Best Free Desktop Publishing Program

 
Introduction

Commercial Desktop publishing programs are expensive. For those with less sophisticated needs Microsoft Publisher retails for $169. But if you need more features and versatility you soon move up to the $700 or higher range for programs like QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign.

But don't despair, there are two excellent desktop publishing programs that are totally free. One is ideal for small business and an excellent alternative to Microsoft Publisher; the other is a serious competitor to the high-end, feature rich commercial programs.

 
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Discussion

ScribusThe first, more advanced, program is Scribus, a free open source program that was originally written for Linux but is now available for Mac OS X, OS2 and Windows.

Scribus is the real thing; a professional quality page layout program capable of producing "press-ready" output. The feature list is impressive, basically everything you want is there including: CMYK color, separations, ICC color management and versatile PDF creation. Graphics manipulation is handled via an interface to the Gimp, another open source program. Scribus can also import from and export to programs in the Open Office suite.

The user interface though highly functional, is not quite as slick as its commercial cousins but it can be skinned to fit in with the look of whatever operating system you are using. The documentation is excellent and there is lots of support from Scribus's enthusiastic user community.

 

PagePlus Starter EditionThe second is PagePlus Starter Edition from Serif Software, makers of the well known free digital editor PhotoPlus. It's an earlier version 8 of Serif's current PagePlus product that is now at version X5. The SE version is lacking a lot of features available in the current product but has more than enough to produce the relatively simple brochures, flyers, ads, and newsletters used by small businesses and charitable organizations. In fact its lack of complex features makes it a much more user friendly and easier to learn program for beginners with only basic publishing needs.

The program comes with a good set of templates to help get the creatively challenged started and more templates can be downloaded from the web. Text creation and manipulation works well while images can be cut and pasted, re-sized and moved around the templates with ease. There is also a basic set of shapes available. The color palette available is limited but adequate for most needs. File formats available to save your work are also somewhat limited and do not include the ability to save your work in PDF format. However, for $9.95 you can upgrade to version 9 that handles PDF as well as adding a lot of other features such as Pantone colors, freehand tools, mail merge and web publishing.

If there is one thing that really stands out about PagePlus SE, it is the ease of use. In fact if you can use Microsoft Word you can use PagePlus SE to accomplish far more with your layout than is possible with Word. Serif is also noted for offering previous customers great deals on even their latest versions, so, for some, it might be worthwhile to become a customer and watch for deals. As of July 2010, a new and greatly improved version, compatible with Windows 7 is now available.

 
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Quick Selection Guide

Scribus
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very powerful, can do about anything that you can imagine.
May be too complex and powerful for casual usage.
1.4.3
70.1 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows 2000 to 7, Mac OS X, Various Linux Distributions, OS2 eComStation.

Before installing Scribus (for Windows), install Ghostscript. It's required for EPS import.

PagePlus Starter Edition
4.5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Easy to use. Many built-in backgrounds, templates, swatches, styles and etc. Likely the best choice for everyday usage.
Not as feature rich as the competitor.
Starter Edition
81.35 MB
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP (32 bit), Vista, 7

Registration is free and required to get a product key for installation.

 
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Tags

desktop publish, desktop software, publishing program, publish software

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Comments

by RonLuce on 15. April 2013 - 1:16  (107099)

I use the Draw module of LibreOffice (aka OpenOffice) for page layout with great results.

It's a very good tool for one or two-sided projects like business cards, flyers and brochures -- not your novel.

Sribis is surely the better tool for professionally printed jobs, but LibreOffice Draw is better for simple jobs printed at home.

The trick to DTP in Draw is using the layers. You set-up your guidelines on the bottom layer, lock the layer, and make it non-printing.

Then do your lay up on the top layer.

The learning curve is so much easier than Scribis.

BTW -- I'm a professional graphic artist and prefer a blank page rather than templates or wizards in programs like MS Publisher. If you want that, Draw isn't for you.

by Adullam on 12. April 2013 - 13:11  (107020)

Just downloaded PagePlus for a computer running Windows XP.... yeah I know, I'm even older! Anyway, there was no delay in the download and all worked well. You need to register for the product key, but I haven't had any spam or problems similar to those experienced by Chris Varga. The program has started and appears to be all that is advertised. Looks like an outstanding product for the price. Cheers.

by Chris Varga (not verified) on 24. November 2012 - 18:21  (102845)

Setup: Trying to find a free alternative to my beloved Corel draw 10. I am a power user at the least using windows 7 on a very clean system.

