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The 7 best InDesign alternatives

InDesign alternatives: a magazine design made in Affinity Publisher
(Image credit: Serif)

The best InDesign alternatives will be of interest for any designer who doesn't want to pay a monthly subscription for Adobe's industry-standard software. Adobe InDesign has been the industry's most popular desktop publishing (DTP) package for around two decades now and looks set to retain that dominance for the moment. However, while InDesign is a great package and does almost everything you could want from a DTP, it does have that downside that it requires a monthly subscription, either to InDesign alone or to Adobe's full Creative Cloud suite – although you can take a free trial to give it a go before you subscribe; see below for that.

Download a free trial of InDesign for PC or Mac now

Download a free trial of InDesign for PC or Mac now
If you're not sure whether to opt for an InDesign alternative or Adobe's industry-leading software, you can try the latest release of InDesign for free with a seven-day trial. You get all the latest updates and features, and there's no obligation to continue with a subscription afterwards.

If you've tried InDesign but find the commitment to a subscription is too expensive, the options below are the best InDesign alternatives that are subscription free. The software packages below either charge a one-off fee or, in some cases, no fee at all. We'll analyse the pros and cons of each to help you choose the best InDesign alternative for you. If you do opt to stick with InDesign, see our Adobe Creative Cloud discount page or our article on how to download InDesign. And for other non-Adobe software options, see our list of the best Photoshop alternatives.

The 7 best InDesign alternatives

InDesign alternatives: Screenshot from Affinity Publisher

Now featuring IDML import, Affinity Publisher is our go-to InDesign alternative (Image credit: Serif)

01. Affinity Publisher

The best InDesign alternative overall

Specifications
Price model: One-off fee
System: : Windows, Mac
Recommended for: Professional designers
Reasons to buy
+
Feature-rich
+
cheap
+
Interoperable with other Affinity apps 
Reasons to avoid
-
Not available for Linux

Our number one pick as a subscription-free alternative to InDesign is Affinity Publisher. Launched in 2018, the software offers a very similar interface to InDesign, and it can do most of the same tasks, offering brilliant page layout features for both print and online media. You can import InDesign files, as well as raster and vector files, and you get full preflight checking to alert you to any possible errors in your documents.

Available for both Mac and PC, although not for Linux, Affinity Publisher can be used as part of the Affinity suite of interoperable apps, which includes the vector editor Affinity Designer (see our Affinity Designer review) and the image editor Affinity Photo), or simply on its own. There’s no iPad version yet, but you can open, edit and export Affinity Publisher documents in Affinity Designer for iPad and the iPad version of Affinity Photo. The package has a one-off cost of £49.99 / £48.99, with a few templates thrown in, making it a good value if not an entirely comprehensive InDesign alternative.

InDesign alternatives: VivaDesigner

VivaDesigner is a seriously viable alternative to InDesign (Image credit: VIVA)

02. VivaDesigner

A high-end InDesign alternative with lots of features

Specifications
Price model: One-off fee
System: : Windows, Mac
Recommended for: All, but especially pros
Reasons to buy
+
Feature-rich
+
Runs on all desktop operating systems and all browsers
+
Compatible with Adobe and MS
Reasons to avoid
-
Complex for standard users

VivaDesigner is a desktop and browser-based publisher with an impressive range of features. It can do pretty much anything you might do in InDesign, and it works nicely with Adobe software thanks to its native file import capability. This DTP offers a clear and intuitive interface, plus features including change tracking, character inspectors, clipping, extended image search, multilingual text editing and much more.

There is a free version of VivaDesigner, but you a lot more with the premium edition, which costs a one-off $139 / £99 for the personal edition and $399 / £279 for a commercial licence. The price is very reasonable for such high-end software.

InDesign alternatives: Xara Page & Layout Designer 11

Xara Page & Layout Designer's a great choice if you're starting out (Image credit: Magix)

03. Xara Page & Layout Designer 11

A great value InDesign alternative.

Specifications
Price model: One-off fee
System: : Windows
Recommended for: Beginners
Reasons to buy
+
Affordable
+
Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-
Short on pro features

There's a lot to like about Magix's Xara Page & Layout Designer 11; not least the price. At $89.99 / £49.99 it's neither suspiciously cheap nor terribly expensive, and you certainly get your money's worth and some. While the interface looks a tad dated, it's very easy to get to grips with, and the package comes with plenty of templates to help you get started quickly. It supports Pantone colours and exports PDF/X files for accurate print reproduction.

It doesn't have the scope of a package like InDesign or QuarkXPress (we'll turn to that next), but if you're just getting started or only occasionally use DTP and don't want to spend a huge amount on your software, you can get a lot out of this while your fine-tune your layout skills. You can try before you buy with a free seven-day trial.

