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The TeX typesetting system outputs device independent (DVI) files, which as the name implies, are intended to be independent of the output device. In particular, they are not understood by printers and lack information such as font shapes. Thus, a converter (i.e., a backend) is needed to translate from a DVI file to a printer language.
dvips was written by Tomas Rokicki to produce printable PostScript files from DVI input.
By using TeX
\special commands, it is possible to insert directly "literal PostScript" into the DVI file and have such snippets of PostScript appear in the final file generated by dvips. This flexibility allows the user to include, say, watermarks on his document (especially via the use of proper packages) or further postprocess the PostScript file.
Although other DVI backends such as dvilj exist, dvips is, as stated earlier, one of the most common way of printing DVI files. Another, more recent solution is the use of pdfTeX to directly generate PDF files, which have readers for most platforms.
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