There is no ‘win’ with Word!

15 Jun There is no ‘win’ with Word!

We can do so much using Word BUT the initial intention of Word was never to be a page layout program. It was meant to be a word processing program, meaning something you can use to create letters, proposals, etc. It was never meant to be utilised to create book layouts, brochures, detailed fliers etc. despite the fact that it now has templates to do all those things.

It’s therefore tempting to believe that anyone can be a graphic designer and that they can create beautiful publications using Word. This is a huge mistake.

Good graphic design is a subtle art that takes into account many skills like typography, white space use, image selection, alignment and the creation of tone and texture etc. Needless to say graphic designers spend many years learning these skills to create professional layouts. We like to use the following analogy when authors want to use word for book layout … You know how to change a light bulb but would you rewire your own house.

We have InDesign and Word on our computers.
We use Indesign for… well… design
We use Word for… opening other people’s docs!

Word is NOT a graphic design application. One of the skills that graphic designers learn is how to use the applications required for computer generated graphic design. These applications include InDesign and/or Quark Xpress for desktop publishing. Photoshop is the industry standard for image manipulation, while Illustrator is the favoured application for drawing images.

There are many reasons why NOT to use Word for your book layout:


  1. You cannot easily control the canvas size because Word margins adjust according to the computer’s default printer settings.
  2. You cannot easily control a font’s kerning (space between letters) in Word and cannot tailor kerning for individual sets of letters. Also, if a Word document is opened on a computer without the fonts installed then Word changes the font to one that the computer does have installed.
  3. You cannot control, with precision, the leading (pronounced ledding). Leading is the typographer’s word for line spacing. Yes you can control it up to a point in Word with single or double line spacing etc. However convention suggests a leading value of 50%—that’s 50% larger than (1.5 times the size of) your chosen typeface. In other words, if you’re using 12-point type, start with 18 point leading. Word does not give you anywhere as much control (See example on last page).
  4. In word you cannot explore the fundamentals of book design as word does not give you such control. Take ‘Optical Margins’ as an example. These are one thing you won’t get your word processor to do, but with a dedicated typesetting program like Adobe InDesign, you can improve the look of your book design with a simple feature. The hanging punctuation makes the edges of the text look straighter even though we have pushed portions of it past the guides to produce “straight text.” It looks straighter even though it’s not. Optical margins make better book design.
  5. Commercial printers will generally NOT accept Word files because they cannot control the output, however that said some will build it into the print cost and create pdfs to print from. Digital printers such as Lightning Source and Ingram Sparks will not accept word files only PDF layouts. (You can make PQ-PDFs from Word, but you have a built-black problem as mentioned in #7 below).


More complex:

  1. Word cannot handle EPS graphic files well and it isn’t a page layout program. Yes, you can insert all kinds of images into Word, but it is difficult to lock an image in place on a page and control the way that text flows round it. Essentially it’s more difficult and time consuming to get graphics to ‘stay put’ on a page, wrap text around them, and control them. Graphics tend to ‘fly off’ to other pages. Even when you steps to painstakingly anchor graphics correctly, you get drastic reflow of graphics.
  2. Furthermore graphics do not translate well from Word into the world of offset or digital printing, which typically requires a high resolution CMYK image, especially TIFs and other bitmapped formats. When an image is placed into Word, often it is automatically converted to an RGB image which is not advisable for digital printing (and definitely not for offset printing). Sometimes these graphics may get converted back to CMYK for a ‘Press-Quality PDF’ by the printer. This sounds like there isn’t a problem and there is a simple solution. BUT when you preflight the resulting PQ-PDF you end up with built blacks (not 100% black) for any text that was in the graphic, like 8 pt labels on charts. Text in a built black (process builds of 60-70-80-90 for example rather than 100% black) is too small for offset presses to print and you’ll end up with yellow or magenta or cyan halos around the text. Digital print (or desktop printers) can be okay with text in a built black, but not offset printing.
  3. When considering colours, Word doesn’t use the colour matching system known as PMS (Pantone Matching System). PMS is the system that printing companies use to print your particular project. This is a standard in the design and printing industry and ensures that your project colours will match the colours you choose. A Word program only uses RGB (Red, Green Blue) and name colours such as ‘robin’s egg blue’ which will not work in the printing world. So you’ll pay a fortune at the prepress stage to get your film output correctly. That’s if they output it at all … you’ll never know!Word files are difficult to colour separate, if at all, and colour photos will be less than satisfactory. Essentially, you’ll spend a lot of money to get a very inferior print run.
  4. If you supply a manuscript created in Word to a printer, chances are you may pay more to have your project produced (you won’t know this and they certainly won’t tell you). This is due to the extra time that has to be spent to get your project to output correctly and in a way that is usable by the printer. Often this is built into the printing costs. You may also encounter a lower quality project because of the fact that it was created in Word … but you won’t know this at the time (don’t blame the printer because it is not in their interest to do so and they want to secure the print job).Another factor that you need to consider carefully is that printers are not book specialists so often they will redo your book (either set it up in Indesign or create a pdf from your word document) and in the process make some fundamental publishing errors i.e. page numbers on blank pages is quite often seen.
  5. Even though you can create columns in Word, typically text does not flow well. This is most noticeable when your Word document that you have carefully laid out and created your columns of text is opened up into someone else’s Word software… the text flow is totally out of whack! Images have jumped from the second to the third, your text runs off the page now, etc. Often it will look like a dog’s breakfast. Word does not transfer safely between computers (or even to printers’ computers).

In short … too much time is spent in layout/production using word … too much money will be spent at prepress to get usable correct print files when using word… and too many tears will be shed when you see the final inferior product.

To avoid all of the above mentioned points, it is best to use software that is intended for this type of work such as Adobe InDesign. Using a designer who sets out in InDesign will guarantee the flow of your text as well as your images place as you intended when printed. It will look professional, be received by the market place and the end users will view it as a quality product. Plus, you will save yourself money by doing it the right way from the beginning.

At Pickawoowoo we often get asked the question, ‘why can’t you use my Word document to print?’ Hopefully, this article highlights many of the concerns but if not, we have a question for you.

Question: Which is the most painful?

  1. Climb a cliff in stiletto heels.
  2. Walk naked through a mosquito infested rainforest.
  3. Use Word for book layout.

Answer: 3

Word (and Publisher) may have their place, but honestly it’s not for making professionally designed book layouts.

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