The best alternatives to Adobe InDesign for iOS and Mac

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Adobe's increased subscription fees have moved them out of the price range for many people, but that doesn't mean you'll have to go without. We've compiled a list of the best desktop publishing software for macOS and iOS that won't break your bank.

Best Alternatives to Adobe InDesign for iOS and Mac


There was a time where if you were serious about designing a flyer, a brochure, or a bit of text-heavy product packaging, you'd reach for Adobe InDesign. InDesign was, and to some extent still is, the industry standard when it comes to desktop publishing. It's a solid product with a lot of polish, and there's no denying that in the right hands, it's capable of producing some incredible results.

However, it's not perfect. The big issue with Adobe is their Creative Cloud subscription model, which can cost upwards of $80 per month if a user needs to use two or more programs at once. Small businesses, independent contractors, and hobbyist designers and artists often can't afford to meet these subscription prices, especially if they only need a couple of the apps every now and then.

So, what do you do if you don't want to -- or can't -- afford an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription? You look elsewhere to greener pastures.

Affinity Publisher (MacOS - $50, currently on sale for $40)




New to the market, Affinity Publisher is brought to us by the folks behind Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer. It's an impressive alternative to Adobe InDesign, and its "pay once, use forever" model is far more appealing than paying a monthly fee.

Publisher provides exactly what you'd want in a desktop publishing app, including double-page spreads, image frames with scaling options, text wrapping with fine padding control, master pages, facing page spreads, and more. If you're looking for a one-to-one swap with InDesign, we'd say this is probably your best bet.

If you've already got Photo and Designer, then it's even better. Utilizing Serif's StudioLink, Publisher allows you to seamlessly edit images and design from within Publisher. This saves time and effort, streamlining the process from beginning to end.

Eventually, Publisher will be making its way to iPadOS, but is not currently available.

Publisher Light (MacOS - Free to try, $40 to buy)

Image Credit: Pearl Mountain
Image Credit: Pearl Mountain


Unrelated to Affinity Publisher, Publisher Lite is a great beginner-friendly software publishing app. It's designed with novice users in mind, with a simple layout and over 170 templates to jump start your project.

These templates include catalogs, business cards, brochures, flyers, posters, news letters, certificates and more. Publisher Lite also includes over 100 pieces of clip art, allowing users to add embellishments with a few clicks.

If you're looking for a simple program that won't require much effort to use, you may want to check this one out.

Scribus (MacOS - free)

If your budget doesn't allot for a $40 piece of software, don't worry, there's still hope. Scribus has been around for 15 years, and is free and open source.

Scribus is not quite as intuitive as Affinity Publisher, nor as easy to use as Publisher Lite, but with patience and research it's a competent piece of software.

Scribus can make just about anything you could produce with InDesign, including newspapers, magazines, resumes, business cards, and more. It's worth noting that Scribus isn't compatible with other desktop publishing file types, so users won't be able to edit something from InDesign or Affinity Publisher within Scribus.

Tech-savvy users will appreciate that Scribus is transparent about how it handles users data, as well as giving users the ability to edit the code of Scribus itself.

Honorable mentions and alternatives

While these may not be traditional desktop publishing programs, they still may get the job done, depending on what you may need to do.

Pages (iOS and macOS - free)

Image Credit: ResumeInventer at Creative Market
Image Credit: ResumeInventer at Creative Market


Yes, Pages isn't desktop publishing software. However, that doesn't mean that pages can't create some truly impressive products when time and effort is invested into it. Pages can be used to easily create eye-catching resumes, bi- and trifold pamphlets, and flyers for events.

If you don't have a designers eye, websites like Creative Market offer plenty of well-designed templates to help your projects look their best.

Vellum (macOS - $200 for eBook version, $250 for paperback and eBook version)

Image Credit: Vellum
Image Credit: Vellum


Again, Vellum isn't a desktop publishing program, but it absolutely is a must for anyone who is regularly publishing their own books. In fact, we've already sung the praises of Vellum here before.

Vellum is a simple to use book publishing software capable of creating both print and eBooks. It features classic touches like drop caps and ornamental flourishes, and automatically formats manuscripts to avoid windows and short pages, balancing out page spreads to make a book natural and easy to read.

