5 of the Best Free Adobe InDesign Alternatives

In the days before computerized page layouts, paste-ups were done with careful measurements and work to put everything in place. Nowadays, publications are designed with specialized software. Whether print or digital, this includes everything: magazines, brochures, newspapers, books and posters.

Desktop-publishing software has long been dominated by Adobe’s InDesign program. Unfortunately, regardless of whether you’re a professional graphic designer or a PTA member making fliers for a bake sale, InDesign costs a pretty penny. Currently a subscription to Adobe InDesign will run you $19.99 a month. Fortunately, there are other programs you can use to get the job done. There aren’t many viable alternatives out there, but we’ve sought out the few that exist just for you.

One of the more well-known InDesign alternatives out there is Scribus. Scribus is a fully-featured desktop-publishing application capable of rendering professional-quality publications. It supports most major bitmap formats, including those composed in Adobe Photoshop. It does have a fairly steep learning curve, although an official manual is provided.

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Scribus is completely open source and distributed under the GNU General Public License as free software. It is available for Windows, Mac and most Linux distributions. In addition, Scribus is actively maintained, meaning new features, tweaks and fixes are being implemented to improve user experience and functionality.

While Adobe InDesign is really only limited to the user’s imagination, it requires an awful lot of know-how to make your projects reality. Lucidpress seeks to eliminate the learning curve associated with desktop-publishing apps. While its “drag-and-drop” layouts are intuitive, professional users will find it lacking. Some of these features can be unlocked if you’re willing to pay, however.

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That being said, the free version of Lucidpress can still get the job done. Just be aware that the free version limits publications to three pages. One thing Lucidpress has going for it is that it doesn’t require a download. The entire tool runs in the browser of your choice, meaning it’s compatible with any OS. Essentially, Lucidpress is to InDesign as Pixlr is to Photoshop.

Vivadesigner is another capable desktop-publishing app that comes in both free and premium varieties. As is the case with most free software, some functionality is limited to the premium version. Like Lucidpress, Vivadesigner positions itself as an easy-to-use solution. Its interface is clear and structured intuitively, allowing users to jump right in.

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Vivadesigner comes in two flavors: in-browser or desktop download. Some users might be working with sensitive information and/or copyrighted material; having the option is beneficial for those concerned about privacy associated with Web-based applications.

Canva isn’t a traditional desktop-publishing app. Instead, it positions itself as more of a graphic design tool. Users will find that Canva excels at creating things heavy on graphics, like posters and flyers. Canva is easy to learn and offers a large selection of free fonts, colors and stock photos. The premium version of Canva gives users access to an even broader range; however, casual users will find the free version is more than sufficient.

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Canva can’t really compete with InDesign, but not everyone needs InDesign. Canva’s target audience is those who want to produce attractive graphics quickly and easily. Therefore, Canva is a cost-effective, easy-to-use alternative to more full-fledged desktop-publishing apps.

It speaks to the competitiveness of this area (or the ruthless dominance of InDesign) that SpringPublisher is no longer being developed, but you can still grab the free version of this friendly, good-looking software from CNET. (Don’t worry, we’ve checked it for crapware.) It’s not as deep or complex as InDesign, but it still lets you do many fundamental things like working with layers, lining up layouts, and using a number of templates to get you started.

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Clicking any element on the screen immediately displays precise options for it – alignment, opacity, shadows, angles and so on. You’re locked off from some options in the free version, like saving in 350dpi quality, which is a little frustrating because you can’t even get the Pro version anymore – you’d have hoped the developers would’ve just unlocked everything. Still, it’s a good entry-level design tool.

Do you use a desktop-publishing program? Have you tried any of the programs mentioned above? If so, which one do you think is the best? Are there any that we forgot? Let us know in the comments!

18 comments

  1. How on gods green earth, did Indesign itself end up on a list specifically meant to list alternatives to that very program.

    • This.

      I’m looking at moving away from Adobe’s subscription model, with an eye to either pay once or use a decent free option.

      A trial version of InDesign is neither.

      I will be giving Scribus a look, however.

  2. Does anyone know if any of these can open Indesign documents, or is my archive dead in the water if I don’t continue to pay Adobe?

