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The 7 best InDesign alternatives

InDesign alternatives
(Image credit: Serif)

If you're looking for InDesign alternatives, you're in the right place. After launching in 1999, Adobe Indesign quickly became the industry standard for desktop publishing (DTP), and it's stayed that way ever since. But it's now only available with a subscription monthly subscription, either as a standalone app or as part of the entire Creative Cloud suite (see below)

If you don't want to commit to a subscription, there are InDesign alternatives. Some have a one-off fee, and others have no fee at all. This guide will explain the pros and cons of each one. For more on InDesign, check our Adobe Creative Cloud discount page or see our guide on how to download InDesign. For more non-Adobe software ideas, see our list of 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

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

Launched in 2018, Affinity Publisher is our top choice for a subscription-free alternative to InDesign. It has a similar interface and is broadly capable of most of the same tasks, with excellent page layout features for both printed and online media. You can import InDesign files, as well as raster and vector files. It also now offers full preflight checking that will alert you to any possible errors in your documents.

Available for both Mac and PC, Affinity Publisher can be used as part of an interoperable suite 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, but you can open, edit and export Publisher documents in Affinity Designer for iPad and the iPad version of Affinity Photo. At a cost of £49.99 / £48.99, with a few templates thrown in, Affinity Publisher offers a good value alternative to InDesign.

InDesign alternatives: VivaDesigner

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

02. VivaDesigner

High-end DTP with tons of features

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, which has an impressive amount of features. It can do pretty much anything you would ask of InDesign, and works seamlessly alongside Adobe's software, too, with its native file import capability. There is a free version, but you get way more features with the premium edition, which costs $139 / £99 for the personal edition and $399 / £279 for a commercial license – a super reasonable fee for such high-end software. 

With a clear and intuitive interface, it boasts an impressive list of features, including change tracking, character inspectors, clipping, extended image search, multilingual text editing and a lot more.

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

High-end DTP with tons of features

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, particularly the price. At $89.99 / £49.99 it's neither suspiciously cheap nor horrifically expensive, and it gives you more than your money's worth. The interface looks a little dated, but it's easy to get to grips with, and it comes with plenty of templates to get you up and running quickly. It even supports Pantone colours and exports PDF/X files for accurate print reproduction.

It might not have the scope of something like InDesign or QuarkXPress (see below), but if you're just getting started and don't want to spend a fortune, you'll definitely get a lot of mileage out of it while polishing your layout skills. If you want to try it out before you commit, there's a free seven-day trial version to download.

InDesign alternatives: Screenshot from QuarkXPress

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

04. QuarkXPress

Veterans' favourite InDesign alternative

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

Back in the 1990s, QuarkXPress was the king of desktop publishing, and many designers, publishing houses and corporations who started using it before InDesign arrived have continued to do so. First launched in 1987, the reliable and feature-packed software can do almost everything that InDesign can do, and, importantly, it can import InDesign files. There’s a lot of impressive functionality for both print and digital design, so it seems a little unfair that’s it's been so eclipsed by InDesign.

Available for PC or Mac, it continues to be 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. That said, the brutal truth is that the main reason to buy Quark nowadays is that you’ve used it before and prefer it to InDesign, or that you’re applying for a job or project that requires it. We suspect the makers of the software know that since pricing seems to be more aimed at the corporate market. A licence for the 2021 version starts at $828, although that's often reduced by around 40 per cent.

InDesign alternatives: Scribus logo

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

05. Scribus

The best free InDesign alternative

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 a free, open-source alternative to InDesign, we can recommend checking out Scribus. This excellent tool has an interface that’s very similar to InDesign and has a surprisingly wide range of features for a zero-cost tool. First launched in 2001, Scribus has an enthusiastic developer community that keeps it 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 extras like vector drawing tools, emulation of colour blindness and the rendering of markup languages like LaTeX or Lilypond. 

There are 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 the likes of business cards, brochures and newsletters. The biggest negative is that you can’t open files from other desktop publishing software, such as InDesign or Quark. 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 of your needs, this is a good option to try.

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 Mac-only InDesign alternative

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 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 also get access to a collection of 2D and 3D heading presets, 2,000 free clipart images, 100 image masks. The tool boasts 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.

It's not a patch on InDesign, but priced at just $19.99, it's a decent budget option if you only need to design something specific and would rather use a quick template than design from scratch. There’s a free trial, so you can try 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

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 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 and photobooks. It's largely targeted at people with minimal DTP skills or experience and comes with both free and paid-for templates to make things super-easy. The software integrates with Google Docs, YouTube, Dropbox, Flickr, Facebook, Unsplash and other tools (see more cloud storage options) 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. It's by no means sophisticated or feature-rich, but if you’re new to desktop publishing and don’t want to learn to use professional software, it offers a quick and easy route to creating basic designs. Unlike Swift Publisher, you can use it on any computer with a web browser. The free version is 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

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design, photography and tech. He is author of Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books. He has previously been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine.