Becoming a Desktop Publisher: Job Description & Salary Information

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A desktop publisher's median annual salary is around $38,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a desktop publisher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Desktop Publishing

Desktop publishers use computer software to design, layout and format pages for print and online materials - everything from single-page documents to full-length books. If you are an artistic, detail-oriented person with excellent organizational skills, the following pros and cons can help you decide whether or not a career as a desktop publisher is right for you.

Pros of a Desktop Publishing Career
Experience can sometimes serve as a substitute for formal education*
Non-routine, project-oriented work*
Opportunity for on-the-job training*
Potential to acquire transferable skills*

Cons of a Desktop Publishing Career
Declines in printing and publishing industries will reduce job growth (5% decline predicted from 2012-2022)*
Publication deadlines may be stressful and require long hours*
Need for ongoing training to keep up with new and evolving technology*
Sedentary job with long periods of time spent in front of a computer screen*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Desktop publishers work with graphic artists, writers and editors to produce the master pages for books, brochures, corporate communications, magazines, newspapers and other related materials. Some desktop publishers may also be responsible for writing original content or editing the work of others for spelling, grammar and punctuation. As page designers, desktop specialists must have the ability to define a publication's purpose and audience, organize and prioritize information and arrange text and graphics in a comprehensible and aesthetically pleasing manner.

During the production process, some of the creative and technical duties of a desktop professional can include importing copy and graphic elements into desktop publishing software, editing photos and other artwork and formatting text. After a publication has been laid out, desktop professionals are also responsible for checking and correcting page proofs and converting files for print or online publication.

Career Prospects and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for desktop publishers were predicted to decline 5% between 2012 and 2022. One reason for this is that copy editors, graphic artists and Web designers are increasingly assuming more responsibility for tasks traditionally performed by desktop publishers. Other contributing factors include an increasing preference for online rather than print publishing and the ability to automate certain tasks normally managed by desktop publishers like creating initial page layouts and converting pages to PDFs.

In May of 2014, approximately half of desktop specialists worked in the publishing and printing industries, while the rest were employed by consulting services, specialized design services and other businesses that produced their own in-house materials. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for desktop publishers was $38,000, as of May 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

Although it is possible to obtain an entry-level position in desktop publishing without a college degree, experience with standard industry software is usually required to enter the field. A certificate program in desktop publishing offered by some community colleges is one way for non-degree seeking students to receive hands-on, cross-platform training in the use of common desktop publishing applications, such as Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office. Depending on the program, you may be able to earn your certificate after obtaining as few as 14 credit hours.

Associate degree programs with a specialization in desktop publishing or graphic design are also available at some community colleges, 4-year schools and universities. While each school may choose to emphasize different aspects of publishing or design, an associate's degree typically takes two years of full-time study to complete. At this level, students can broaden their skill sets by taking classes in business, corporate communications, graphic design, writing, editing and print production. Whether you decide to acquire your training through a certificate or an associate's degree program, potential employers will typically expect you to be able to work with some or all of the following programs and equipment:

  • Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher
  • Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, PageMaker and FrameMaker
  • QuarkXPress
  • Dreamweaver and Flash (Web design)
  • Use of scanners and other related tools

Job Postings from Real Employers

The hands-on training you can gain from a certificate or an associate's degree program in desktop publishing cannot be underestimated. As the following job postings from May 2012 demonstrate, while educational prerequisites and job responsibilities can vary, most potential employers are only interested in candidates who are proficient in common industry programs and who know how to prepare page layouts.

  • A photography company in Ohio is looking for a desktop publisher to lay out, type and proof electronic documents, as well as invoice work related to the production of church directories. A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement for this position, but an associate's degree in graphic arts is preferred. Additionally, candidates must have experience working with the following Adobe and Microsoft software: InDesign CS4, PageMaker, MS Publisher, Quark, Photoshop, Excel and Word.
  • A technical recruiting company in New York is advertising for a desktop publisher to format text and insert graphics for publication in a wide variety of printed materials, including technical manuals. The successful candidate will be able to type at 40 WPM, have three years of relevant desktop publishing experience and be proficient in the use of Adobe FrameMaker and Microsoft Word.
  • A staffing agency in Chicago has an opening for a desktop publisher with expert-level skills in PowerPoint, Word and Excel, a background in graphic design and the ability to set up presentations and master slides. A 2-year degree and three years of experience, including one in the financial industry, are required to apply for this position.
  • An architecture and design firm in Texas has an opportunity for a desktop publisher with a Bachelor of Science degree, two years of experience and the ability to produce print and marketing materials in a fast-paced environment. Qualified candidates will be proficient in the use of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and PowerPoint.
  • A company in Memphis is looking for a desktop publisher with a 4-year degree, between two and four years of experience and excellent customer service skills. This person will be responsible for the preproduction design and layout of company publications. Proficiency in QuarkXPress, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are a must. Experience with Freehand is a plus.

How to Get Ahead an Edge in the Field

The BLS indicated that opportunities in desktop publishing would likely be better for individuals who hold a degree in graphic design or a similar area or who possess various Web design, writing and editing skills. Although a Bachelor of Science was required to apply for one of the above job postings, and a technical graphics program can provide students with a background in printing technology, professional undergraduate programs in graphic design typically award a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). While the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) is careful to point out that one degree is not necessarily 'better' than another, it does indicate that a BFA is the more appropriate degree for students who seek to work as professional designers (aicad.org).

In a BFA program, two-thirds of the curriculum is centered around the visual arts, rather than the liberal arts. According to the AICAD, the curricular ratios will be the same no matter where students choose to continue their professional studies - an art college, a 4-year school or a university. Whether their goal is to work in print or on the Web, students in a BFA program can learn to use industry standard software and may take courses in graphic design theory, graphic design studio, production design and typography. They can also receive help preparing their portfolios and resumes. The portion of the curriculum devoted to liberal arts can also give professional design students the chance to develop their writing skills.

Other Careers to Consider

Graphic Designer

If you're interested in a creative job but the career outlook of desktop publishers is a deterrent, consider a career as a graphic designer. Similar to desktop publishers, graphic designers use computer software to combine text and images to produce visual messages. Unlike desktop publishers, they typically enjoy more creative autonomy. A bachelor's degree in graphic design or a related major and a strong portfolio are usually required to obtain a job in this field. As opposed to the diminishing opportunities for desktop publishers, employment of graphic designers was predicted to increase 13% from 2010-2020, as reported by the BLS. As of May 2011, the median annual salary for a graphic designer was about $44,000.

Editor

Editors review and revise print and electronic materials for publication. An editor's job description often varies according to their level of employment, the company for which they work and the type of content for which they are responsible. For example, a copy editor's duties include correcting spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, revising texts for readability and checking manuscripts for factual accuracy. On the other hand, managing editors oversee the day-to-day operations of the news department for magazines, newspapers or television broadcast companies. Executive editors manage the work of assistant editors, reporters and writers, determine which stories will be covered and published, create budgets and negotiate freelance writers' contracts.

A bachelor's degree in English, communications or journalism and computer skills are usually required to obtain a job as an editor. According to the BLS, little or no change in employment was projected for editors between 2010 and 2020. Although the print publishing industry is declining, online publications may provide new employment opportunities for editors. As of May 2011, editors earned a median annual salary of around $52,000, as reported by the BLS.

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Full Sail University

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Purdue University

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The Art Institutes

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Colorado State University Global

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