CSS moves into print

Look out, Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress: There's a new a new tool to help users design printed materials'and it works very well with the Web, the company says.

While now known as a tool to make Web pages look more visually appealing, cascading style sheets (CSS) increasingly will be used to format printed products as well, according to Michael Day, founder of Australian software company YesLogic.

"In a year or two, people will recognize CSS as a stylesheet language for printing high-quality documents, up to the level of books, magazines, technical reports and so forth," Day said at the XML 2007 conference, held last week in Boston.

Although the document design software is a mature field, CSS can offer a number of new advantages. Most notably, it offers the promise to easily prepare content once so that it can be rendered simultaneously in both print and the Web without the excessive steps in translation that such a task now routinely requires, the company says.

CSS was originally designed as a way to separate out the presentation aspects of a Web page from its contents. The look and feel of a set of Web pages can be specified in a separate single document, which all the Web pages can point the browser to when they are rendered. If the organization wishes to change the look and feel of its Web pages, only the CSS page would need to be change.

The World Wide Web Consortium is currently developing version three of CSS and adding many modules that allow the stylesheets to be used for formatting print products, Day outlined in a presentation at the conference. Such attributes include multi-column layout, footnotes, page breaks and crop marks.

CSS version 3 offers quite a bit of flexibility in this regard, Day said. For instance, the designer can instruct the software program rendering the document not to add a page break in the middle of a table. Other Extensible Markup Language-based tools would allow editors to search and change contents and attributes throughout an entire document.

Day said the CSS approach would work best for materials such as technical manuals, where attributes such as page numbers and footnotes could be established, and the main text copy could flow for as many pages as needed. The approach would be less successful for magazines, whose multi-columned pages and widely varying formatting styles would make it more difficult to work with a style sheet approach.

While the CSS standards are being set, software companies would still have to incorporate the format into their own products, Day conceded. Now there are not many print-oriented CSS editors that would free designers from writing CSS code by hand, or for rendering CSS documents by some means other than with a Web browser. YesLogic itself offers an application, as well as a service, that converts documents rendered in the CSS and the Extensible Markup Language into a printable Portable Document Format-based form.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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