If you’re making a magazine or flyer, the best desktop publishing software is essential. Word processors may be stubborn, graphic design tools may be too much, but DTP software is tailor-made for page to print design.
A good DTP tool uses a simple grid system, where you can drop image and text blocks into place. This makes it really simple to design a page layout for magazines, brochures, books, flyers, posters – and you can proudly add them to your website, too. Because the best graphic design software can focus a little too much on the visuals. Great for those impressive spreads, but not always ideal for content-rich documents that need to be absolutely flawless.
Hot off the press, our review team went to work testing the best desktop publishing software for print and page designers. From Adobe InDesign and the very best InDesign alternatives to magazine maker apps for beginners, we compared the design process, user interface, advanced graphics tools, and overall performance and print-ready quality.
Best desktop publishing software overall
Adobe InDesign should need no introduction – it has become the industry standard for Desktop Publishing, whether your work is destined for print, online or mobile. As such, it’s an incredibly powerful piece of software filled with features that will delight professionals.
However, as it’s part of Adobe’s software subscription bundle, you might be tempted to give it a spin just because you’re already paying for it. If you’re familiar with the layout of their other software, it won’t take you long to get to grips with the interface.
The latest version introduces a number of welcome additions, from the basic, like finally being able to preview a document from the Mac’s Finder or Windows Explorer without having to open it, to more needed improvements, like being able to copy and paste from Illustrator to InDesign, to the introduction of Auto Styling – a feature that lets you change the entire text formatting of a document with a single click. It shows immense potential but is as yet currently a work in progress.
You can subscribe to InDesign on its own or as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud All Apps subscription plan.
Read our full Adobe InDesign review
Best alternative to Adobe InDesign
Affinity Publisher 2 is a serious step up from version one of Serif’s popular desktop publishing software. With big improvements across the board, it feels good enough to rival big players Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress.
The page layout designer’s interface is polished, but nothing we haven’t seen before – although the icons and labels might be a bit too small if you have a pixel-dense display. And really, that’s the worst you can say about an otherwise excellent DTP app.
You’ll find a wide selection of tools are available to help make document design a breeze. Much is centered around efficiency. We were impressed with these time-saving features, which range from simple yet necessary tools like footnote creation to serious object manipulation. These include the ability to copy effects from one object to the next, selecting similar objects to alter them all at the same time, or even creating a grid of objects in seconds.
Affinity Publisher 2 comes subscription-free on Windows, Mac, and iPad. A one-time buy available as a standalone app or part of the Affinity V2 Universal Licence, a creative suite that includes Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. Having all three allows you to use the tools of the other two directly inside Publisher 2, which is a massive advantage. And with the new (and free) V2.2 update, Serif keep expanding its toolset with welcome upgrades.
Read our full Serif Affinity Publisher 2 review
Best desktop publishing software for Windows
Microsoft Publisher delivers precision desktop publishing to a broad audience. Since its inception in 1991, the DTP application has proved an accessible entry-point for print designers.
Barrier to entry is low, making Publisher one of the best desktop publishing software tools for beginners and general users, especially if you’re already invested in the Microsoft ecosystem. The interface is sleek and uncomplicated. Starting your creations is intuitive. If you’ve used other Office programs, interface navigation will be second-nature.
To ease you into the design process, Microsoft’s magazine-making software also boasts a decent collection of templates. The results are good, though lacking InDesign’s ultra-professional polish.
Publisher for PC only is available as part of the Microsoft 365 Business subscription (though Business Basic users will need to upgrade). You can also get Microsoft Publisher 2019 as a one-time purchase, if you’d rather avoid subscription deals.
Read our full Microsoft Publisher review
Best free desktop publishing software
Scribus is the best free DTP software, offering an attractive alternative to InDesign for creatives on a budget.
As an open-source application, it’s the clear winner of the coveted best free DTP software title. You won’t need to pay a license fee, whether you’re a single user or a business. But beyond the enticing price-point lies a desktop publishing tool that’s more powerful than its admittedly dated interface might suggest.
Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and FreeBSD, the software for desktop publishing hosts professional features including CMYK and spot colors, ICC color management, direct editing of vector drawings, and extensive PDF support. In other words, it’s one of the best software tools for creating magazines, or producing brochures, flyers, newspapers, and even books.
Be warned: the powerful Scribus toolset does take time to master. That’s the trade-off for choosing the top free DTP tool packed to the rafters with professional-grade features. You’ll find plenty of documentation and developer support, but there’s still a significant learning curve.
