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Best DTP software in 2021: top desktop publishing apps

Best DTP software
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Kit8.net)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

The best desktop publishing software offers simple and easy publishing in both traditional and digital formats.

Best desktop publishing software

Desktop Publishing (DTP) software allows you to create newsletters, magazines, and brochures simply and easily, by controlling the layout and design of documents.

The specific advantage DTP has over normal document programs is that it allows for the proper alignment of images and text according to guidelines and boxes that you set up.

This often involves setting up a grid in which you can place blocks of text, or images, as required. Because you have full control over size, spacing, and widths, this makes it much easier to ensure everything is in its proper place, which is especially important for printing purposes.

Even better is that DTP software tends to be easy to use, and options to format text will be familiar from most writing programs for documents. Changing background and font colors is easy, as is inserting images and resizing them to the dimensions you need them to follow.

The end result is the ability to create professional-looking documents without needing to be a skilled or experiencing graphic designer.

Here we'll look at the best in DTP software currently on the market.

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(Image credit: Microsoft)

1. Microsoft Publisher

The accessible DTP software platform

Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+Decent price
Reasons to avoid
-Not the widest selection of features

Microsoft Publisher has been around for a long time now, and for many people it offers an easy way to get into desktop publishing. 

It's often a part of Microsoft Office packages – including the Microsoft 365 subscription service – so if you already have a Microsoft Office package, you may find you have Publisher already installed. It can also be bought and installed separately. 

Its interface will be familiar to anyone who has used Microsoft's other Office apps like Word and Excel, and it's easy for beginners to get to grips with. There's a decent collection of templates that will help you get going, and the results are good, though not quite as professional as InDesign. 

Still, it's a great – and affordable – DTP software package for beginners.

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(Image credit: Adobe)

2. Adobe InDesign

The professional's DTP software platform

Reasons to buy
+Powerful+Loads of great features+Print and digital media
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey-Poor bug response

Adobe InDesign has become one of the most commonly used DTP's out there for professionals. As part of the Adobe family of apps, that means it comes with a lot of features and functionality.

There can be something of a learning curve when it comes to using it, but it's not as steep as you might think. At it's heart it's still all about setting up grids for text and images and that's usually not too hard for people to work with.

Additionally, InDesign has a great set of additional tools for working with digital and print media, which means if you need long-running printing for your project you should have no problem setting up the required color specifications for your printers. 

InDesign has also been successfully used by publishing houses to publish ebooks, and pop-up footnotes is a standout feature.

The big downside is that Adobe has a poor reputation for fixing problems with its software, as general users may have noticed with the long string of problems that have come up with Flash and Acrobat. Not dealing with issues in its free software is one thing, but Adobe has the same mindset with its paid-for software such as InDesign. 

However, for the most part InDesign should work fine and easily do its job with bells and whistles on top. But if you do experience any problems with the software, don't expect any quick fixes from Adobe.

A subscription is available for just the InDesign app itself, but app bundles are available as well as discounts for those in education, and additional team admin features can be included in the business version.

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(Image credit: Scribus)

3. Scribus

The best free DTP software platform

Reasons to buy
+Free+Cross platform+Good features
Reasons to avoid
-Interface is a bit dated-Takes time to master

If you're after real desktop publishing power, free of charge, then nothing can compete with Scribus, and it's our pick for the best free DTP software. 

It's an open source application, which means it's completely free for anyone to use, and you don't need a license to use it as a business. It's also available for Linux and FreeBSD as well as Mac and Windows.

The program is packed with professional features - CMYK and spot colors, ICC color management, direct editing of vector drawings, extensive PDF support and more - and provides everything you need to produce flyers, brochures, newspapers, books and more.

All this power does take quite some time to master, though, and while the developers have tried to help (and there is plenty of documentation to point you in the right direction) you'll need to be patient: the sheer volume of features means there's still a significant learning curve.

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(Image credit: Quark)

4. QuarkXPress

The alternative DTP software platform

Reasons to buy
+Large amount of features+Supports InDesign files
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

While Adobe InDesign is the undisputed champion when it comes to DTP software, it has stiff competition from one of its most popular alternatives: QuarkXPress

It comes with a huge amount of features to rival InDesign, and it's even compatible with InDesign files. Quark is serious about winning over Adobe's customers, and it's resulted in an excellent, fully-featured DTP application. 

It is especially impressive when it comes to typography, with OpenType controls, support for Color Fonts in SVG, SBIX and COLR formats, and it will help you make some amazing looking publications. It's not quite as fully-featured as InDesign, but it comes very close.

Pricing may seem a little expensive at first. However, unlike Adobe there's no rolling subscription, and the cost is for a perpetual license for Windows or Mac.

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(Image credit: Xara)

5. Xara Page & Layout Designer

The beginner's DTP software platform

Reasons to buy
+Easy to use interface+Affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Not the largest collection of features

If you're a beginner when it comes to desktop publishing, then the software above may seem a little overwhelming at first. That's why Xara Page & Layout Designer is our pick for the best DTP software for beginners. 

It doesn't throw a bewildering amount of features at you, and it has a straightforward, yet attractive, interface that is easy to get to grips with. Best of all, it's very affordable compared to InDesign and QuarkXPress, but that doesn't mean it's light on features. 

In fact, you'll find a great selection of tools that will help you create professional looking publications.

If you're not sure if Xara Page & Layout Designer is for you, there is a free trial available.