Adobe InDesign is one of the most popular apps when it comes to desktop publishing software. Its extensive page layout features and wide selection of fonts are among the benefits that make it the number-one choice of many professionals for designing books, magazines, posters, and more.
However, it isn’t for everyone. A common criticism of Adobe software is its subscription pricing model, which can cause costs to add up over time. Some users also find InDesign’s interface too cluttered and unintuitive.
Thankfully, there are plenty of other options available. In this article, we assess the pros and cons of five InDesign alternatives.
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If you’re looking for something with a similar set of features to Adobe InDesign that fits into a low budget, then you’re unlikely to go wrong with Affinity Publisher, which costs a one-off fee of $49.99.
With a layout lighter and more intuitive than InDesign, Affinity Publisher makes it easier to find the tools that you need. That doesn’t mean it lacks functionality. In fact, it has excellent page layout tools, whether you’re designing for print media or the web. Its extensive range of features also includes a helpful preflight checker and a smart color picker.
However, there’s no support for footnotes or endnotes, which could be a big problem for many book publishers, nor is there support for GREP-based and nested styles, which many InDesign users rely on. But with Serif developers working on the app regularly, these could be added in future updates.
- Read the full review: Affinity Publisher
QuarkXPress was first released in 1987 and reached its peak of popularity in the ‘90s, though that doesn’t mean its time has passed. It’s been updated regularly across its lifespan and remains a powerful design tool.
In addition to print content, such as books and magazines, QuarkXPress enables you to create web content optimized for both desktop and mobile devices. With a large set of effects and editing tools, you get in-depth control over all aspects of your design. It also has built-in image editing and illustration tools, similar to (though not as in-depth as) the ones that you’d find in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
The biggest downside is the price: QuarkXPress costs a one-off fee of $474. When most competitors are significantly cheaper, it’s difficult to justify this cost. It’s perhaps more aimed at corporate customers than individual designers.
If you’re looking for an InDesign alternative on a budget, then Scribus may be the program for you. It’s open-source, which means it’s available to download for free, and works on Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Considering that it’s free, it stands up to its competitors quite well. Though it’s unlikely to ever be as powerful or in-depth as InDesign, it does have almost all the features that you’d expect in its paid-for equivalents. It has particularly good color management tools, such as color separations, CMYK, and emulation of color blindness.
The interface is similar to InDesign, so it’s easy to get used to, and it comes with several templates to get you started. There’s also a supportive community built up around it, so it’s regularly updated. The only real downside is that you can’t import files made in other programs, such as InDesign or Quark.
- Read the full review: Scribus
CorelDRAW Graphics Suite is an entire illustration and design package—the equivalent of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign—in one app. While it’s perhaps more known for its illustration side, its publishing features are nonetheless powerful, with in-depth layout and typography tools. The 2021 release added a multipage view that makes it easy to organize and move assets between pages.
The slick interaction between the various creative aspects of the suite makes CorelDRAW a particularly good choice for creative professionals who want to design print or web content with bespoke illustrations. This program also runs quite efficiently, with separate versions designed for best performance on Windows and Mac and extensive file compatibility.
CorelDRAW does have a high price reflective of its comprehensive nature: a one-off fee of $499 or an annual subscription of $249. Note that the one-off purchase doesn’t include access to any future updates, whereas the subscription does.
- Read the full review: CorelDraw Graphics Suite
If you’re familiar with Microsoft’s suite of office software—primarily Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—then you might gravitate toward Microsoft Publisher when looking for a desktop publishing app. Publisher does come included in a Microsoft 365 subscription, which costs $69.99/year (though unlike the other Microsoft apps, it’s for Windows computers only).
However, when it comes to professional-standard design features, Microsoft Publisher can’t stand up to the likes of InDesign. Its layout and typography tools are much less flexible, there are no numeric transform controls or any in-depth color management tools—the list could go on.
That said, while not for professionals, Publisher is worth considering for beginners or small businesses looking to produce basic marketing documents without having to learn too many technical skills. It’s a smooth, hassle-free app, and it’s easy to get started designing documents.
- Read the full review: Microsoft Publisher
- Also check out our complete list of the best DTP software