We're All Professional Publishing House Operatives Now

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OK, yes, I was tempted to find a title based on Slade's famous hit song Mama Weer All Crazee Now but finally caved in to the demands of the Word spelling checker. Not that this has anything at all to do with the topic of this week's ramble, which is about how home publishing has changed.

I occasionally get requests to produce a booklet, poster, or other printed material to celebrate friends' weddings or christenings, for local events, or as publicity material for colleagues. Probably it's because they think I'm "good with computers", even though I have almost no artistic design capability. However, while producing a small booklet for some friends this week it struck me just how much easier it is now to produce professional results.

When I first started doing things like this, very many years ago, the process involved more driving around in the car than actual computing. My dot matrix printer could never output good enough quality so all the text was created on my Mother's ancient typewriter. Text for hymns and psalms came from a hymn book borrowed from our local church. Photos came from prints done at the local chemist's shop, or by my Dad in his darkroom. Heading text was often Letraset rub-on transfers. All of these bits were cut out and mounted on card, then photo-copied at the local library.

Of course, it wasn't long before I purchased my first mono laser printer that, in combination with a DTP application, provided endless opportunities for different fonts, text sizes, and layout. I could even incorporate the rather grainy and washed out images that early home scanners could extract from photographs. It really felt like you were doing proper publishing. Except that, without some artistic ability, everything came out looking like a church newsletter. Which was OK when I was actually doing a church newsletter, but a bit boring if it's to promote the local gardening club show.

At times, in the days when I actively wrote and sold my own software, I would create professional leaflets. The layout and design were usually copied from something I saw in a magazine. The big problem was getting the design from screen to paper with the kind of quality I needed, and in large volumes. Luckily the DTP program I was using then could generate three-color print files that my local print shop could feed into their huge print line. They cost a fortune, and I doubt ever paid for themselves in increased sales, but they looked beautiful.

So this week, as I was creating a small commemorative booklet, I realized just how easy it has all become. Microsoft Publisher contains a host of attractive design templates, and there are more online, so generating the outline was easy. Most of the text was provided by the friends, sent by email so I didn't even need to type it in. And they emailed the digital colour photos taken on their phone, which I could quickly tidy up, crop, and adjust in Paint Shop. The words of the hymns, psalms, and songs they wanted are available on the web, so I didn't need to type these in either.

And then, before committing it to print, I generated a PDF and emailed it over so they could check it. Adjustments to content and layout are easy, and after three or four electronic interchanges I could simply dump the whole thing as a print job to my double-sided color laser printer; onto photo card for the cover and nice buff-colored pages for the inside. The result is startlingly professional, and all without ever needing to go out of the house.

Except that I had to go out to a local print shop because I still haven't got round to buying a long-arm stapler. Maybe the next leap forward will be home printers that can fold and then ultrasonically bind the pages together...

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We're All Professional Publishing House Operatives Now