If you're looking for InDesign alternatives, you've come to the right place. Launched in 1999, Adobe InDesign quickly became the industry standard for desktop publishing (DTP), and it’s remained so ever since. However, it’s now part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, and so to access it, you need a monthly subscription, either to the app itself or the Creative Cloud suite as a whole. See our guide on how to download InDesign for the ins and outs of the software.
But what if you don’t want to commit to a subscription and would rather pay a one-off fee, or nothing at all? Happily, there are some decent alternatives to InDesign that fit both these descriptions. Read on as we explain what they are, and what each has to offer.
01. Affinity Publisher
- Price model: One-off fee
- System: Windows, Mac
- Pros: Feature-rich, cheap, interoperable with other Affinity apps
- Cons: Not available for Linux
- Recommended for: professional designers
Launched in 2018, and emerging from public beta this June, Affinity Publisher is our top pick if you’re looking for a subscription-free alternative to InDesign. This desktop publishing software offers excellent page layout features for both printed and online media, such as live master pages, including nested master pages; image frames with intelligent scaling options; text wrapping with fine padding control; advanced guides, grids and snapping; OpenType support, drop caps, text on a path and custom table formats.
You can import and export to all both raster and vector files with Affinity Publisher, including layered PSD, PDF and EPS formats. Until recently you couldn't import InDesign files; you could only save them as PDFs and import either the whole PDF or individual pages. However, IDML import will be in v1.8, which is already available in public beta for users to try.
While Affinity Publisher doesn’t have all the features of InDesign, it has a similar interface and is broadly capable of most tasks you’d use the latter for, such as laying out book, magazine and brochures pages, designing posters and flyers, and crafting e-publications. If page layout is new to you, meanwhile, there’s a good selection of video tutorials included to get you started.
Available for both Mac and PC, Affinity Publisher can be used as part of an interoperable collection of apps (alongside the vector editor Affinity Designer and/or the image editor Affinity Photo), or on its own. There’s no iPad version yet (that's scheduled for 2020), but you can open, edit and export Publisher documents in Affinity Designer for iPad and the iPad version of Affinity Photo. With a cost of £48.99, and discounts available, Affinity Publisher offers a good value alternative to InDesign.
- Price model: One-off fee
- System: Windows, Mac
- Pros: Feature-rich, can import InDesign files
- Cons: Expensive
- Recommended for: Veteran users
Back in the 1990s, QuarkXPress was the king on the desktop publishing block. And many designers, publishing houses and corporations who started using it before InDesign arrived have continued to do so. The software can be used to create everything from posters and flyers to brochures, catalogues, and magazines, as well as ebooks and web and mobile apps.
First launched in 1987, this reliable and feature-packed software can do almost everything that InDesign can do, plus importantly, it can import InDesign files. Available for PC or Mac, it continues to be updated on an annual basis, usually around late spring/early summer, and the latest version is Quark XPress 2019.
There’s a lot of impressive functionality in Quark XPress, for both print and digital design, and so it seems a little unfair that’s it's been so eclipsed by InDesign. That said, the brutal truth is that the main reasons to buy Quark nowadays are if you’ve used it before and prefer it to InDesign, or that you’re applying for a job or project that requires it. And we suspect that the makers of the software know that themselves, as the cost of a new licence, starting at £835, seems more aimed at the corporate market than individual designers.
- Price model: Free
- System: Windows, Mac, Linux
- Pros: Free, includes free templates, available for Linux
- Cons: Can’t import files from InDesign or QuarkXPress
- Recommended for: indie publishers on a budget
If you’re looking for a free and open source alternative to InDesign, then we recommend checking out Scribus. This excellent tool has an interface that’s very similar to InDesign and is surprisingly feature-packed for a zero-cost tool.
First launched in 2001, Scribus has an enthusiastic developer community around it that keeps it constantly updated with new features and ensures its stability. Available for Mac, Windows and Linux, it supports most of the desktop publishing features you’d find in paid software, including support for OpenType, CMYK colours, spot colours, ICC colour management and versatile PDF creation, as well as some unexpected touches, such as vector drawing tools, emulation of colour blindness and the rendering of markup languages like LaTeX or Lilypond. The biggest negative is that you can’t open files from other desktop publishing software, such as InDesign or Quark, within Scribus.
There’s a lot of good forums and documentation around Scribus that will help you get up and running quickly, and it even comes with a free selection of templates designed for things like business cards, brochures and newsletters. All in all, Scribus isn’t likely to ever become as powerful or feature-rich as InDesign, but if you’re working on an indie publishing venture or personal side project and want a free DTP package that will meet most (if not all) of your needs, there’s none finer.
04. Swift Publisher
- Price model: One-off fee
- System: Mac
- Pros: Cheap, wide range of pre-made templates
- Cons: Less powerful than other tools, Mac-only
- Recommended for: Time-poor DTP beginners (and Mac users)
Swift Publisher is a budget desktop publishing app for Mac only. It comes with more than 500 templates for a range of specific projects, including bi-fold and tri-fold brochures, catalogues, business cards, social media, disc labels and covers, address labels and more. You’ll also have access to a collection of 2D and 3D heading presets, 2,000 free clipart images, 100 image masks, and it includes some sophisticated page layout features including two-page spreads, unlimited layers, master pages, customisable grids, rich text tools, printing to RGB or CMYK, and export to PNG, TIFF, JPEG, EPS and PDF.
At the time of writing, Swift Publisher was just $19.99. So even though, quite frankly, it’s not a patch on InDesign, if you want to design something specific like a CD label, and you’d rather use a template than designing from scratch, this is a very good, low-cost option. And there’s a free trial too, so you can try before you buy if you’re not sure.
- Price model: Freemium
- System: Web browser
- Pros: Nothing to download, easy to use with pre-made templates
- Cons: Much less powerful than other tools, free version is limited
- Recommended for: Time-poor DTP beginners (and non-Mac users)
Lucidpress is an intuitive, web-based, drag and drop tool that allows you to create content for print and digital, including flyers, brochures, business cards, invitations, leaflets, newsletters, magazines, photobooks and more. Largely targeted at people with minimal DTP skills or experience, it comes with both free and paid-for templates to make this super-easy.
The software is also integrated with Google Docs, YouTube, Dropbox, Flickr, Facebook, Unsplash and other tools to allow you to import existing content. Once you’ve completed your designs you can publish them online, embed them in emails or webpages, push to social media, download them as print-ready files, or order directly from the Lucidpress print shop.
Lucidpress is far from a sophisticated or feature-rich DTP tool. But like Swift Publisher, if you’re new to desktop publishing and don’t want to bother learning to use professional software, it offers a quick and easy route to creating a basic print or digital design. And unlike Swift Publisher, you can use it on any computer with a web browser.
There is a free version of Lucidpress but do note that it’s quite limited, and you’ll need to upgrade to the $9.95 a month subscription to get features like unlimited shapes and documents, custom fonts and print quality PDFs.