Free Desktop Publishing Software for Windows

These programs have powerful capabilities

Many free desktop publishing software downloads are fine for a specific job, such as labels or business cards, but they aren't full-featured design tools. However, a few free programs for Windows have powerful publishing capabilities, including page layout, vector graphics, and image editing programs. The three listed here are some of our favorites.

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Professional-level Features: Scribus


Henrik Hüttemann / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

What We Like
  • Familiar interface for Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress users.

  • Available for Windows, Linux, macOS, BSD, and Unix.

  • Drawing tools more capable than other similar programs.

What We Don't Like
  • No spell-check.

  • Steep learning curve for those new to graphics programs.

  • No support for InDesign and QuarkXpress file formats.

Scribus is a free desktop publishing application with many of the features of pro packages. Scribus offers CMYK support, font embedding and subsetting, PDF creation, EPS import/export, basic drawing tools, and other professional-level features.

Scribus works in a fashion similar to Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress with text frames, floating palettes, and pull-down menus, but without the hefty price tag. As great as free is, this might not be the software you want if you have no prior experience with desktop publishing software and don't want to devote time to the learning curve. If you do, however, there are many tutorials available to get you started.

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Flexibility for Many Types of Tasks: Inkscape

What We Like
  • Similar in capabilities to Adobe Illustrator.

  • Intuitive interface, especially for those familiar with Illustrator.

  • Works on Windows, macOS, and Linux.

What We Don't Like
  • Can be buggy when working with other file formats.

  • Documentation is not as organized as it could be.

  • Would benefit from more keyboard shortcuts.

A popular, free, open-source vector drawing program, Inkscape uses the scalable vector graphics (SVG) file format. You can use Inkscape for creating text and graphics compositions including business cards, book covers, flyers, and ads. Inkscape is similar in capabilities to Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW. It's a graphics program that's more flexible than a bitmap photo program for performing many desktop publishing page layout tasks.

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Open-source Photoshop Alternative: GIMP

What We Like
  • Comparable in features to Adobe Photoshop.

  • Lots of community support.

  • Compatible with Photoshop plugins.

What We Don't Like
  • Geared toward creating and editing single images.

  • Steep learning curve.

  • Sometimes runs slowly.

The GNU Image Management Program (GIMP) is a popular, free, open-source alternative to Photoshop and other photo editing software. GIMP is a bitmap photo editor, so it doesn't work well for text-intensive design or anything with multiple pages, but it's a great free addition to your desktop publishing software collection, and there are plenty of tutorials available to learn how to use it.

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