Vellum can create books that are ready for print, as well as output formats that will work with Kindle, Apple Books, Kobo, and more. If you're a self-publishing author, we implore you to check out Vellum before fussing with a full-featured desktop publishing program-- work smarter, not harder.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 34
    What about Swift Publisher?
    eyeakel
  • Reply 2 of 34
    I own a weekly newspaper and want to replace a CS6 InDesign so I can finally catch iMac up to current OS. I’m surprised to see Quark Xpress not mentioned, and remain unsure whether apps mentioned in article have horsepower for broadsheet. 

    I used Quark for 20 years or so and switch to ID was painful, and I still think it sucks more than two years later. 
    williamlondonSpamSandwich
  • Reply 3 of 34
    Surely QuarkXPress deserves a mention? After all it was the King of the Hill before Adobe set their sights on them 
    bloggerblogwilliamlondonSpamSandwich
  • Reply 4 of 34
    eyeakeleyeakel Posts: 8member
    Yeah Swift Publisher works great
  • Reply 5 of 34
    lorin schultzlorin schultz Posts: 2,739member
    [...] automatically formats manuscripts to avoid windows and short pages
    I assume that should be “widows?” If not, can someone explain to me what “windows” are in the context of text layout?
    williamlondongregoriusmravnorodomIreneW
  • Reply 6 of 34
    If you're in a position where you don't need to hand over InDesign files to clients. (E.g. agency land or people using Windows.) Then I can recommend getting in bed with Affinity - their software is great and they're all in on iPad as well. Being on Adobe means that you need to take your workhorse with you everywhere, which often means having both a laptop and a desktop mac. (Adobe really aren't into optimisation, rather it seems the opposite.)

    While I'm making recommendations, don't bother with any of Adobe's HTML5 tools, go straight to Hype. It is infinitely better.
    edited July 4 williamlondonsportyguy209FileMakerFeller
  • Reply 7 of 34
    borpsborps Posts: 19member
    tgjustini said:
    Surely QuarkXPress deserves a mention? After all it was the King of the Hill before Adobe set their sights on them 
    I second that. While I’m a big fan of Affinity Publisher already, QuarXPress has been the bees knees of professional DTP for a long time (I’m a typographer and I “grew up” with it. They even did away with the infamous dongle :D)
    gregoriusm
  • Reply 8 of 34
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 689member
    [...] automatically formats manuscripts to avoid windows and short pages
    I assume that should be “widows?” If not, can someone explain to me what “windows” are in the context of text layout?
    LOL I suspect Windows was a freudian slip on this Mac site.
    gregoriusm
  • Reply 9 of 34
    vernkvernk Posts: 5member
    I always hated Quark, right from the get go. Mostly the company, but the software sucked too. But for awhile it was all you could use after Adobe bought Pagemaker from Aldus (well, bought Aldus and killed Freehand too, but that's a rant for another time) and let Pagemaker die.

    Yours
    Vern
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 10 of 34
    Can’t say enough good things about Affinity Publisher especially when combined with Photo and Designer. They’re fantastic apps!
    sportyguy209
  • Reply 11 of 34
    edac2edac2 Posts: 21member
    Maybe QuarkXPress isn't mentioned here because it is hardly a cheaper alternative to Indesign. Quark is $400 on the App Store; the QuarkXPress Store lists it as $250/year ($750 total) for Indesign switchers. Quark was always full of itself and used to charge $900 for a single-language edition, so I guess it's gone down in price since its glory days. But you would be much better off switching to Affinity Publisher than a program built on a 1990's framework.
    ravnorodomsportyguy209SpamSandwich
  • Reply 12 of 34
    frank777frank777 Posts: 5,798member
    edac2 said:
    Maybe QuarkXPress isn't mentioned here because it is hardly a cheaper alternative to Indesign. Quark is $400 on the App Store; the QuarkXPress Store lists it as $250/year ($750 total) for Indesign switchers. Quark was always full of itself and used to charge $900 for a single-language edition, so I guess it's gone down in price since its glory days.

    Yes, the saddest thing is how Quark never got the Steve Jobs memo to "accept the war is over and move on to the Next Big Thing."

    Quark had everything necessary to create a low-cost, entry-level InDesign competitor (or just buy iStudio Publisher), and then reposition Xpress as the next step. They could have bought Pixelmator or another Mac-friendly Photoshop competitor and bundled it for free with Xpress. They seem content to just keep trying the same things that haven't worked for the last decade and expect different results.

    That's a shame because Quark's current software has really improved and is genuinely Mac-friendly, and because we all lose when Adobe has no real competition.
    edac2
  • Reply 13 of 34
    frank777frank777 Posts: 5,798member
    edac2 said:
    But you would be much better off switching to Affinity Publisher than a program built on a 1990's framework.

    This is just wrong. I use InDesign, but even I'm aware that Quark has been fully OS-native for years, and went 64-bit only a few years back.
    The current app is a fully modern one that is now updated on an annual basis.
    Sanctum1972
  • Reply 14 of 34
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,293member
    The update to Pages.app guarantees I have zero need for Vellum.
  • Reply 15 of 34
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,293member
    frank777 said:
    edac2 said:
    But you would be much better off switching to Affinity Publisher than a program built on a 1990's framework.

    This is just wrong. I use InDesign, but even I'm aware that Quark has been fully OS-native for years, and went 64-bit only a few years back.
    The current app is a fully modern one that is now updated on an annual basis.
    You'd be wrong on that. What the person is trying to tell you is that Affinity uses the latest Frameworks available, period. Quark and InDesign generally are three or four major revisions behind. They have a much older install base and thus have a vested interested in not breaking a lot of their code base. Moving to 64 bit isn't a new reality. It's been available in OS X for 12 years now. Affinity literally rewrote Photo, Designer and introduced Publisher now all 1.7 based off of Mojave 10.14 frameworks.
    sportyguy209SpamSandwichedac2
  • Reply 16 of 34
    frank777frank777 Posts: 5,798member
    You'd be wrong on that. What the person is trying to tell you is that Affinity uses the latest Frameworks available, period. Quark and InDesign generally are three or four major revisions behind. They have a much older install base and thus have a vested interested in not breaking a lot of their code base. Moving to 64 bit isn't a new reality. It's been available in OS X for 12 years now. Affinity literally rewrote Photo, Designer and introduced Publisher now all 1.7 based off of Mojave 10.14 frameworks.

    I get your point, but this is 2019. "Three or four major revisions behind" can't be equivalent to "a 1990's framework".
  • Reply 17 of 34
    Publisher Light is the best one for me. very easy to handle other than Affinity Publisher for me.
  • Reply 18 of 34
    Sanctum1972Sanctum1972 Posts: 94unconfirmed, member
    The update to Pages.app guarantees I have zero need for Vellum.
    Pages is perfectly fine if you're using it for basic word processing, notes and charts. But if you're working on a book, magazine, newspaper, business card, or working in a DTP or in-house design production gig, or as a graphic designer, then Adobe InDesign or Quark is the way to go for high level professional work. I've used InDesign CS5 ( still works on High Sierra ) for many years now and swear by it when working on graphic design projects or needing to convert fonts as vector shapes instead of bitmap ( extremely important if you're doing design for t-shirts, posters and such on 300 dpi or higher ). In my old job at the print shop, InDesign was used for a lot of production work setting up the prints and doing many custom work on business cards or stationery. Because InDesign was the go-to tool for the shop, it enabled us to use automated actions such as importing multiple PDFs all at once into one file with more than 100 pages. I would never use Pages for this kind of thing.

    If you're self-publishing an e-book as an author, InDesign, Quark and Publisher will do the trick. Vellum as well, although I prefer the granular control of InDesign. I was in art school in the 1990s, Quark was confusing to use at the time, in my case. It was not until I figured out my way around Illustrator and Photoshop on my own, InDesign was coming around the corner which got my attention. 

    Affinity Publisher is a strong alternative which I've been seeing when it was in beta. That is likely to be my next app when I upgrade to a new desktop to replace the old mid 2010 iMac. Maybe late 2019 or early 2020. Who knows? Affinity Publisher feels closer to InDesign in user interface and function when I tried out the beta version. I think it's going to take about 2-3 years for Affinity to have a stronger presence over Adobe in the print and design industry if they continue to improve their apps and stay away from the subscription model. I have the iPad Pro version of Designer and like it but not Photo yet ( I've heard that it's got some issues compared to the desktop version ). But for image manipulation, I'm sticking with the old Photoshop as my trusted tool on the desktop for the time being. 
    sportyguy209
  • Reply 19 of 34
    I don't like indesign, but i need CS6 it at home and work. (Still fondly remember Quark 4)

    Is there a VM / Parallels solution so i can boot up El Cap on home and work macs when i need to work on 32bit apps?


  • Reply 20 of 34
    Are there any service providers (i.e. print shops) out there who can opine on Publisher? There's an eponymous Microsoft product which has long been the bane of service providers, and before I switch to Affinity Publisher I need to know that its output plays nicely with print shops.

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