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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Why You Shouldn’t Use MS Word for Layout

Every so often someone asks me whether they can design their commercial printing projects in MS Word. This is particularly true for staff at large companies in which most people have a copy of MS Word, or for government workers who initially draft their publications in MS Word.

I’d like to give a cogent answer, other than just to say, “Aagh; please, don’t!” So I did some research among colleagues of mine who are designers and custom printing professionals, and I came up with a few reasons why using MS Word instead of InDesign or QuarkXPress is a bad idea. The key here is the output. For printing to a LaserWriter, it’s fine, but for professional digital and offset printing, it’s wise to avoid both MS Word and MS Publisher. Your commercial printing vendor will thank you.

Why Not Use MS Word?

Formatting Limitations

Word processors such as MS Word are descendents of typewriters, while applications such as InDesign and QuarkXPress are descendents of dedicated typesetting machines. Word processors do not have the precise control over tracking, kerning, justification, alignment, ligatures, and other nuances of fine typesetting that dedicated layout programs can provide.

Within a word processing application, one has less control over both the individual characters in a document and also the overall look (or “color”) of the text. Minuscule details within a block of copy combine to either facilitate or detract from the overall ease of reading.

In addition, multi-column layouts are very difficult to create or control in MS Word, but they are easy to create using a layout program.

Another reason to use professional layout programs rather than MS Word is that fonts provided for InDesign and QuarkXPress produce repeatable results on laser printers and platesetters. These fonts are designed for professional typesetting. In contrast, fonts available for MS Word and similar applications are system fonts lacking the nuances of type font design (such as ligatures, extended character sets, etc.).

Problems with Moving Graphics

Simply put, graphics often move within a MS Word file. It is very hard to anchor them to a specific position within the text or to wrap text around an image.

The Wrong Color Space for Printing

MS Word is an RGB application. It processes color within a RGB (red/green/blue) color space. This is not appropriate for commercial printing, which works within a CMYK color space (cyan/magenta/yellow/black). Converting from RGB to CMYK to prepare a MS Word PDF for custom printing can dramatically alter the color. In addition, black text within graphics (like labels in a chart or graph) will become a color build (composite percentages of RGB or CMYK) rather than 100 percent black. For small type (like 9 point labels in a chart) the offset press cannot hold the color register accurately, and the type may appear to be surrounded by colored halos.

Problematic PDF Creation

Creating a press ready PDF that an offset printer will accept is far more challenging when starting with a MS Word document than with an InDesign or QuarkXPress document. In some cases it may not even be possible.

Options to MS Word (and MS Publisher)

Between the suggestions my associates have made and the research I have done, it seems that there are a number of alternatives to MS Word when designing jobs for commercial printing. The two most popular applications are InDesign and QuarkXPress. However, for longer documents, you might want to check out FrameMaker or even LaTeX (good for text formatting but not as good for design, since it is not a visually oriented—WYSIWYG, or “what you see is what you get”–program). And for simple design, you might look into Apple’s Pages. Formatting controls are not as extensive as in InDesign or QuarkXPress, but for a two-page newsletter, it should be fine.

For those without much design experience, it’s possible to acquire templates for the various design programs. Placing your text into these preformatted documents will make it a lot easier for you to create attractive printed pieces if you are unsure of your own design ability.

What Is MS Word Good For?

I actually use MS Word (or the OpenOffice word processor) for its search and replace functions and to clean up and simplify copy before placing it in InDesign. After all, since most copy for publications I design initially comes to me in MS Word format, I use it for its strengths; however, I only use it as an interim step in the process of designing for custom printing.

2 Responses to “Commercial Printing: Why You Shouldn’t Use MS Word for Layout”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this outstanding article. It is definitely going to help me in near future.


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