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Best Adobe InDesign alternatives: Free and paid software options from Corel and others

(Image credit: Shutterstock / McLittle Stock)
Best Adobe InDesign alternatives

1. Affinity Publisher

2. QuarkXPress

3. Scribus

4. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite

5. Microsoft Publisher

Read on for our detailed analysis of each program

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.

Affinity Publisher

(Image credit: Serif)

1. Affinity Publisher

Most of InDesign’s capabilities at a much lower cost

Reasons to buy
+Feature-rich+Cheap and subscription-free+Intuitive layout makes designing easy
Reasons to avoid
-No footnotes or endnotes-No support for GREP-based styles

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.


(Image credit: Quark)

2. QuarkXPress

A powerful but expensive publishing app

Reasons to buy
+Good features for print and web design+Built-in image editing tools
Reasons to avoid

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.


(Image credit: Scribus)

3. Scribus

A surprisingly strong open-source application

Reasons to buy
+Open-source+Most functions of paid equivalents+Great color management tools
Reasons to avoid
-Can’t import other DTP software’s file formats

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.


(Image credit: Corel)

4. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite

The comprehensive illustration and design package

Reasons to buy
+Publishing, illustration, and image editing in one app+Efficient layout tools+Smooth performance
Reasons to avoid
-High price

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.

Microsoft Publisher

(Image credit: Microsoft)

5. Microsoft Publisher

Good for beginners but not for pros

Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
-Basic feature set-Windows only-Subscription required

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.  

Kieron Moore

Kieron Moore is a freelance writer based in Manchester, England. He contributes to Future sites including TechRadar and Creative Bloq, focusing on subjects including creative software, video editing, and streaming services. This work draws on his experience as an independent filmmaker and an independent TV watcher.