InDesign alternatives: Screenshot from QuarkXPress

QuarkXPress is the long-running corporate rival to InDesign (Image credit: QuarkXPress)

04. QuarkXPress

The most popular InDesign alternative with veterans

Specifications
Price model: One-off fee, or annual fee for updates
System: : Windows, Mac
Recommended for: Veteran users
Reasons to buy
+
Feature-rich
+
Can import InDesign files
Reasons to avoid
-
Expensive

Back in the hazy days of the 1990s, QuarkXPress was the industry standard for desktop publishing, and the obligatory software for in-house designers, newspaper subs and publishing houses everywhere.  That was before InDesign came along. However, many designers who were working back then (QuarkXPress launched in 1987), continue to use the software, whether out of habit or preference. And in fact, there's no reason not to. QuarkXpress is still a reliable, feature-rich package that can do almost everything that InDesign can do, so much so that it seems almost a little unfair that InDesign stole its throne. 

Available for PC or Mac, the software is still updated on an annual basis, usually around late spring/early summer. It can be used to create everything from posters and flyers to brochures, catalogues, and magazines, as well as ebooks and web and mobile apps. It offers impressive functionality for both print and digital design, and, it can import InDesign files. The main reason it's not higher on our list is the cost. The pricing still seems aimed at the corporate market, with a new one-year licence for the 2021 version starting at $474. It's not as expensive as it used to be, but still fairly pricy considering the cost of the options higher up on our list. That really makes this an InDesign alternative for those who have a personal preference for the software or need to use it in a specific job.

InDesign alternatives: Scribus logo

Scribus is free, open source and surprisingly powerful (Image credit: Scribu)

05. Scribus

The best free InDesign alternative

Specifications
Price model: Free
System: : Windows, Mac, Linux
Recommended for: Indie publishers on a budget
Reasons to buy
+
Free,
+
Includes free templates
+
Available for Linux 
Reasons to avoid
-
Can’t import files from InDesign or QuarkXPress

If you’re looking for an open-source free InDesign alternative, take a gander at Scribus. It offers an interface that’s pretty similar to InDesign, and it boasts an unexpectedly broad feature set for a free tool. Launched in 2001, Scribus has an enthusiastic developer community that keeps it updated and ensures its stability. It supports most of the desktop publishing features you find in paid software, including support for OpenType, CMYK colours, spot colours, ICC colour management and versatile PDF creation, and there are some surprising extras like vector drawing tools, emulation of colour blindness and the rendering of markup languages like LaTeX or Lilypond. 

There are good forums and documentation that can help you get up and running quickly, and the software even comes with a free selection of templates for things like business cards, brochures and newsletters. The biggest drawback is that you can’t open files from other desktop publishing software, such as InDesign or Quark. But while Scribus isn’t likely to become as powerful or feature-rich as InDesign, it's a great alternative if you’re working in indie publishing or on a personal side project and prefer to use a free DTP package. It's available for Mac, Windows and Linux.

InDesign alternatives: Screenshot from Swift Publisher

Swift Publisher offers a quick and easy way to get started with desktop publishing for Mac (Image credit: Swift Publisher)

06. Swift Publisher

A budget InDesign alternative for Macs

Specifications
Price model: One-off fee
System: : Mac
Recommended for: Time-poor DTP beginners (and Mac users)
Reasons to buy
+
Cheap
+
Wide range of pre-made templates 
Reasons to avoid
-
Less powerful than other tools
-
Mac-only

Swift Publisher is a budget desktop publishing app that 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 also get access to a collection of 2D and 3D heading presets, 2,000 free clipart images, 100 image masks. As for the toolset, you get some sophisticated page layout features, including two-page spreads, unlimited layers, master pages, customisable grids, rich-text tools, printing to RGB or CMYK, and you can export to PNG, TIFF, JPEG, EPS and PDF.

It's not a patch on InDesign, and it's only available for Mac, but priced at only $19.99, it's a decent budget option if you only need to make rather specific layout designs and would prefer to use templates to get things done quickly. There’s a free trial, so you can give it a go before you buy.

InDesign alternatives: Screenshot from Lucidpress

Lucidpress is an easy to use DTP tool that works within your web browser (Image credit: Lucidpress)

07. LucidPress

A browser-based DTP option

Specifications
Price model: Freemium
System: : Web browser
Recommended for: Those who want an intuitive browser-based DTP
Reasons to buy
+
Nothing to download
+
Easy to use
+
Wide range of pre-made templates 
Reasons to avoid
-
Much less powerful than other tools
-
Free version is limited

Lucidpress is targeted more at people with minimal DTP skills rather than experienced designers. It's a browser-based tool with a simple drag-and-drop interface, and it offers both free and paid-for templates that are designed to make things quick and easy. You can create content for print and digital, including flyers, brochures, business cards, invitations, leaflets, newsletters, magazines and photobooks. The software integrates with Google Docs, YouTube, Dropbox, Flickr, Facebook, Unsplash and others (see our own guide to the best cloud storage options) to allow you to import existing content, publish designs online, embed them in emails or webpages, push to social media, download as print-ready files, or order directly from the Lucidpress print shop. 

Of course, the software isn't massively sophisticated or feature-rich, but if you’re new to desktop publishing and aren't ready to dive in and learn how to use professional software (and to pay for it), this is a quick and easy way to create basic designs. Unlike Swift Publisher, you can use it on any computer with a web browser. There's a free version, but it's quite limited. 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. 

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Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. He is author of Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books. He was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine.