The Best Mac Desktop Publishing Software of 2023

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Best Mac Desktop Publishing Software

Lifewire / Design by Amelia Manley

When it comes to creating published work for digital or physical use finding the right software can be challenging. We have rounded up some of the best Mac desktop publishing software to give an overview of what each product features. 

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Adobe InDesign

"The first app you should look at…whether you’re looking to publish a book, magazine, poster, or a simple PDF report."

Runner-Up, Best Overall: QuarkXPress at Quark

"Xpress offers modern publishing tools and can help you create physical and digital documents."

Best for Vector Graphics: Adobe Illustrator

"Lets you create anything you can think of, including logos, icons, hand drawings, and more."

Runner-Up, Best for Vector Graphics: Affinity Designer at Affinity

"A smart and fast app that can help you with concept art, icons, illustrations, patterns, and web graphics."

Best for Photo Editing: Adobe Photoshop

"Robust features for enhancing photos, illustrations, and artwork…also lets you design websites, mobile applications, and other assets."

Runner-Up, Best for Photo Editing: Affinity Photo at Affinity

"Does not make you sign up for a subscription, which is refreshing and will please budget-conscious users."

Best for Beginners: Swift Publisher

"A huge number of copyright-free images for all of your publishing needs."

Best Budget: iStudio Publisher at Apple

"A supreme value for novices and users that don’t need the extra bells and whistles."

Runner-Up, Best Budget: Pixelmator at Apple

"This alternative is here to save you cash and still bring you most of the features you need to edit and create imagery."

Best Free: Apple Pages at Apple

"Combines both word processing documents and page layout (including some graphics tools) in one program."

Best Overall: Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign logo in red

Adobe InDesign CC

If you need to create and publish physical or digital documents, Adobe InDesign is the first app you should look at. Whether you’re looking to publish a book, magazine, poster, or a simple PDF report, InDesign can take on the task.

Inside the InDesign app, you will find a toolbar with tools to let you build out and modify documents and pages, including those for selection, drawing, typing, shapes, transformation, and navigation.

Over the years, new features have been added to InDesign including better document previewing, document presets, document analytics so you can see how many people have read them, support for digital endnotes and annotations, HTML code exporting, and much more.

Like other Adobe products, InDesign is an expensive subscription-based application, which can be paid monthly or pre-paid per year.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: QuarkXPress


QuarkXpress 2020

In the publishing software world, Quark has a long history of being a top Adobe InDesign competitor. Adobe is at the top of the design food chain these days, and Quark has become more of a middle-tier competitor. 

QuarkXPress offers modern publishing tools and can help you create digital documents. This version of Xpress is more SEO-friendly, can autogenerate table of contents, plus features enhanced layer control. Xpress allows you to directly import InDesign files with better control on bleed settings, has updated PDF editing options including exporting as HTML, animations, and more.

Xpress also claims to have a more intuitive user interface and less clutter than InDesign, so it’s worth trying both out before you commit to one.

Best for Vector Graphics: Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator orange logo

Adobe Illustrator CC

When it comes to creating and modifying vector graphics, no software is better known than Adobe Illustrator. Vector graphics are incredibly useful in publishing because they can be scaled to small sizes (for mobile phones or small icons) or large sizes (for billboards or big prints).

Illustrator lets you import, modify, or create new graphics from scratch. A toolbar features all kinds of useful creative tools: selection, typography, reshaping, symbols, drawing, painting, graphing, slicing, moving, cutting, and zooming. These effectively let you create anything you can think of, including logos, icons, drawings, and more — as long as you know how to use it, of course.

Over the years, Adobe has added a ton of features to Illustrator. These include letting you import multiple-page PDFs, syncing and browsing with Dropbox, adding the ability to create multiple artboards on a single canvas, supporting the new MacBook Pro touch bar, and more.

Like the rest of the Adobe suite, Illustrator is a somewhat expensive subscription-based application, which can be paid monthly.

Runner-Up, Best for Vector Graphics: Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer logo in blue

Courtesy of Affinity 

In the universe of graphic design software, almost every app in this category wants to position itself as a better alternative to Adobe Illustrator. This is the case with Affinity Designer, a smart and fast vector graphics app that can help you with concept art, icons, illustrations, patterns, and web graphics.

While Affinity Designer may not have every feature found in Illustrator, it does have just about everything you need for the majority of graphical projects. Notable features include the ability to zoom in on a graphic to one million percent (no exaggeration), a rich color palette and boundless gradients, brush stabilization, crazy-good curve control, advanced grids, and capable text and font editing.

But the thing that really sets Affinity Designer apart is the cost. It is just $55 for Windows or Mac ($22 for iPad) and does not require a subscription, making it an attractive option for anyone on a budget. If you have never used Adobe products and you are not tied to the Adobe suite in any way, Affinity Designer is a great alternative.

Best for Photo Editing: Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop logo in blue

Adobe Photoshop CC

Photoshop is one of the most popular photography applications in the world and for a good reason. Since its initial release in 1990, Photoshop has continued to evolve and has robust features for enhancing photos, illustrations, and artwork. On top of this, it also lets you design websites, mobile applications, and other digital assets that are highly important to businesses.

Photoshop features many tools to help edit and produce captivating images. Some features included in the program are font variations, group layer arranging, the Select Subject tool that lets you select prominent objects in images (like people, animals, or food), and the ability to paste plain text with no formatting.

If your photo editing needs are light, you might also be able to use Adobe Photoshop Elements, which does not require a subscription. We’d also encourage you to explore non-Adobe photo editing options like Affinity Photo and Pixelmator, which are featured below.

Runner-Up, Best for Photo Editing: Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo logo in purple

 Courtesy of Affinity

Adobe Photoshop has been the gold standard in photo editing for years. But since Adobe's recent switch to a subscription-based business model, even some longtime users are looking for a more affordable alternative. Affinity Photo is one of these competitors giving Photoshop a run for its money. This lesser-known software has just about every feature you can think of for photo and image editing. Affinity Photo editing features include professional-level adjusting, RAW editing, Photoshop file (.PSD) editing, panorama stitching, HDR merging, batch processing, digital painting, 360-degree image editing, and multi-layered compositions.

One of the coolest things about Affinity Photo is that it offers four “Personas” (Photo, Liquify, Develop, and Export), which you can change depending on what you are looking to do. So when you select a Persona, the tools on the screen change. For example, when you are in the Export persona, you have more control over how you export your images to other formats.

If you have only ever used Photoshop, but want to make a change, Affinity offers inspiration videos and tutorials to help you get started. Like its sibling Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo costs just $55 for Windows or Mac ($22 for iPad). It does not make you sign up for a subscription, which is refreshing and will please budget-conscious users. And for all the features you get with Affinity Photo, $55 is a serious bargain.

Best Budget: iStudio Publisher

iStudio Publisher in white font on orange gradient circle

iStudio Publisher

If cost is your number one concern when choosing a publishing software, iStudio Publisher may be what you need. For under $20, iStudio gives you a well-built and versatile app for publishing all kinds of documents, including newsletters, brochures, flyers, booklets, invitations, menus, cards, and posters.

All the basic features you’d want in a publishing app are here, including text columns, text wrapping, quick document previewing, shape size and alignment, color fill, shadows, and paragraph styling. For power users, there are a few features including custom page sizes, master pages, two-page spread editing, and drawing shapes. And iStudio Publisher has an array of templates so you can easily start on a project and then fill in photos, text, and artwork.

While it may not be the most full-featured mac publishing software, iStudio Publisher is a supreme value for novices and users that don’t need the extra bells and whistles. Mac users have given Publisher a 4.5 out of 5 star average on the Mac App Store and have raved about this as a much lower-cost alternative to Adobe InDesign and Photoshop.

Runner-Up, Best Budget: Pixelmator Classic and Pixelmator Pro

Pixelmator featuring sunset photo with illustrated paint brush

 Courtesy of Mac App Store

Both Adobe Photoshop and Affinity Photo are great options for photo editing, but if those two apps are outside your budget, then look to Pixelmator Classic and Pixelmator Pro. This alternative software is here to save you cash and still bring you most of the features you need to edit and create imagery.

Pixelmator Classic costs only $30 and offers all the basics for photo and image editing, including the ability to touch up photos, sketch, draw, paint, add text and shapes, and more. If you are used to using Photoshop, you might notice some features like the Patch tool and History Brush are missing.

On the higher end, Pixelmator Pro costs $40 and has more features and more parity with Photoshop. On top of offering more advanced features like real-time effects, Pixelmator Pro is built to seamlessly run on macOS 10.15 or later and takes advantage of Mac hardware acceleration. This makes Pro a much better choice if you’re looking for more features and have a powerful Mac to run it on.

Best Free: Apple Pages

Apple Pages orange logo with white pen

Apple Pages

Pages, the word processing component of the Apple iWork suite, combines both processing documents and page layout (including some graphics tools) in one program—with different templates and windows depending on the type of document. It can also handle Microsoft Word files. Pages is installed in new Macs and is a free download from the App Store for most Mac users. A Pages mobile app is also available for Mac mobile devices. 

