Publishing and Design Made Easy

This session introduces you to simple and free solutions for desktop publishing (DTP). We'll start by looking at some essential principles of layout and design, then share some tips and ideas for producing creative content. You'll learn how to produce designs for brochures, postcards, newsletters, and even school magazines and create some practical hands-on projects.

Design and Layout

In a desktop publishing design tool such as the industry standard Adobe InDesign, pages are designed by being made up of objects. These objects can be freely placed anywhere on the page, although they often use an invisible underlying grid structure for aligning and giving some structure to how the objects are arranged. 

An example of a 4 column grid in InDesign

Objects can contain... 
  • Text boxes - either large text for headings and titles, or smaller text with readable content 
  • Images - such as photos, logos, cartoons, wordart, etc 
  • Shapes - rectangles, circles, stars, and other shapes, usually treated as blocks of colour 
The job of a designer is to place content on a page in a way that is both easy to read and pleasant to look at. Use grids! They might seem rigid, but there is a lot of scope for creativity in the way objects can be arranged on a page. 


A Word processor differs from a desktop publishing program because they are designed to perform different functions. Word processors, such as Google Docs, are meant to facilitate writing, and it has some great tools to help do this. But Google Docs is not great when it comes to page layout because it does not support things like text boxes and shapes. People often try to force Docs to “make the page pretty” but that’s not what it was meant to do.

So here’s an idea...

Instead of Google Docs, open Google Slides. Slides DOES support text boxes, shapes, and images. Unlike Docs, it allows them to be placed anywhere on the page (or slide). It also has some pretty good options to manage fonts, colours, line spacing, image cropping, etc. All the important things a desktop publishing tool needs. So let’s turn Slides into the missing desktop publishing tool that Google never gave us.

Go to the File menu and choose Page Setup. The standard options are for variations on a presentation slide - 4:3, 16:9 and 16:10 - since that’s what Google Slides is meant to make. But instead, select the Custom option and enter the dimensions for a typical printed page. 

Metric Sizes

A2    42cm x 59.4cm
A3    29.7cm x 42cm
A4    21cm x 29.7cm
A5    14.8cm x 21cm

You can, of course, make your page size whatever you prefer.  This site is useful for finding the dimensions of standard page sizes such as US Letter, Postcards, business cards, etc.

Now that you have a “slide” in the shape of a printed page, you can start thinking about it as a page rather than a slide. Add text boxes, shapes, images. Go nuts. Need more pages? Just add more “slides”.  There is no way to place an actual grid on the page, but just remember that underneath your design is an invisible grid and try to respect it!

Sample desktop layout

Your Practical Task


From the magazine page samples provided, pick one. Don't be too fussy. Just pick one and use it.

Now, set up an A4 page in Slides use the Custom settings, and use Slides to replicate the layout of your sample page. Replace the content (text, images, logos, etc) with whatever content you prefer. Maybe base it on a topic you teach or a specific curriculum area. Your choice.

If you finish this task, why not try making something else, such as a postcard, trifold brochure or booklet?

A few useful Tips

  • When you add new pages (slides) choose the Blank page type to give yourself a clean page to work on.
  • Respect the grid.
  • Use Lorem Ipsum text instead of "real" text. It lets you focus on the layout rather than the content.  You can always swap the real content in later.  Generate some dummy Lorem Ipsum text using http://generator.lorem-ipsum.info/
  • Bump the size of a font up or down by one point size using Shift+Cmd+> or Shift+Cmd+<
  • Hold the Shift key when drawing or moving an object to constrain it to get perfect squares, circles, lines etc.
  • Respect the grid
  • Bump objects around the page using the Up, Down, Left or Right arrow keys
  • Hold the Shift key as you bump them for finer control
  • Use the guides when they appear to align objects on the page
  • Option-drag (Mac) or CTRL-drag (Windows or Chromebook) to duplicate objects
  • Shift-Option-drag (Mac) or Shift-CTRL-drag (Windows or Chromebook) to duplicate and constrain objects
  • Respect the grid.
  • Select multiple objects by holding the Shift key as you click them. Group objects together if needed.
  • Us the align, distribute and group options for Objects to make sure they are evenly placed and arranged.
  • Once you get a sample image on the page you can swap it for another using the Replace Image option.
  • Think about taking images to the edges of the page rather than just sitting in boxes on the page.
  • Overlay text on the images. Think about the contrasting colours so it's readable.
  • Respect the grid
  • Don't use too many different fonts on the page. 1 or 2 at most, unless you have a good reason for more.
  • Use whitespace! You don't need to fill every little bit of the page!
  • Oh, and respect the grid!
  • The grid is just a guide. Don't be afraid to ignore it.


The Upside

Using Slides can be a simple and effective page layout tool that is perfect for younger students. Slides Master Pages work great for adding consistent page content like logos, etc. If you don’t need to print the finished product, but can view it online, you can even take advantage of adding video or interactive charts. The biggest advantage of all for using Slides for desktop layout is that, like all Google files, they are completely collaborative! You can have multiple students all working together on the same publication simultaneously.  

The Downside

Of course, there are some limitations compared to a full-blown desktop publishing tool like InDesign. For example, the biggest issue for making professional documents using Slides is probably the inability to thread long text from one text box to another. You also don’t get the same fine-grained control over text with kerning, leading, tracking, and so on. There is also a lack of control over margins, bleed and gutter settings, etc, but for the casual user this is probably a minor thing. 


Publishing your work

When you’re ready to print your finished product (if you still really need print things) just go to File > Download As > PDF to generate a print-ready PDF version of your work. 

If you don't need to print it, try doing File >Publish to the web. Then, just give out the URL to share your work!

Where to next?

Using Google Slides as a desktop publishing tool can take you a long way in your page design requirements. But it does have its limitations. If you really do need a more full featured layout tool, you should try LucidPress, a powerful cloud based publishing tool that works great on Chromebooks. Or Pages if you're on a Mac. Or Publisher if you're on Windows. And if you're really serious about this stuff, then Adobe InDesign is the Big Kahuna of desktop publishing.