What do Desktop Publishers Do

Desktop Publishers

Desktop publishers use computer software to format and combine text, data, photographs, charts, and other graphic art or illustrations into prototypes of pages and other documents that are to be printed. They then may print the document on a high-resolution printer or send the materials to a commercial printer. Examples of materials produced by desktop publishers include books, brochures, calendars, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and forms. 

Desktop publishers typically design and create the graphics that accompany text, find and edit photographs and other digital images, and manipulate the text and images to display information in an attractive and readable format. They design page layouts, develop presentations and advertising campaigns, and do color separation of pictures and graphics material. Some desktop publishers may write some of the text or headlines used in newsletters or brochures. 

Desktop publishers use the appropriate software to enter and select formatting properties, such as the size and style of type, column width, and spacing. Print formats are stored in the computer and displayed on its monitor. New information, such as charts, pictures, or more text, can be added. An entire newspaper, catalog, or book page, complete with artwork and graphics, can be created on the screen exactly as it will appear in print. Then, digital files are used to produce printing plates. Like photographers and multimedia artists and animators, desktop publishers can create special effects or other visual images with the use of film, video, computers, or other electronic media. 

Computer software and printing technology continue to advance, making desktop publishing more economical and efficient than before. Other innovations in the occupation include digital color page-makeup systems, electronic page-layout systems, and off-press color proofing systems. In addition, most materials are reproduced on the Internet as well as printed; therefore, desktop publishers may need to know electronic publishing software, such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), and may be responsible for converting text and graphics to an Internet-ready format.

Some desktop publishers may write and edit, as well as layout and design pages. For example, in addition to laying out articles for a newsletter, desktop publishers may be responsible for copyediting content or for writing original content themselves. Desktop publisher's writing and editing responsibilities may vary widely from project to project and employer to employer. Smaller firms typically use desktop publishers to perform a wide range of tasks, while desktop publishers at larger firms may specialize in a certain part of the publishing process. 

Desktop publishers also may be called publications specialists, electronic publishers, DTP operators, desktop publishing editors, electronic prepress technicians, electronic publishing specialists, image designers, typographers, compositors, layout artists, and Web publications designers. The exact name may vary with the specific tasks performed or simply by personal preference. \

Work Environment

Desktop publishers held about 8,200 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of desktop publishers were as follows:

  • Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers - 25%
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services - 13%
  • Self-employed workers - 11%
  • Printing and related support activities - 11%

Work Schedules

Many desktop publishers work full time, and they may need to work additional hours to meet publication deadlines.

Education & Training Required

There is generally no educational requirement for the job of desktop publisher. Most people learn on the job or by taking classes online or through local learning centers that teach the latest software. For those who are interested in pursuing a career in desktop publishing, an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree in graphic arts, graphic communications, or graphic design is preferred. Graphic arts programs are a good way to learn about the desktop publishing software used to format pages, assign type characteristics, and import text and graphics into electronic page layouts. Courses in other aspects of printing also are available at vocational institutes and private trade and technical schools.

Other Skills Required

Although formal training is not always required, those with certificates or degrees will have the best job opportunities. Most employers prefer to hire people who have at least a high school diploma and who possess good communication abilities, basic computer skills, and a strong work ethic. Desktop publishers should be able to deal courteously with people, because they have to interact with customers and clients and be able to express design concepts and layout options with them. In addition, they may have to do simple math calculations and compute ratios to scale graphics and artwork and estimate job costs. A basic understanding of, and facility with, computers, printers, scanners, and other office equipment and technologies also is needed to work as a desktop publisher.

Desktop publishers need good manual dexterity, and they must be able to pay attention to detail and work independently. In addition, good eyesight, including visual acuity, depth perception, a wide field of view, color vision, and the ability to focus quickly, are assets. Artistic ability often is a plus. Employers also seek persons who are even tempered and adaptable—important qualities for workers who frequently must meet deadlines and learn how to operate new equipment.

How to Advance

Workers with limited training and experience assist more experienced staff on projects while they learn the software and gain practical experience. They advance on the basis of their demonstrated mastery of skills. Some may move into supervisory or management positions. Other desktop publishers may start their own companies or work as independent consultants, while those with more artistic talent and further education may find job opportunities in graphic design or commercial art.

Job Outlook

Employment of desktop publishers is projected to decline 12 percent from 2020 to 2030.

Despite declining employment, about 800 openings for desktop publishers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


Desktop publishing is commonly used to design printed materials, such as advertisements, brochures, newsletters, and forms. Companies are expected to hire fewer desktop publishers, however, as other types of workers—such as graphic designers, web designers, and editors—increasingly perform desktop-publishing tasks.

As organizations increasingly publish their materials electronically instead of printing them, employment of desktop publishers may decline further.


The median annual wage for desktop publishers was $46,910 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,770, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $79,630.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for desktop publishers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services - $74,940
  • Printing and related support activities - $48,620
  • Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers - $36,980

Many desktop publishers work full time, and they may need to work additional hours to meet publication deadlines.