    • Very good question – would love to hear an answer to this. After installing High Sierra few days ago, had a major shock realising my older Adobe Creative Suite InDesign refuses to open up anything. I’m absolutely devastated. As I’m currently searching for work, the extremely expensive subscription model is just not doable. What a disaster.

  3. I just wanted to say thanks for making this information available. I started in the publications design and production business in the late 60s, and have seen *lots* of changes, and the gradual democratization of the process, in the intervening 50 years (remember Aldus Pagemaker, one of the precursors of InDesign?). But having retired a while ago, and limiting myself to one or two times a year when I need something more robust than Microsoft Word, it doesn’t make sense to shell out $20 a month for InDesign. I’m glad for the opportunity to explore alternatives.

    • I truly empathized with your comment. I’m in the same boat. I worked as a graphic artist since the paste-up days starting in 1980 and have been using a Mac since 1988. I certainly remember Aldus PageMaker and had quite a bit of experience with different versions of Quark starting with 3.0 then used InDesign for many years. Like you I’m also retired and use DTP software on a very infrequent basis. Given that, I’d like to see Adobe offer a daily or weekly subscription — I don’t think that will happen.

      Like another responder, I was shocked when my CS package no longer worked when I upgraded to OS 10.13. So now, I’m exploring programs like GIMP, InkScape, Fluke, Scribus, et. al. Unfortunately — and I may just have a mental block — the Adobe products are so much more robust. I guess I’ll just continue to learn some of the alternative software.

      Nonetheless, it seems that I now mostly need a bitmap and vector programs since I’m primarily doing web work and have a subscription to Elegant Themes. I also have a couple of clients who like to use WIX because they can more easily edit text.

      Good luck in your retirement.

      • Cris, if not for reading your post, I would not have “discovered” alternatives to my work with Adobe. What brought me to this page was the fact that I was looking for an alternative to Indesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc. (Since Adobe just announced EOL for Muse, I am curious what else I can use without paying $75 a month.)

        I am going to attack this one program after another until the madness stops. I have CS5.5 and just learned it will not work on OS 10.13 (so guess who will not be updating one of my machines).

        Anyway, this has been eye-opening to say the least–THANKS!

  4. Well, for a replacement for Illustrator/Photoshop I can’t recommend Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer enough… But Affinity Publisher… well, it’s still in development. Some of this company’s big fans, recommend PagePlus as an intermediate measure – though I’ve not used that. And, it’s not actively supported… but I think it’s $29 (one time).

    And if it works even half as well as the Affinity line, I’d be a happy camper – because I like those two better than Photoshop and Illustrator. No, they don’t have a full-fledged suite of somewhat compatible software. But I didn’t have enough time to branch out into anything more than Lightroom & Bridge anyway.

  5. I am another retire that started with paste-ups> Quark & Freehand> InDesign & Illustrator. When CS6 stopped working with the latest Mac OS, I switched to the new Xpress and the Affinity photo & vector applications, which are not free, but very inexpensive and capable— and fast. Of course Adobe, since it acquired Macromedia, has had a hammerlock on graphic software innovation. Competitors have to find a different way of doing the same procedures. Adobe probably had to open up access to Post Script to avoid anti trust consequences.
    I don’t think software should be free, though I do agree with low introductory prices while features are added and bugs removed. I don’t mind being the beta-tester. The test of a good print application is the ability to generate a good PDF. I suspect that’s where the free applications may bog down. I am looking forward to Affinity’s page layout app. By going to the subscription model, Adobe has unleashed a lot of creative energy.

  6. Here is a solution – I am running Leopard Server under Parallels. In this way I can still enjoy my licensed version of Adobe Creative Suite Premium 5.0. I would like to buy a copy of CS6 and run it on Snow Leopard Server, within Parallels. Adobe’s subscription model is hard to justify unless you use their products daily.

  7. Thanks interesting.

    Is there anyone that know if any of these software can export to epub fixed layout as indesign can do ?

  8. I am in a similar position wrt my older adobe products. I knew it would happen one day and I’ve found using Acorn (from Flying Meat Software) a credible replacement for photoshop. At reads psds and brush files too. Some learning to do, but that is inevitable.

    Now looking for an InDesign replacement and will start from here.

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