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10 reasons to avoid using Microsoft Word for your print book layout

While there is a lot you can do with Microsoft Word, it was never created to be a page-layout program. It was meant to be a word-processing program—something you can use to create letters, proposals and the like. Word is not a graphic design application. Good graphic design is a subtle art that considers many skills like typography, the use of white space, image selection, alignment and the creation of tone and texture. Graphic designers are skilled in using 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.

Here are some reasons to reconsider using Word to design your print book:

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 (the space between letters) or kerning for individual sets of letters in Word. 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) which is the typographer’s word for line-spacing. Yes, you can control it up to a point with single or double line-spacing, however, convention suggests a leading value of 50%—that’s 50% larger than (or 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 this much control.

4. You cannot explore the fundamentals of book design. Take ‘optical margins’ as an example. This is just 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 when it’s not. Optical margins make for better book design.

5. Commercial printers will generally not accept Word files because they cannot control the output. However, some will build it into the print cost and create PDFs to print from. Digital printers such as Lightning Source and IngramSpark will not accept word files, only PDF layouts. (You can make ‘press-quality PDFs’ from Word, but you have a built-black problem as explained in #7 below).

6. Word cannot handle EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) graphic files well. 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 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 take steps to painstakingly anchor graphics correctly.

7. Graphics do not translate well from Word into the world of offset or digital printing, which typically requires a high-resolution CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) image. When an image is placed into Word, often it is automatically converted to an RGB (Red, Green, Blue) image which is not advisable for digital printing nor offset printing. Sometimes these graphics may get converted back to CMYK for a ‘press-quality PDF’ (PQ-PDF) by the printer. This sounds like a simple solution to the problem, but when you ‘preflight’ (the process of confirming that the digital files required for the printing process are all present, valid, correctly formatted, and of the desired type) the resulting PQ-PDF, you end up with built-blacks (not 100% black) for any text that was in the graphic. Text in a built-black is too small for offset presses to print and you’ll end up with yellow or magenta or cyan halos around the text.

8. 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 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. 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 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.

9. If you supply a manuscript created in Word to a printer, you may pay more to have your project produced. This is due to the extra time that must be spent to get your project to output correctly and be usable by the printer. Often this is built into the printing costs, so you may not know the amount that is added to the total. You may also encounter a lower quality project because it was created in Word. 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. For example, page numbers may appear on blank pages.

10. 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 in someone else’s Word software—the text flow is totally out of whack! Images may have jumped from the second to the third column, your text may run off the page—often it will look like a dog’s breakfast. Word does not transfer safely between computers (or even to printers’ computers).

In short, you will spend too much time on layout/production using Word; spend too much money at prepress to get usable, correct print files; and shed too many tears when you see the final inferior product.

To avoid disappointment, it is best to use software that is intended for this type of work such as Adobe InDesign. Using a book designer who sets out in InDesign will guarantee the flow of your text as well as your image placement. The result will look professional, be received by the marketplace and end-users will view it as a quality product. Plus, you will save yourself money by doing it the right way from the beginning.

Still want to do it yourself?

While using professional graphic design software is always our recommended route for book publishing, there’s a shift now towards a mid-range type of software that attempts to combine the word processing functions with layout functions.

The most popular is Microsoft Publisher which is only suitable for flyers, business brochures and similar projects, with templates available to make creative jobs easier. Apple’s Pages is considered a hybrid and can be used either as a word processor or as a layout engine (depending on the type of document you create). This category is showing the most growth in recent years, with more programs coming onto the market.

Relatively new to the scene is HTML software; it allows you to work on your book in the cloud—which is great for digital (ebooks) but still needs to go some way towards creating outputs suitable for print on demand and offset printing. We believe automated page composition will be the new norm and the future of self-publishing, where authors can design, edit, process, publish and promote in the cloud.


This support article is a guide only. Please make your decisions based on your own due diligence and research. 

Julie-Ann Harper has 25 years of experience in publishing, business training, self-publishing workshops and presentations. She is a passionate advocate towards true self-publishing and helping authors to view publishing as a business. Pick-a-WooWoo Publishing is the only Australian company listed under IngramSpark’s Resource Experts page as an ‘IngramSpark Self-Publishing Friend’.



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