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, either for free or for significantly lower prices. There aren’t many viable alternatives , but we’ve sought out the few that exist.
1. Swift Publisher
Price: Free Trial/$19.99
We’re going to keep our recommendations on this list significantly cheaper than Adobe InDesign, and the excellent Swift Publisher is a steal for a low one-off fee. Swift Publisher is less feature-packed than InDesign but still uses that familiar system of layers, grids and myriad formats that makes it more advanced than something like Microsoft Publisher.
For the one-off fee ,you get access to 500 or so templates for things like posters, business cards, websites and other design projects. Swift Publisher received a big update not too long ago that makes it feel much more modern and accessible than it used to be.
One of the more well-known InDesign alternatives is Scribus. Scribus is a full-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.
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.
Price: Free | Pay for more features/higher tiers
While Adobe InDesign is really only limited to the user’s imagination, it requires a 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.
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.
Price: Free/$139 one-off fee
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.
Vivadesigner comes in two flavors: in-browser and desktop download. Some users may be working with sensitive information and/or copyrighted material; having the option is beneficial for those concerned about privacy associated with web-based applications.
Price: Free/£10.99 a month
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.
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 Spring Publisher is no longer being developed, but you can still grab the free version of this friendly, good-looking software. 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.
Clicking any element on the screen immediately displays precise options for it: alignment, opacity, shadows, angles and so on. Some options in the free version, like saving in 350dpi quality, are locked, 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.
For more design-related guides, see how to embed a Google Form poll into an email and our tips on how to draw arrows in the open-source Photoshop alternative GIMP.