Desktop publishing is a notorious resource hog. The leading programs for both IBM PC compatibles and Macintosh need fast computers, lots of memory and disk storage, and top-end laser printers to produce the superb documents for which they are famous.

A new entrant in the field, Avagio Publishing System, $300, from Unison World of Alameda, Calif., distinguishes itself by producing remarkably high quality with modest, even meager resources.

It runs fine on IBM compatibles as old-fashioned as an XT equipped with a small hard disk and low-resolution CGA graphics. It prints beautifully on a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet and even acceptably on a nine-pin dot matrix printer.

It comes with its own set of fonts that can be scaled to any size from 6 points and 500 points. That's a range from 0.08 inches to nearly seven inches high, which is two to four times what you get from programs costing twice as much or more, like PageMaker and Xerox Ventura Publisher. The fonts take very little storage room on your hard disk.

The heart of a document usually is the text it contains. With Avagio there are two ways to enter that text. You can simply type it in as you would with a word-processing program. Or you can import it from a word-processing file.

It is handy to be able to type in the words directly, but it isn't very much fun. There is a noticeable lag between the time you hit the keys and when your words appear on screen.

Importing text is the best way to go and very easy to do. If you use WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, MultiMate or WordStar, Avagio will maintain most of your formatting choices when it flows the text onto the page.

Text flows into "frames" that you place on the page when you do the layout design. You have complete control over the number of columns on the page -- they can be of unequal widths -- as well as how text will flow from one column to another.

A set of graphics tools allows you to draw boxes, circles and horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. With just those simple shapes plus varying degrees of shading tones, it is possible to create quite a range of interesting designs. Add some type and you've got a logo.

There are only four type faces included in the program, which are imitations of the classic Times Roman, Helvetica, Century and Bodoni. But considering the huge range over which they can be sized and the ability to set bold face, italics, oblique, condensed and expanded type, you have everything you need to make quite elegant layouts. In fact, the absence of more type faces will keep your pages from becoming garish.

However, there is a utility program that allows soft fonts for Hewlett-Packard laser printers to be converted for use with Avagio.

Graphic images are easily imported into a document. Most of the clip art images provided are in Avagio's proprietary UWI format. They were produced by several different publishers, whose addresses and telephone numbers are listed in the manual if you want to order more.

You can also use PCX, PIC and TIFF files from popular paint, graphics and scanner programs. And there is a utility program for converting PostScript and encapsulated PostScript files in Avagio.

Once a graphic is imported, it can be manipulated in several ways: through sizing, cropping, squeezing, stretching and flipping top to bottom or right to left.

You also have the ability to make gradations of shading, either vertically or horizontally.

Avagio is compatible with a large number of dot matrix and laser printers.

The manual is refreshingly concise. A short tutorial lets you publish your first page in less than half an hour. Using the program is straightforward, with a series of pull-down menus arrayed across the top and a small tool box image sitting on one side of the screen from which text or graphics tools may be selected.

To help you keep track of where you are on the page, a miniature page locator is also displayed with a rectangle outlining the portion currently seen on the screen. All in all, Avagio is a remarkably complete desktop publishing package that comes ready to run on nearly any PC and printer combination you might own.

Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for the Los Angeles Times. Readers' comments are welcomed. Write to Richard O'Reilly, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.