We have a bunch of Word documents that people create using a template that matches our business's look-and-feel. When we're done writing the content, we send it to a designer than the typeset the document using InDesign. This ultimately produces a PDF that looks pretty much exactly like the source document (maybe a bit better).

I'm wondering about a couple of things:

  1. What is the purpose of typesetting? Why couldn't I just auto-generate a PDF?
  2. What do most companies do to generate nice-looking PDFs? It seems like this process takes us forever and we're spending a decent amount of time and money on it.


  • 1
    I tend to agree with the comments: if they are more complex than business letters or running text and look exactly alike, then you are dealing with office workers with a high degree of talent; bulletproof templates; or a bad designer. As far as the designers go however: consider they might be acting as gatekeepers to ensure a base level of aesthetic competence. Perception of the brand is important.
    – horatio
    Aug 21, 2012 at 20:11
  • DA01 mentions this in his answer, but what are you doing with the PDFs?
    – e100
    Aug 22, 2012 at 7:19

4 Answers 4


If you can properly embed the fonts, then yes, you could just create the PDF directly from Word.

InDesign is a much more robust page layout product, and offers a designer a much broader set of typographic and page layout tools with plenty of fine-tuning, but if you're find with the Word version, then technically, you can just convert that to the PDF you want.

DISCLAIMER: The above all pertains to making a PDF for downlaoding/email/electronic sharing. If the PDF is destined for the printer, however, then Word likely won't cut it. A printer needs to deal with a lot of pre-press tasks to get a file printed and the PDF InDesign creates will be tailored for the print process.

  • Thanks for the response. So do most companies who produce PDFs (whitepapers, how-to guides, datasheets) hire a typesetting inhouse to do this?
    – Rob Sobers
    Aug 20, 2012 at 23:13
  • Again, for digital distribution, it's not a big deal who does it (other than ideally the company hires someone with good design skills). For print distribution, then you need more specific types of file formats and workflows.
    – DA01
    Aug 20, 2012 at 23:40

If your document is returned from the designer looking exactly like your Word document then you're using the wrong designer. If they can't produce anything better than Word and they have InDesign, well...

Truth be told, and never mind the poorly formatted sentence that follows, this answer depends on what you're using it for, how much your return is from these documents, and how big your audience is. For example, are you spending $10,000 a year on your designer to copy your Word document and paste it into InDesign and your return is only $5,000? If so, you need to rethink your strategy. Are ten people seeing this? Is it for in-office documents?

If any of these answers are yes then maybe sticking with Word is your best strategy. InDesign is for very professional layout design that gives the user full control over every aspect of the document. Word is meant for the lowest common denominator and is meant for the average user to do what Word has decided they should be doing. There are a lot of features in InDesign that are just controlled by Word that not only make for a good-looking document, but also a proper print job. Really, you shouldn't even worry about printers unless your market is big enough plus your return. When you ask about what "most companies" are doing, that depends on those factors. Many companies are using fly-by-night designers and bargain basement printers for all their stuff. Many other companies hire professional designers and consider quality printers over discount printers. Still many other companies have a designer on staff who does all of their work in-house. These are most often, in order, small, medium, and large companies. Find your tier and you will find your answer.


"Pretty much exactly like the source document" can mean a lot of things. The content shouldn't change. And if you are using same fonts and font sizes it should look similar. But the typesetting should have nothing to do with the PDF (as this can be easily done with Word).

I have done exactly this work before actually. And it's the details that matter. Like setting up a good baseline grid, or kerning. To the untrained eye the changes might look small yet give a overall professional look that you can't imediately put your finger on. At least that was usually my feedback.

  • +1 for details. I like to say the design is in the details. Subtle things not only might add a little professionalism, but might make or break a design subconsciously.
    – o_O
    Aug 22, 2012 at 3:00

Word documents are good for printing hard-copies from your desk. But if you're looking to get any of your marketing collateral or a serious piece of work published, then you'd need a software like Indesign. There are several advantages to typesetting your professional brochures, whitepapers, leaflets and ebooks on Indesign. Even while looking similar, Indesign file could have printer and/or device specific settings, logical rules, an extremely customized typesetting etc. Furthermore, if you plan on digitally publishing your content for Apple or Kindle devices, then a one-time investment made on a properly formatted indesign file can save you a lot of time, effort and money. If you're requirement is simply a plain pdf of 5 or less pages, perhaps you should get an MS Word pluggin for pdf conversion. But if you wanted interactive pdfs, then you're better off with a professional designer

If we were simply designing a brochure, for instance, we would do all the image retouching on Photoshop, and the remaining layout and designing on Illustrator. But for a corporate brochure or an eBook, Indesign would be the obvious professional choice.

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