A Low-Budget Option for Publishing

RICHARD O'REILLY <i> is director of computer analysis for The Times</i>

Can you really get high quality desktop publishing software for IBM and compatible computers for about $100?

Yes, if you buy Express Publisher version 2.0 at its typical discounted “street” price. Published by PowerUp Software Corp. of San Mateo, Calif., (415) 345-5900, the program carries a suggested price of $160.

Desktop publishing, which means producing typeset-quality newsletters, brochures, pamphlets and the like, is one of the most demanding tasks you can ask of your personal computer.

The single most important aspect of any desktop publishing program is the choice of fonts--typeface designs--that you get.

Express Publisher gives an excellent choice of 10 typefaces, each of which can be scaled in size from six points to 144 points in one-point increments. That’s a range suitable for everything from the fine print to the biggest headline.


The fonts are Compugraphic’s Intellifont Scalable Typefaces licensed from Agfa Corp., and even the largest sizes produce smooth curves and diagonals, not jagged edges, on a standard laser printer. (Dot matrix printers can also be used.)

Because the type is scalable, you don’t have to build and store a permanent font set on your hard disk for each size you use in a document. Instead, Express Publisher temporarily creates just the typefaces and sizes you are currently using.

That saves a lot of disk storage space. Even so, it takes 4.4 megabytes of hard disk space to store Express Publisher, its font outlines and collection of 109 clip art images.

The program will run on any PC-compatible with at least 640 kilobytes of random access memory (RAM), but it performs much better on 80286 or 80386-equipped machines with additional memory. The faster your microprocessor chip and the more memory you have, the faster the program works and the more complex your page designs can be.

Also, although it will run on old-fashioned low-resolution CGA monitors, you’ll want an up-to-date color VGA monitor to see your work at its best on the screen while you create. (However, Express Publisher produces only black and white documents. It does not support color printing.)

A feature new to this latest version of Express Publisher is called Text Effects. It lets you transform type into true graphics images. For instance, you can add drop shadows to give an illusion of depth. You can make the type grow or diminish in size across the page or print it at an angle. You can even flow it in a curve around a circle.

You’ll see jaggies in the edges of some text effects on a standard laser printer, however. But smooth edges are possible on laser printers equipped with PostScript, which enables higher-resolution graphics printing.

Express Publisher is not a Windows program, but it has its own graphical user interface that looks a lot like Windows. A Windows version is planned for release later this year, but look for it to cost about twice as much.

The program is quite easy to use, especially with a mouse. There are pull-down menus to provide a host of function choices. Some complex tasks are easily invoked by clicking on an icon image. One such icon lets you quickly control the way text flows onto a page from one column to another.

Graphic images from a wide range of paint, drawing and graphics presentation software can be placed on an Express Publisher page. You can wrap text closely around one side of such images, following the ins and outs of the image.

A wide variety of clip-art images in medium- and high-resolution renditions are provided, so you don’t need other graphics software programs. Additional clip-art collections can be purchased.

You don’t have to be a graphics artist to produce pleasing layout designs because Express Publisher provides a choice of templates to get you started.

But if you come up with your own design and want to reuse it, it is easy to create your own template. It can even be automated to a degree so that a less-experienced user could follow directions to create next month’s edition of a newsletter or update a flyer.

The program invites experimentation. There is no set procedure you must follow to produce a page. You can simply open a blank page on the screen and begin placing rectangular “frames” to mark where headlines or other large type or text or graphics images should go. Once the frames are in place it is a simple matter to fill them with contents.

You can even create text directly in a frame with the mini-word processing function built into the program. But it is easier to use your favorite word processor and then import the text onto the page. Text attributes, like boldfacing, italicizing and underlining, made with the word processor will be transferred along with the text from most programs.

You can size and crop graphics and even do pixel editing on some kinds of graphic images.

Another important tool for improving appearance allows you to “kern” the letters of large type, which adjusts their spacing so that the letters fit together better.

You can control the look of text columns in several ways. One is automatic hyphenation to fill out the lines. Another is to alter the spacing between lines and paragraphs in tiny increments.

It is important to recognize that some important features of more expensive desktop publishing software aimed at professional use are missing. For instance, there is no table of contents or indexing feature. Express Publisher is not meant to produce books or lay out the pages of a magazine or a real newspaper.

It is excellent, however, for those of us who only occasionally need to do desktop publishing.

Computer File welcomes readers’ comments but regrets that the author cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O’Reilly, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.