Desktop publishers use computer software to design page layouts for newspapers, books, brochures, and other items that are printed or put online. They collect the text, graphics, and other materials they will need and format them into a finished product.


Desktop publishers typically do the following:

  • Gather existing materials or work with designers and writers to create new artwork or text
  • Find and edit graphics, such as photographs or illustrations
  • Use scanners to turn drawings and other materials into digital images
  • Import text and graphics into desktop publishing software programs
  • Position artwork and text on the page layout
  • Select formatting properties, such as text size, column width, and spacing
  • Check proofs, or preliminary layouts, for errors and make corrections
  • Finalize formatted documents for printing or electronic publication
  • Send final files to a commercial printer or print the documents on a high-resolution printer

Desktop publishers use publishing software to create page layouts for print or electronic publication. In addition to designing pages, desktop publishers may edit or write text. Some desktop publishers might be responsible for correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar or for writing original content themselves.

Desktop publishers’ 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 one part of the publishing process.

Desktop publishers work with other design and media professionals, such as writers, editors, and graphic designers. For example, they work with graphic designers to come up with images that complement the text and fit the available space.

Work Environment

Desktop publishers held about 16,400 jobs in 2012. About one-third of them worked in publishing industries. Most of the rest worked for companies in other industries that produce their own printed materials, including advertising and public relations industries which are included in professional, scientific, and technical services. 

The industries that employed the most desktop publishers in 2012 were as follows:

Newspaper, periodical, book, and
directory publishers
Printing and related support activities 16
Professional, scientific, and technical services 12
Administrative and support services 8

Work Schedules

Many desktop publishers work full time. They may need to work long hours to meet publication deadlines.

Education and Training

Desktop publishers have a variety of educational backgrounds, but most have earned some form of postsecondary degree or award, such as an associate’s degree.


Desktop publishers have various educational backgrounds, but postsecondary education, such as an associate’s degree, is typical. Workers usually learn some of their skills on the job. Computer skills, including knowledge of desktop publishing software, are important.

Although many desktop publishers have earned associate’s degrees, others have earned postsecondary nondegree awards. These usually take less than 2 years to complete, or they sometimes earn bachelor’s degrees. Experience in a related field can sometimes substitute for education.

Those who earn degrees usually study fields such as graphic design, graphic arts, or graphic communications. Community colleges and trade and technical schools also may offer desktop publishing courses. These classes teach students about desktop publishing software used to format pages and how to import text and graphics into electronic page layouts.


Desktop publishers learn some of their skills on the job. They learn by observing more experienced workers or by taking classes that teach them how to use desktop publishing software. Ongoing training is often necessary, as technologies and desktop publishing software change.

Important Qualities

Artistic ability. Desktop publishers must have a good eye for how graphics and text will look to create pages that are visually appealing, legible, and easy to read.

Communication skills. Desktop publishers talk through different concepts for a page layout with writers, editors, and graphic designers. They listen to ideas and explain their own.

Computer skills. Many desktop publishers use computer software exclusively when creating page layouts and formatting text and graphics.

Detail oriented. When designing and reviewing page layouts, desktop publishers must pay careful attention to details such as margins, font sizes, and the overall appearance and accuracy of their work. 

Organizational skills. Desktop publishers often work under strict deadlines and must be good at scheduling and prioritizing tasks in order to have a document ready on time for publication.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Many employers prefer to hire workers who have experience in preparing layouts. This experience can sometimes substitute for formal education, such as a degree in graphic design.


The median annual wage for desktop publishers was $37,040 in May 2012. 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 $19,740, and the top 10 percent earned more than $60,470.

Many desktop publishers work full time. They may need to work long hours to meet publication deadlines.

Job Outlook

Employment of desktop publishers is projected to decline 5 percent from 2012 to 2022. Companies are expected to hire fewer desktop publishers, as other types of workers—such as graphic designers, web designers, and copy editors—increasingly take on desktop publishing tasks.

Desktop publishing is commonly used to design printed materials, such as advertisements, brochures, newsletters, and forms. However, increased computer-processing capacity and the widespread availability of more elaborate desktop publishing software make it easier and more affordable for nonprinting professionals to create their own materials. As a result, there will be less need for people to specialize in desktop publishing.

Some of the tasks that desktop publishers do, such as creating initial page layouts or converting pages to PDF files, can now be automated, further reducing employment.

Overall declines in the printing and publishing industries—those most likely to employ desktop publishers—will also restrict growth. As organizations increasingly publish their materials electronically instead of in print to save on printing and distribution costs, employment of desktop publishers may decline further.

Job Prospects

Prospects will be better for those with a degree in graphic design or a related field, or for those with experience in desktop publishing. Electronic and web-publishing expertise are increasingly in demand. Workers with a diverse range of skills, such as graphic design, web design, writing, and editing may have better prospects.

For More Information

For more information about the printing industry, visit

Printing Industries of America

Society for Technical Communication