Pages for iCloud can be accessed online free by you and your team to work in collaboration on the same document. A free iCloud account is required for access.

Runner-Up, Best Free: PearlMountain Publisher Lite

PearlMountain Publisher Lite featuring a publish document and gradient feature pen

 Courtesy of the Mac App Store

If you’re based outside the U.S. and want an inexpensive publishing app for Mac, PearlMountain Publisher Lite may be right for you. This app is free and offers you more than 45 templates for document creation and covers most of your basic publishing needs, including fliers, business cards, menus, newsletters, calendars, posters, books, and more. This consumer-level software comes with helpful wizards and templates to jump-start the design process. It includes photo editing, drawing, and text tools that make it a good all-in-one package for simple desktop publishing and print creativity.​

While Publisher Lite is free, you may want to test it out and then upgrade to PearlMountain’s Publisher Plus, which costs just $20. Publisher Plus offers more than 170 document templates, more than a hundred clip art images, and more than 230 backgrounds. One especially nice feature is that you can export all of your work in Plus to PDF, JPGPNG, TIFF, BMP, and PSD file types in case you want to use other design programs as well.

Best Free Alternative to InDesign: Scribus

Scribus in black font featuring blue circle and quill tip


Probably the premier free, open-source desktop publishing software application, Scribus has the features of the pro packages — but for free. Scribus offers CMYK support, font embedding and sub-setting, PDF creation, EPS import/export, basic drawing tools, and other professional-level features. It works in a fashion similar to Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress with text frames, floating palettes, and pull-down menus, all without the hefty price tag.  

Best Free Alternative to Illustrator: Inkscape

Ink blob in the shape of a mountain


A popular free, open-source vector drawing program, Inkscape uses the scalable vector graphics (SVG) file format. Inkscape can be used to create text and graphics compositions including business cards, book covers, flyers, and ads. Beyond its wide set of standard and advanced features, Inkscape's functionalities are always expanding with optional extensions so you can add on the tools you need without the bloat of those you never use. 

Best Free Alternative to Photoshop: GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

GIMP with illustration of animal holding paint brush


GIMP, which stands for "GNU Image Manipulation Program," is free, open-source software that provides advanced tools for working with high-quality images. This software can handle retouching, restoring, and creative composites and is considered one of the best free alternatives to Adobe Photoshop. It is capable of handling layers, filters, and effects plus it includes the majority of the editing tools you'd expect from a paid software. It also features many useful plug-ins that can further enhance your editing.

Please be aware that the learning curve for GIMP is somewhat steep, making it a better option for advanced users rather than beginning editors.

Best Software Suite: Microsoft 365 Personal for Mac

Microsoft Office for Mac Orange and White Logo

Microsoft Office for Mac

This industry-standard software package comes in a Microsoft 365 subscription for computers, tablets, and phones. Programs share the same file formats with Windows users, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and other components. Utilizing these elements on your Mac can make collaborating on traditional Windows files easier and less complicated if the systems are already installed on your Mac.

Best Free Alternative to Microsoft Office: Apache OpenOffice

Apache Open Office in blue and black font with logo illustration

Apache Open Office

Some say Apache OpenOffice is better than Microsoft Office. With Apache OpenOffice you will get fully integrated word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database tools in this open-source software. Among the many features, you will find PDF and SWF (Flash) export, increased Microsoft Office format support, and multiple languages. If your desktop publishing needs are basic but you also want a full suite of office tools, give OpenOffice a try.

Best for Beginners: Swift Publisher

Swift Publisher logo featuring ladybug

Swift Publisher logo

If a heavy-duty publishing software like InDesign or QuarkXPress seems intimidating, it may be time to look at Swift Publisher from Belight, a friendly and very easy-to-use Mac app. Swift Publisher's primary purpose is for page layout and desktop publishing including brochures, business cards, calendars, labels, and greeting cards.

Most people use Swift Publishing by starting a project with one of its more than 500 templates for any publishing project you need to accomplish. From there, you can add text, images, and more. Speaking of photos, Swift Publisher is preloaded with 2,000 clip art images and 100 image masks which can help you add all sorts of photos and art to your project. If you need more photos or fonts, you can buy an astounding 40,000 images and 100 fonts for just $10.

At just $20, Swift Publishing is a good deal and much less of a commitment than diving into Adobe products.

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