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Best Overall: Adobe InDesign CC at Amazon
"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: Quark Xpress at Quark
"Offers every modern publishing tool and can help you create physical and digital documents, as well as iOS and Android apps."
Best for Vector Graphics: Adobe Illustrator CC at Amazon
"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 CC at Amazon
"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: Belight Printworks at Belight
"Software and 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."
If you need to create and publish physical or digital documents, Adobe InDesign CC 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 on the left side with tools to let you build out and modify documents and pages, including those for selection, drawing, typing, shapes, transformation, and navigation.
During the past few years, new features have been added to InDesign CC including better document previewing, document presets for smartphones and tablets, 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 CC is an expensive subscription-based application, which can be paid monthly or pre-paid per year. Other design apps like Quark Xpress and Affinity Designer are available at lower prices or without subscriptions.
Courtesy of Quark
In the publishing software world, Quark has a long history of being a top Adobe InDesign competitor — Quark’s first publishing products, released in 1981, actually predate Adobe entirely. However, Adobe is at the top of the design food chain these days, and Quark has become more of a middle-tier competitor.
Xpress 2018 is the most recent version of Quark’s publishing software and the most full-featured app they've ever released. Xpress offers every modern publishing tool and can help you create physical and digital documents, as well as iOS and Android apps. The 2018 version of Xpress specifically adds in features including OpenType controls, new color fonts support, the ability to directly import InDesign documents, an updated PDF print engine, better HTML5 code exporting, and unlimited Android app creation.
Quark Xpress’ biggest selling point is the fact that you don’t have to subscribe like you do with Adobe InDesign, so once you buy a single license for $399, it’s yours forever. 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.
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 both 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 on the left side of the screen features all kinds of 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, hand drawings, and more — as long as you know how to use it, of course.
In the past few years, Adobe has added a ton of new features to Illustrator CC. These include increasing the size of anchor points, letting you import multiple-page PDFs, syncing and browsing with Dropbox, adding the ability to create up to 1,000 artboards on a single canvas, supporting the new MacBook Pro touch bar, and more.
Like the rest of the Adobe suite, Illustrator CC is a somewhat expensive subscription-based application, which can be paid monthly or pre-paid per year.
Courtesy of Affinity
In the universe of graphic design software, almost every app in this category wants to position itself as easier to use and cheaper than 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 things that really sets Affinity Designer apart is the cost. It's just $50 and doesn't require a subscription, making it an attractive option for anyone on a budget. If you’ve never used Adobe products and you’re not tied to the Adobe suite in any way, Affinity Designer is a great alternative.
Adobe Photoshop CC
Photoshop is one of the most popular photography applications in the world and for 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 CC is the newest version of the app, and it’s as fully-featured as ever. New features include a Select Subject tool that lets you select prominent objects in images (like people, animals, or food), better brush performance and organization, new font variations, group layer arranging, and the ability to paste plain text with no formatting.
At the time of this writing, Photoshop is the least expensive subscription in the Adobe suite. 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.
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 newcomer competitors that's 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, including 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 between depending on what you’re 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’ve only ever used Photoshop, but want to make a change, Affinity offers more than 200 free tutorial videos to help you get started. Like its sibling Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo costs just $50 and 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, $50 is a serious bargain.
Courtesy of Belight
If a heavy-duty publishing software like InDesign or Quark Xpress seems intimidating, it may be time to look at Printworks from Belight, a friendly and very easy-to-use Mac app. Printworks’ primary purpose is for page layout and desktop publishing including brochures, business cards, calendars, labels, and greeting cards.
Most people use Printworks 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, Printworks 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 from Printworks for just $10.
At just $30, Printworks is a good deal and much less of a commitment than diving into Adobe products. And for $40 total, you’ll end up with software and a huge number of copyright-free images for all of your publishing needs, an even better deal if you’re just beginning in design.
Courtesy of the Mac App Store
If cost is your number one concern when choosing publishing software, iStudio Publisher may be what you're looking for. 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 more than 60 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 publishing option, 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 4.2 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.
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 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 costs only $15 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're used to using Photoshop, you might notice missing some features like the Patch tool and History Brush are missing. (If you’re not a power user, that likely won’t be an inconvenience.)
On the higher end, Pixelmator Pro costs $30 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 Macs released after 2012 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.
Courtesy of Apple
Pages, the word processing component of the Apple iWork suite, combines both wordprocessing 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 ships with new Macs and is a free download from the Mac 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.
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 40 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, and it includes photo editing, drawing and text tools that make it a good all-in-one package for simple desktop publishing and print creativity.
Note: We wouldn’t recommend this software to U.S.-based users because it does not have templates for U.S. paper sizes like 8.5 by 11 inches.
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 200 clip art images, and more than 200 backgrounds. One especially nice feature is that you can export all of your work in Plus to PDF, JPG, PNG, TIFF, BMP, and PSD file types in case you want to use other design programs as well.
Courtesy of Scribus.net
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.
Courtesy of Inkscape
A popular free, open-source vector drawing program, Inkscape uses the scalable vector graphics (SVG) file format. Use Inkscape 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.
Courtesy of Gimp.org
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, filter, and effects and includes the majority of the editing tools you'd expect from a paid software.
The 2.10.6 version is now available for free download. Please be aware that the learning curve for GIMP is somewhat steep, making it a better option for advanced users rather than beginning editors.
Microsoft Office for Mac
This industry-standard software packages comes in an Microsoft 365 subscription for computers, tablets and phones. Programs share the same file formats with Windows users, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel and other components.
Courtesy of Apache
Some say Apache Open Office is better than Microsoft Office. Get fully integrated word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing and database tools in this open-source software. Among the many features, you'll 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, try OpenOffice.