Read our full Scribus review
Best desktop publishing software for professionals
QuarkXPress once led the field in digital publishing. It was indisputably the best desktop publishing software on the market. Then Adobe InDesign stole its crown. For many, it’s still their number one. You’ll find it still lovingly used in older businesses, or those trying to extract themselves from the costly Adobe ecosphere.
Despite losing mainstream popularity, QuarkXPress remains one of the best DTP software solutions – and still retains a loyal and growing fanbase, as it continues to tempt back Adobe users through a large suite of features and full-bodied compatibility with InDesign files.
The magazine-builder app has a particularly impressive typography toolkit, making it possible to create stunning publications thanks to OpenType controls and support for Color Fonts in SVG, SBIX, and COLR formats. web design tools also come as standard.
As one of the best Adobe InDesign alternatives, it’s not quite as feature-rich as Adobe’s top DTP software, but it comes close. Unlike its design rival, you can pick up a perpetual license for a one-off fee, or sign up on a subscription basis.
Best desktop publishing software for beginners
Xara Page & Layout Designer is the ideal DTP software for graphic designers new to digital document creation but keen to use top software to design a magazine. The clean, straightforward interface is welcoming, and won’t bamboozle you when building your first publications, whether it’s an attention-grabbing business card or a long-form sales brochure.
Getting to grips with the tool is easy enough. You’ll find a bevy of templates included to help you get started on your design journey, too. However, that accessibility is tempered by a lighter list of features compared to professional DTP kits. For advanced users, this won’t the the best desktop publishing software for anything but quick fixes and minor tweaks.
That’s not to say it’s underpowered. As one of the best DTP software kits, it’s more than enough for anyone who needs a package that blends DTP and word processor capabilities with image editing tools. The price, too, makes it more affordable than the likes of InDesign and Publisher. Though if you’re an experienced designer, you’re likely to swiftly outgrow Xara Page & Layout Designer.
Page & Layout Designer is available as a standalone product, or as part of the Designer Pro+ subscription package.
Best desktop publishing software: FAQs
What is desktop publishing software?
Desktop publishing software (DTP) are tools that let you create printed assets and publications. It’s like the best mockup software for print materials. Magazines, brochures, posters, and newspapers are all designed in DTP software. Desktop publishing tools help to set the layout and arrange texts and other graphics on a page.
One reason for their popularity is, they help ease the creative process – it’s a lot faster and easier to layout a page in desktop publishing tools. They also ensure accuracy, so your initial idea looks and feels identical when it’s produced, matching any brand guidelines.
If your frustrated by the current production process or want new ways to bring your media to life, then you’ll need to decide which DTP software is best for you. There’s no single answer. It depends on experience, skill, budget, and what you’re designing. Adobe InDesign has remained one of the most popular choices, but there are plenty of best Adobe InDesign alternatives out there, including the ever-enduring QuarkXPress.
How to choose the best DTP software for you
When choosing which desktop publishing software is best for you, first set a goal: what will you be designing? The best desktop publishing software handles print and digital designs with ease, but if you’re mainly working with print, you may get more use from a tool like QuarkXpress or Page & Layout Designer.
Budget is a factor – Adobe InDesign requires a monthly or annual Creative Cloud subscription, and Publisher needs a Microsoft 365 subscription. If you’d rather opt for a one-time-buy, Serif Affinity Publisher 2 and Xara Page & Layout Designer offer this choice. QuarkXpress, meanwhile, lets you choose either – and, may we say, paired with the best graphic design laptops and the best monitors for graphic design, this software presents a credible alternative to InDesign for serious professionals.
If you can, grab a free trial and find the best desktop publishing software that chimes with the way you work.
How we test the best desktop publishing software
Our expert reviewers have tested, reviewed, and rated a wide range of professional graphic design tools, including the best digital art and drawing software, best free logo makers, and best logo makers.
At its core, the very best DTP software needs to make page layout simple – even if there’s a bit of a learning curve to start. It shouldn’t be a chore to bring your creative ideas to life.
In determining the top tools, we look at the user experience and interface, performance and power, and the range of extras like text editing features. We also test how well the publishing software performs across different mediums, such as print magazines and digital assets.
However, digital desktop publishers come in all shapes and sizes, and we assess how well each performs for its intended users. For example, an industry standard like InDesign is naturally going to offer more functionality and polish than Microsoft Publisher, but for beginners and enthusiasts, the latter may be the smarter choice.