that there's an opacity control, but you can set locking and visibility. If either one is set, the name of the tab appears in blue.

Good article. (give the author a break!)

Anonymous's picture

Hi there,
The article is a good one. Failry well written and informative. Why must people tear the author apart for nit picky things?

If you all could do better, write a whole damn article yourself in your repy, instead of a short negative criticism.

Re: Good article. (give the author a break!)

Anonymous's picture

Bravo !

Re: Good article. (give the author a break!)

Anonymous's picture

I agree with you. I think it was a good article for us newbee's using OOo. Some people just think they are better and smarter if they tear the author apart for nit picky things.
I use OOo on my linux box and am very pleased with the results. The learning curve is relatively easy and intuative.

Re: Good article. (give the author a break!)

Karl's picture

Thanks, appreciate ALL of the comments and feedback.

--Karl Agee

The value of PDF not to be understated ..

Anonymous's picture

A few years ago, I had a project preparing a show flyer (maybe 12 pages) for an organization and got into an incredible catch-22 with MS Publisher.

I went out and purchased a new copy of Publisher2002, created this big file on a CD and went to the local CopyMax figuring this was surely the lowest common denominator.

They only had Publisher2001, totally incompatible with P2002. No other copy shop in 75 miles had anything but Pub2001. However, you could not BUY 2001 anywhere, only 2002. The Pub2002 exporter to the old format seemed to work, but produced only garbage when read by Pub2001.

I finally got it (Pub2002) on to a machine at my office with Acrobat Distiller and produced a PDF burned to the CD and taken to the copy shop that they read with no problem - and printed up the 500 program copies.

Working with PDF as the target format from the beginning would have saved me a LOT of work.

Install a PS Printer and Print to File

MadStork's picture

Here's another work-around that is a more "general" solution to the problem of MS producing incompatible, proprietary formats.....

In a pinch anyone can install a PostScript printer, then "print to file" . Most copy shops can handle a PS file natively, though if you are talking to a lacky at the front desk they might not realize they can.

There are also a lot of Postscript to PDF applications and web services that can do the conversion easily.

Google (as always is your friend)

Re: The value of PDF not to be understated ..

Anonymous's picture

Absolutely. MS Publisher is a particularly nasty case, because few printing houses really want to deal with it. They'll often have a copy, but rarely mention it if you ask what formats they prefer. In my experience it's actually been harder to support printing Publisher documents than MS Word documents (!!), despite Publisher allegedly being a DTP package.

Re: Good article. (give the author a break!)

Anonymous's picture

I just think that there are so many people picky about these issues because they appear right from the start of the article: OpenOffice is NOT a DTP application. To stay as compatible as possible with Microsoft Word, Star/OpenOffice chose to go for wordflowbased textprocessing instead of truely framebased textprocessing. While the result might appear tiny on the first glimpse sooner or later you'll run into troubles if you want to do "more" or even real DTP.
If you want to do real DTP you might want to consider scribus:

Re: Desktop Publishing with

Anonymous's picture

Industry Standard abbreviation of Desktop Publishing is DTP.
If author of this article does not know this, my guess is he knows only a little about DTP. And he admits it.

This is not DTP, it's just advanced printing with some simple graphics, IMHO.

Re: Desktop Publishing with

Anonymous's picture

It may well be the "industry standard" (which I doubt) but it is good writting practice to spell things out when you are writting for a novice public - and that is exactly what this article is about. And I find little humility in your opinion!

Re: Desktop Publishing with

Anonymous's picture

This is one area where StarDivsion/Sun/OOo screwed up in that *Writer is too much like M$-Weird. StarOffice/OOo does have a lot going for it as far as being cross platform and having a well documented file format (good for very long term document retention).
I've used various versions of Word for DOS and Windblows as well as StarOffice/OOo, but none of them are as good for even rudimentary DTP work as Island Write Draw & Paint. With Island Write, laying out the page was a matter of placing containers where I wanted them - and the containers could be irregularly shaped to boot. Text boxes could be placed anywhere and the text could be edited at any time (the text boxes on StarOffice/OOo are just plain irritating by comparison). Unfortunately, the last upgrade for IWD&P was in 1996. :-(
From what I hear of KOffice, it would be a better choice for simple DTP - things could be really interesting if the KOffice crew can achieve file format compatibiity with OOo.

Re: Desktop Publishing with

Anonymous's picture

The people at KOffice is really into adopting th OASIS standard. Actually the head developers of KOffice are on the OASIS ( board. Koffice (

Re: Desktop Publishing with

Anonymous's picture

"DP" is actually the abbreviation for "Data Processing", although that is now somewhat archaic. Anyone who doesn't know that DTP is the standard abbreviation probably has never read anything on Desktop Publishing before - which just goes to show that it's wise to have at least a cursory look at the existing literature in a field before opening your own mouth and putting your foot in it.

Re: Desktop Publishing with

Anonymous's picture

A comparison with Scribus would have been really really useful

Re: Desktop Publishing with

Karl's picture

For an article on Scribus, please see the November 2003 of the print edition of Linux Journal, on page 88.

--Karl Agee