Best free DTP software: 6 programs to help you create top-quality documents

Best free DTP software
HP Photo Creations has a simple browser-like interface

Word processors are great for letters, reports, and other basic documents, but if you need to create something more complicated - a newsletter, say - then you'll soon run into problems.

And that's where desktop publishing (DTP) software comes in: its extra text options, graphics features, page layout control and more will all help you to deliver far more professional results.

Paying big money for a commercial DTP package may not appeal too much, of course, especially if you only intend to use it for one or two projects - but there are alternatives.

We've found six excellent free DTP tools, and whether you just want to create a single birthday card, a newspaper or an entire book, there's something here that can help.

1. Scribus

Download Scribus

If you're after real desktop publishing power, free of charge, then nothing can compete with Scribus.

The program is packed with professional features - CMYK and spot colours, ICC colour 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.


2. Adobe Project ROME

Download Adobe Project ROME

Adobe Project ROME was a very interesting Adobe AIR-based tool which could help you create and publish all sorts of content: brochures, flyers, letterheads, certificates, business cards, even animations and complete websites.


While the program was "retired" in November 2010, and hasn't seen any developments since then, you can still download and use the commercial version for free.

This doesn't work exactly as it did - there are now only one or two templates available, for instance - but if you're willing to take the time to master the basics then the program still offers plenty of publishing power.


3. Serif PagePlus Starter Edition

Download Serif PagePlus Starter Edition

While other desktop publishing tools can take some time to master, PagePlus encourages you to jump in immediately.

There are several templates (forms, brochures, calendars, CVs, templates and more), customising them is easy, and you get plenty of control over layout, object alignment, colours, text flow and more.


Serif has also left out plenty of features, though, and imposed some restrictions, hoping you'll be persuaded to upgrade to the commercial version.

In particular, the Starter Edition only supports documents of up to nine pages, and it can't export files as PDF, so essentially the program is only suitable for small projects which you'll print yourself.


4. Photo Pos Pro

Download Photo Pos Pro

If your publishing project is relatively simple and straightforward then you may not always need a full DTP package. Sometimes a good image editor may provide everything you need - and Photo Pos Pro is a perfect example.

The program comes with templates to help you quickly create business cards, photo collages and greetings cards, for instance. They're fairly basic, but are an easy way to get started, and should give you some ideas of your own.

Photo Pos Pro

Photo Pos Pro has plenty of useful graphics editing options, too. Good layer support helps you to produce some impressive effects; advanced tools like "text on a path" add a professional touch; and if you're in a hurry, there are plenty of pre-built objects (clipart, icons, banners, picture boxes and more) which you can insert and customise in seconds.


5. LyX

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Most publishing tools take a "what you see is what you get" approach to document creation - but LyX is rather different. It uses LaTeX commands to format text, insert objects and so on, and if you're new to the idea then at first it will look horribly complicated.

Start to explore, though, and it won't seem quite so bad. You can carry out quite a few actions from the LyX menus, for instance, without having to remember any complicated syntax.


There are advanced tools to help you work with mathematical formulae, references, indexes, tables of contents, and more. And your finished documents can be exported to PDF, HTML, OpenDocument, Word and more.

LyX still isn't much use at all if you want to create something small and simple, like a single page flyer. But if you'd like to produce a book, or some other large document with consistent formatting, then it's well worth considering.


6. HP Photo Creations

Download HP Photo Creations

A good DTP package doesn't always need a lengthy feature list, or advanced layout controls. If your needs are simple then having a wide selection of pre-built templates might be good enough - and that's why you might want to try HP Photo Creations.

The program's simple browser-like interface organises its projects into a lengthy list of categories: greetings cards, newsletters, postcards, photo books, and calendars, amongst others.

HP Photo Creations

Each of these is then divided again (there are greetings cards for birthdays, Easter, Christmas and so on), and finally you get to the templates. There may only be a few of these, but they're generally high quality and you're sure to find something you like.

Photo Creations has some useful tools to help you customise these with your own text and images, and when you're happy they can be printed in a click or two.