InDesign vs LaTeX & Word


The fascination for a book can be provoked both by its content and by it’s appearance. The famous motto “Guilty was the book and who wrote it” doesn’t miss the point but, in practical terms, designing a book implies illustrative talent, familiarity with the object and knowledge about standards and formats used in printing which is not that simple to achieve.
Image one
I’m not speaking about pure graphic design but I’m trying to discuss, instead, if it’s better to use a typesetting system or a desktop publishing software in order to design a publication (which could be a magazine even or something more simple than a book). For typesetting system i mean something like LaTeX, and for desktop publishing software I mean mostly InDesign, but you could alternatively use Xpress, or some open source software, that will be mentioned later in this article.

LaTeX is an old software, used for academic essays and which deals with the aspects of a publication directly as a mark-up language (strictly similar to html, for example). It is powerful and built to give a perfect layout to mathematical formulas; it’s very efficient doing it. You’ll find much documentation online about LaTeX, as long as you’re not searching for something exhaustive. In that alternative case try using some manual as learning to use it by experience could be a pretty painful attempt.

Some example of LaTeX document are my math notes (which are sadly in Italian) taken in a hurry and typed in the same manner. When you type in LaTeX you can omit to care about the appearance, cause once you’ve decided the structure of the document, the layout won’t be any more a problem. The same work would take much more time and many more “clicks” made with Word or with Pages (same software as word but made by Apple), and even if the layout would probably be more colorful and easy to write it wouldn’t grasp the same perfect organization of the mathematical formulas and margin notes. In the example i don’t use footnotes, but they are obviously included in the software as they should in any academical typesetting system.

Font view Adobe
On the opposite side you’ll find software like Scribus which is still not at the level of a professional desktop publishing application, unless you only design comics books. However it is worth for learning some basic skills like styles for paragraphs and master-pages.

As Word and Pages can afford lots of professional work they’ll never have the same capabilities as that of the Adobe software, the open source software community will probably hate me saying this but the challenge between the two creative software suite (the one of adobe and the open source one) is already won at the starting point, while the adobe applications are completely integrated one with the other and can manage many more formats and standard for illustrations design. How ever this focus on the illustrative side of the publication has is negative side as it will take you in a place of amenities which can turn a readable layout in something kitch and trivial (and if you take a look to some online tutorial you’ll get the idea).

Examples of work made with the adobe software are here but they don’t aim to be perfect at all, they only want to look more stylish than the one of the video.

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