Best desktop publishing software in 2023: free and paid DTP tools

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)

You need the best DTP software if you’re putting together a magazine, designing flyers, or creating any other printed assets.

Desktop publishing software is effectively graphic design software for print designers. These tools let you get wildly creative, while keeping everything proportioned and color-accurate every time. So, first vision matches final product.

If you’ve ever tried laying out printed assets using word processors or photo editors, you’ll know it can sometimes be pretty tricky getting ideas to align on the page. Pictures bleed over the edge, awkward text boxes create chasms of negative space. And the less said about the print quality, the better. While some free online design apps like Canva bridge the gap, there's nothing quite like dedicated desktop publisher. This is where the best DTP software steps up to the challenge. 

Using professional desktop publishing tools for magazine publishing, for example, lets you lay out content blocks on a simple grid system. Your page design, packed with copy and images, looks and feels as it should when it goes to print. 

Let your ideas flow. We’ve tested out the best desktop publishing software - from effortless design processes to platform compatibility and value for money.

The best desktop publishing software in 2023

(Image credit: Adobe InDesign)
Best desktop publishing software for professionals

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful
+
Industry-standard features
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Print and digital media

Reasons to avoid

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Costly subscription
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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. 

You can see our guide how to download Adobe InDesign.

Read our full Adobe Creative Cloud review.

(Image credit: Microsoft)
Best desktop publishing software for Windows

Specifications

Operating system: Windows

Reasons to buy

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Easy to use
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Good value

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the widest selection of features
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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. 

(Image credit: Scribus)
Best free desktop publishing software

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix

Reasons to buy

+
Free
+
Cross platform
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Good features

Reasons to avoid

-
Interface is a bit dated
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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. 

(Image credit: QuarkXPress)

4. QuarkXPress

The best desktop publishing software alternative to InDesign

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac

Reasons to buy

+
Well-established, well-reputed tool
+
Large amount of features
+
Supports InDesign files

Reasons to avoid

-
Premium option

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.  

(Image credit: Xara)

5. Xara Page & Layout Designer

Best desktop publishing software for beginners

Specifications

Operating system: Windows

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. 

Desktop publishing software: Buying advice

How to choose the best desktop publishing software for you

Why you can trust TechRadar Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

When choosing which desktop publishing 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.

What is desktop publishing software?

Desktop publishing software (DTP) are tools that let you create printed assets and publications. Magazines, brochures, posters, and newspapers are all designed in DTP software. Desktop publishing tools help to set the layout and arrange texts and other graphics on a page. 

One reason for their popularity is, they help ease the creative process - it's a lot faster and easier to layout a page in desktop publishing tools. They also ensure accuracy, so your initial idea looks and feels identical when it's produced, matching any brand guidelines. 

If your frustrated by the current production process or want new ways to bring your media to life, then you'll need to decide which DTP software is best for you. There's no single answer. It depends on experience, skill, budget, and what you're designing. Adobe InDesign has remained one of the most popular choices, but there are plenty of Adobe InDesign alternatives out there, including the ever-enduring QuarkXPress.

The best desktop publishing software: How we test

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.

Brian Turner

Brian has over 30 years publishing experience as a writer and editor across a range of computing, technology, and marketing titles. He has been interviewed multiple times for the BBC and been a speaker at international conferences. His specialty on techradar is Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, covering everything from office suites to IT service tools. He is also a science fiction and fantasy author, published as Brian G Turner.