Starting a Desktop Publishing Business

Desktop publishing involves preparing documents for print or electronic publication. While many people are able to prepare a basic document themselves using word processing software or another software application, more complex documents or presentations may require advanced skills or expensive software. These skills or software needs are beyond the reach of many people and small businesses, thus creating a market for desktop publishers who have the skills, software, and hardware that is needed to prepare professional documents for publication.

The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of 2008 there were 26,400 people working as desktop publishers in the USA. Unfortunately, this number is projected to decline significantly over the decade from 2008 – 2018 with a projected 22.5 percent reduction in jobs. BLS reports “high” median annual wages at $36,600. According to BLS statistics there are no self-employed people in this field; however, many self-employed people are currently working in the desktop publishing business as this industry has always attracted solo entrepreneurs.


Getting Started


Getting started with a home-based, desktop publishing business may require an investment in hardware, software, and possibly training for some entrepreneurs. However, some people who would consider starting a home-based, desktop publishing business may already have the necessary technology and skills to start their business. The desktop publishing business requires a modern computer, desktop publishing software (this is quite different from word processing software, though this will be needed as well), color printers, and a camera and scanner. The exact list of necessary technology that is needed for this home-based business will depend on the work that is performed and the format in which clients deliver graphics and other materials. For example, if your clients always deliver graphics electronically then you may have little need for a scanner.


Entrepreneurs who do not have all of the necessary technology when they begin their business may still be able to get through those crucial first few contracts before making some of the investments. Assuming that an entrepreneur who is considering starting a home-based, desktop publishing business already owns a modern computer, the significant remaining technology expenses are likely to be a printer and desktop publishing software.


Software like that from Adobe and Microsoft can be downloaded and used on a trial basis for 30 days or longer before purchasing a license for the software. This is not an ideal way to start a business, but for the entrepreneur who has a signed contract and needs to deliver a completed product on a schedule this could delay the software expense until after the first project is completed and has been paid.


Desktop publishing entrepreneurs who have a modern print shop in their town may be able to postpone purchasing an expensive printer by outsourcing the printing until a printer can be purchased. For larger projects it may even be more cost effective to outsource the printing. The convenience of being able to print final documents in your office should not be overlooked, but as a temporary measure this may allow a desktop publishing business to be launched without an expensive printer investment.


Another option for cash-strapped entrepreneurs is to require a deposit when a contract is signed. This could allow the home-based, desktop publisher to purchase necessary software and supplies on a “pay as you go” basis for the first few contracts. This is certainly not an ideal scenario as it does add pressure to the business owner; however, this may work in certain situations and allow the business to pay for itself. Keep in mind though that this approach will limit the amount of money that can be taken out of the business as profit during the first few projects.




Business cards are a staple marketing product for many business people. Business cards are particularly important for a business like desktop publishing where they also serve as a graphic example of the desktop publisher’s design skills. Besides being a sort of micro-portfolio, business cards are an expected contact tool among professionals.


Websites have become another expected marketing tool among professional and businesses. Like with business cards, a website will also serve as an example of the desktop publisher’s design skills and talent. Those who do not plan to offer web design services as part of their desktop publishing business should contract out their web design to guarantee a professional site since the business will be judged by the website.


The current outsourcing trend can be used as a marketing angle by the home-based, desktop publisher. Small businesses or self-employed people may realize significant time and technology savings by outsourcing their desktop publishing needs to a desktop publisher. This argument is similar to the sales pitch made by attorneys and accountants when they argue that it is easier and more cost effective to hire a professional in these fields than for the small business owner to attempt the work themselves.




The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a decline in desktop publishing jobs over the next decade. These projections, if accurate, could put a damper on the business. On the other hand, BLS also reports that there are no self-employed people in the desktop publishing industry. This is, of course, quite incorrect. Should businesses cut desktop publishing jobs over the next decade it may create opportunities for the home-based desktop publisher to provide services to businesses that currently have employees handling their desktop publishing.


The rapid changes in software and technology are challenges for any business that depends on technology. This trend is not likely to change. Computers, printers, software, and other pieces of technology will need to be upgraded on a regular basis. The desktop publisher will do well to plan for regular upgrades to this equipment when setting rates and developing budgets.


Business insurance could be good for peace of mind given the investment a desktop publishing business is likely to maintain in technology and office supplies. A fire, theft, or natural disaster could mean disaster for an uninsured business that did not have the cash or credit to replace lost equipment immediately.




The desktop publishing business has been around for several decades since the advent of home computers and printers. The industry appears to be heading into a period of stagnation or decline, but these trends are not always easily forecast. More likely, this industry will see a shift away from paper presentations and documents and into electronic publishing. The demand for publication services will remain; the format of publications is destined to change. Desktop publishers who are prepared for these shifts toward digital publishing will be ready to profit.




United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Site accessed on 7 October 2010.


Jacci Howard Bear. Start a Desktop Publishing or Graphic Design Business. Site accessed on 23 November 2010.


Paul and Sarah Edwards. Starting a Desktop Publishing Business. Entrepreneur. Site accessed on 23 November 2010.

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