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Best DTP software in 2022: free and paid desktop publishing platforms

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
People using DTP software on a tablet and laptop.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best desktop publishing software are tools for magazine design, helping you create professional creations fit to print and publish. Whether you’re designing a magazine, book, or marketing assets, bring your ideas to life with the best DTP software. 

Pricing models

Adobe InDesign: Per license monthly subscription

Microsoft Publisher: Microsoft 365 subscription for PC only / One-time purchase (2019 edition)

Scribus: Free

QuarkXPress: Annual subscription / One-time purchase

Xara Page & Layout Designer: One-time purchase

If you’ve ever tried laying out printed assets using writing apps or image editors like Canva, you’ll know it’s almost impossible to get your vision right. Misaligned content boxes create chasms of negative space, pictures spill over the bleed lines. It’s just so tricky to get everything not just right but perfect

That’s where DTP software for Mac and Windows comes into play. Typically operating on a simple grid system, desktop publishing (or DTP) software for magazine publishing makes it easy to perfectly place, position, and resize content blocks on the page with professional results.

What makes the best desktop publishing software for you is going to depending on how you use it - what will you make? Is it business or personal? - and your design experience. Set a budget. The best free DTP software is Scribus. We thought it was excellent, but the experience is a world away from Adobe's premium InDesign. 

We've reviewed and selected the best  programs. You don't need to be an expert graphic designer - if you’re familiar with the best free writing software, you'll adept at controlling text placement and formatting in these tools to craft print materials you can be proud of -  just let your ideas flow. Your creativity will do the rest. 

We've also featured the best graphic design software. 


Which DTP software is best?

(Image credit: Adobe InDesign)
The best DTP software for professionals

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful
+
Industry-standard features
+
Print and digital media

Reasons to avoid

-
Costly subscription
-
Poor bug response

Adobe InDesign is considered an industry-standard for desktop publishing - and for good reason: it’s smart, intuitive, and results are impressive. For many media and publishing professionals, it’s the Rolls-Royce of DTP software.

Don’t let that high-calibre reputation put you off if you’re new to graphic design. While there is a learning curve to mastering one of the best desktop publishing tools, it’s not as steep as you may think. The principle design process of creating grids for text and images remains the same, so you should find it easy to get your designs up and running. 

As you’d expect from a core tool in the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, it’s loaded with features and functionality to help draw out inspiration. Additionally, InDesign is equipped with a great toolset for working with digital and print media. If you need long-running printing for your project, you’ll have no problem setting up the required specifications for your printers, making is some of the best software for making magazines. 

InDesign’s biggest drawbacks are support and subscriptions. Adobe has never been quick to fix software bugs, which might rankle when you’re paying a pricey annual or monthly fee. However, generally InDesign performs exactly as intended.

Adobe InDesign comes as a standalone DTP app or as part of the Creative Cloud subscription package. Discounted pricing is available to those working in the education sector, while the commercial license also packs in additional team admin features. 

Read our full Adobe Creative Cloud review.

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(Image credit: Microsoft)
The best DTP software for Windows

Specifications

Operating system: Windows

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to use
+
Decent price

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the widest selection of features
-
PC-only

Microsoft Publisher delivers precision desktop publishing to a broad audience. Since its inception in 1991, the DTP application has proved an accessible entry-point for print designers. 

Barrier to entry is low, making Publisher one of the best desktop publishing software tools for beginners and general users, especially if you’re already invested in the Microsoft ecosystem. The interface is sleek and uncomplicated. Starting your creations is intuitive. If you’ve used other Office programs, interface navigation will be second-nature.

To ease you into the design process, Microsoft’s magazine-making software also boasts a decent collection of templates. The results are good, though lacking InDesign’s ultra-professional polish.

Publisher for PC only is available as part of the Microsoft 365 Business subscription (though Business Basic users will need to upgrade). You can also get Microsoft Publisher 2019 as a one-time purchase, if you’d rather avoid subscription deals. 

Read our full Microsoft Publisher review. 

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(Image credit: Scribus)
The best free DTP software

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix

Reasons to buy

+
Free
+
Cross platform
+
Good features

Reasons to avoid

-
Interface is a bit dated
-
Takes time to master

Scribus is the best free DTP software, offering an attractive alternative to InDesign for creatives on a budget. 

As an open-source application, it’s the clear winner of the coveted best free DTP software title. You won’t need to pay a license fee, whether you’re a single user or a business. But beyond the enticing price-point lies a desktop publishing tool that’s more powerful than its admittedly dated interface might suggest. 

Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and FreeBSD, the software for desktop publishing hosts professional features including CMYK and spot colors, ICC color management, direct editing of vector drawings, and extensive PDF support. In other words, it's one of the best software tools for creating magazines, or producing brochures, flyers, newspapers, and even books.

Be warned: the powerful Scribus toolset does take time to master. That’s the trade-off for choosing the top free DTP tool packed to the rafters with professional-grade features. You’ll find plenty of documentation and developer support, but there’s still a significant learning curve.

Read our full Scribus review. 

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(Image credit: QuarkXPress)

4. QuarkXPress

The best DTP software alternative to InDesign

Reasons to buy

+
Large amount of features
+
Supports InDesign files

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

QuarkXPress once led the field in digital publishing. It was indisputably the best desktop publishing software on the market. Then Adobe InDesign stole its crown. For many, it's still their number one. You'll find it still lovingly used in older businesses, or those trying to extract themselves from the costly Adobe ecosphere.

Despite losing mainstream popularity, QuarkXPress remains one of the best DTP software solutions - and still retains a loyal and growing fanbase, as it continues to tempt back Adobe users through a large suite of features and full-bodied compatibility with InDesign files. 

The magazine-builder app has a particularly impressive typography toolkit, making it possible to create stunning publications thanks to OpenType controls and support for Color Fonts in SVG, SBIX, and COLR formats. Web design tools also come as standard. 

As one of the best Adobe InDesign alternatives, it’s not quite as feature-rich as Adobe’s top DTP software, but it comes close. Unlike its design rival, you can pick up a perpetual license for a one-off fee, or sign up on a subscription basis.  

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(Image credit: Xara)

5. Xara Page & Layout Designer

The best desktop publishing software for beginners

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to use interface
+
Affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the largest collection of features

Xara Page & Layout Designer is the ideal DTP software for graphic designers new to digital document creation but keen to use top software to design a magazine. The clean, straightforward interface is welcoming, and won’t bamboozle you when building your first publications, whether it’s an attention-grabbing business card or a long-form sales brochure. 

Getting to grips with the tool is easy enough. You’ll find a bevy of templates included to help you get started on your design journey, too. However, that accessibility is tempered by a lighter list of features compared to professional DTP kits. For advanced users, this won't the the best desktop publishing software for anything but quick fixes and minor tweaks.

That’s not to say it’s underpowered. As one of the best DTP software kits, it’s more than enough for anyone who needs a package that blends DTP and word processor capabilities with image editing tools. The price, too, makes it more affordable than the likes of InDesign and Publisher. Though if you’re an experienced designer, you’re likely to swiftly outgrow Xara Page & Layout Designer. 

Page & Layout Designer is available as a standalone product, or as part of the Designer Pro+ subscription package. 


How to choose the best desktop publishing software for you

When choosing which DTP software is best for you, first set a goal: what will you be designing? The best desktop publishing software handles print and digital designs with ease, but if you’re mainly working with print, you may get more use from a tool like QuarkXpress or Page & Layout Designer. 

Consider your skill-level. DTP programs like Scribus are incredibly powerful, but the learning curve is a lot steeper than using InDesign. 

Budget is a factor - Adobe InDesign requires a monthly or annual Creative Cloud subscription, and Publisher needs a Microsoft 365 subscription. If you’d rather opt for a one-time-buy, Xara Page & Layout Designer is a good choice. QuarkXpress, meanwhile, lets you choose between either option (and Scribus is completely free). 

If you can, grab a free trial and find the best desktop publishing software that chimes with the way you work. 

How we test the best DTP software

At its core, the very best DTP software needs to make page layout simple - even if there’s a bit of a learning curve to start. It shouldn’t be a chore to bring your creative ideas to life. 

In determining the top tools, we look at the user experience and interface, performance and power, and the range of extras like text editing features. We also test how well the publishing software performs across different mediums, such as print magazines and digital assets. 

However, digital desktop publishers come in all shapes and sizes, and we assess how well each performs for its intended users. For example, an industry-standard like InDesign is naturally going to offer more functionality and polish than Microsoft Publisher, but for beginners and enthusiasts, the latter may be the smarter choice.

See how we test, rate, and review products on TechRadar.  

Boost your creativity with the best drawing and painting software.

Steve Clark
B2B Editor - Creative

Steve is Techradar Pro’s B2B Editor for Creative where he zeroes in on the creative apps that keep companies competitive. He cut his journalism teeth at Web User magazine covering software and hardware news, reviews, features, and guides. A copywriting veteran across B2B and B2C tech, he's written for Microsoft, Sony, and countless SaaS & product design firms. In a past life, he wrote commercials and movie trailers.