Stumbling Through the Jargon...Part One

I remember just how easily I stumbled into and became hooked on DeskTop Publishing. Simply browsing through the programs on a friends' PC, I noticed the now familiar balloon icons of CorelDraw3. A double click later and I became intrigued, I was able to choose fonts, draw shapes, create colors, bend and shape words. Then minutes later, I tried Corel PhotoPaint, loaded a sample image and was knocked out. I couldn't believe what could be done, I could take any photo, change colors, move parts around, mix different images together. Within fifteen minutes I was hooked on DTP, and at the time I didn't know what any of the terms meant, but I was having enormous fun. I could load images, enter headings and headlines, and with just a single PC, a color printer and a couple of programs I could create my own magazine (or so I thought at the time).

Much trial and error followed, and I would spend hours playing around with PhotoPaint and CorelDraw. I'd take a magazine and work out how a page was created, then I'd attempt to do the same with software I had. Things were progressing greatly, my 'on screen' documents looked just like real magazine pages, or CD covers. Then things became tricky.

As I delved further into the software, it became very apparent that there was a whole lot more to this than just creating 'pretty pictures'. Suddenly I was faced with a load of printing jargon, that made computing jargon look simple. Spot colors, process colors, halftone screen frequencies, resolution, bitmaps, vector images, palettes, scanning resolutions, TIF, BMP, RGB color, CMYK color, PostScript, color gamut, nodes, TrueType, halftones, line-art, greyscales, the list went on and on. I looked through a Aldus PhotoStyler manual, a section covering the mathematics of scanning resolutions, I wished I hadn't. It looked like a math book from my school days and I hated math. All I wanted to do, was to create good looking documents, but to do so, I was going to have to learn some new jargon and formulae.

I re-read the Aldus PhotoStyler book, tried out the software, then looked through the Corel books again. This time the jargon started to make sense, it was there for a reason, not just to complicate matters. In fact, the jargon was there to help, the formulae were there to help, not to hinder my progress through DTP. Suddenly, once I understood it, I enjoyed working out scanning resolutions (weird I know), I realized what CMYK color is and why some of my earlier RGB colors would not print on my friends bubble-jet printer. It all started to fall into place and I was no longer scared by the jargon, but encouraged by learning about it. Things became fun again. I realized I had earlier set myself an impossible task. Because the software may be intuitive, I expected myself to already know the technical printing terms, intuitively, without being taught or learning about it. Once I realized that the terms had to and could be learnt, that they were not intuitive, I was never intimidated by the jargon again. After all, unless someone explains it to you or you read about it, how are you excepted to know the different between spot color and process color?

After I learned enough on the computer and printing side to be able to get by, I became interested in the graphic design side. However, this time I was not scared by any jargon. I was buying and reading (or should that be looking through?) books, that had nothing to do with computing at all, had almost no text, just page after page of superb looking designs, page layouts the like of which I'd never seen before. Then more jargon; leading, kerning, tracking, wordspace, hyphenation, hot zones, kerned pairs, ligatures, non lining numbers, swash characters, ellipsis, dingbats, en space, em space, x height, caps height, again the list goes on and on. Once I had read about it, this too was making sense. I switched from buying computer magazines to subscribing to design magazines, I was looking through font catalogues, rather than computer catalogues. Again things were fun, font specimen books were intriguing, the design magazines were full of ideas I could try with the software.

Realizing I was into this more than anything else on the computer, I took the plunge, and bought Adobe Photoshop. Everything I'd learnt earlier still applied, Photoshop was far more powerful than my earlier software, but no more complicated to use. Friends started to ask me to put things together for them, then friends of friends, then local and not so local businesses. Then another plunge, and I became a Quark Xpress user, and because of what I'd learnt earlier, Xpress was not at all daunting.

This brings us up to the present, and the point of this article (yes, there really is one). It's taken many books, much trial and error, much tearing my hair our when things go wrong and far too many hours sat in front of my PC for me to learn about DTP and graphic design. I often wish someone or some book had told me all the basics in one go, right at the start. To have all the jargon and gobbledegook simply explained and demystified from the very start would have been brilliant. I could have stopped worrying about it, and just got on with it. That's what I hope next months part two of this article will do, could be subtitled "everything I know now, that I wish I'd known when I started". Part one has been an introduction and hopefully explains why not to fear the jargon, and why it's there, next month we'll get down to details and thoroughly demystify it all.

In the meantime, if you have any DTP related questions, or any comments or feedback, please feel free to email me at the address below. I'd also be very interested to hear which DTP programs most readers use, later articles will have hints and tips, and I'd like to know which programs to specifically cover. If I'm not too late, have a Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year, and until next month happy DTP'ing.


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