PagePlus starter: TRIED to download. They required that I setup an account and provide name, email....no initial option to opt out of newsletter spam!!! Spam worked immediately!!!..., but download didn't....no matter how many times I tried, I could not get download. Had to hunt to find the option to opt out of spam. Was just going to give up and cancel account, but I can't find that option!!!! Not impressed so far.

Scribus: No account setup. quick easy download. no spam. nothing to waste my time opting out of. Not a beginner friendly program but, great online support for those who don't fear a little tinkering and learning.

by Tony Charlton (not verified) on 16. October 2012 - 17:18  (100848)

I am trying to load (gs871w64.exe. Each time I enter run I am told that the software is corrupt. Is there anyway to download a copy that will run? Also having problems downloading Scribus for windows 64 bit version. I have tried using Google Chrome and Explorer to download progs but neither have managed to download good copies.

by Computerdoc (not verified) on 23. September 2012 - 13:25  (99646)

Scribus DOES have a portable version now. 2012-09

by Jojo Yee on 23. September 2012 - 13:35  (99647)

Thanks Computerdoc. It is updated now.

by dsnillo (not verified) on 17. September 2012 - 20:36  (99399)

I downloaded Page Plus X6 Starter Edition recently. I cancelled the install when I read the EULA. I didn't feel comfortable giving Conduit Software that much access to my information.

by mrsammy7 (not verified) on 3. July 2012 - 1:45  (95666)

I would like to publish a book as a gift to my 90 year old father in law. It is a memoir of his life with photos.
What is the best company to layout and print such a book.

by kedarnath j (not verified) on 19. June 2012 - 5:10  (95095)

hi,

I had been struggling to complete a print ready book to publish with openoffice.org, libreoffice, and scribus. i was looking for an alternative - The problem was the getting the pictures in the right place. I tried everything in the book, so to speak, anchoring it to page, paragraph and stuff. but just couldn,t get past 10 pages, the way i wanted. And then I came across you guys. And was very very happy that others have problems too.

So, I decided a new approach - Scribus, and DTP etc. are pagelayout programs. that have their idiosyncrocies and I have mine. I have been laying out pages - and when I submit it to the programs they screw things up - NOT ME. I have just uninstalled scribus. I have created 20 blank single page files with Libreoffice and I'll concatenate them later produce my book faster and better than any scribus- bribus, whatever and stuff.

by Pyotr (not verified) on 14. February 2012 - 23:27  (88874)

I want to make some "books" not large brochures. So I want most to know is whether I can produce "signatures" - when one piece of paper has 8, 16, or 32 pages printed (front and back) so that you can fold the paper, cut the edges, you have all the pages printed correctly.

by MidnightCowboy on 15. February 2012 - 5:06  (88894)

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by boristhemoggy on 30. January 2012 - 5:17  (88009)

Scribus was never designed to make your own text in there. It was designed to import pre-formatted text from another program such as Open Office, and in fact the Scribus people themselves recommend that. Had I know that when I downloaded it I'd have thought twice. HOwever I did learn that a lot of high end DTP programs take this approach

Scribus is not intuitive, in fact it is one of the least intuitive programs you'll ever come across, with non standard icons making things more difficult than they ought to be.

It does have colour management built in, but after 8 days of trying I could not get it to work, despite the best efforts of their community forum and email list.

When I use a program designed to achieve a specific aim, I expect it to achieve this. Scribus puts you through a massive learning curve which has only one correlation and that is to the absurd level of complexity required in using it. I'm not sure if it achieves it's aim any better than rock solid Publisher. Publisher is easy to use, intuitive, and not that expensive.
Apologies to the hard work put in to writing Scribus, but if you produce a tool that hardly anyone is capable of using, don't expect great feedback. If you want people to love it then make it user friendly.

IN terms of free programs Serif kicks Scribus' ass and knocks it into a cocked hat 99 times out of 100. Well done Serif, another extremely capable program which is unbelievably easy to use.

by Remah on 30. January 2012 - 5:52  (88010)

I've used both and largely agree with what you say about both programs. But I don't think the differences are as quite as extreme as you say.

Serif is another great application for the average user so it provides features that are not as common in more specialized packages. Traditionally DTP has had text pre-processed in other programs such as word processors and text editors.

With Scribus there are more than 1 in 100 situations where Serif won't be kicking any ass. My favorite is being able to write Python scripts to generate documents automatically and interactively without even touching the Scribus interface. There are many such scripts available on the Net.

by PC (not verified) on 28. November 2011 - 13:25  (84050)

PagePlus Starter Edition is so restricted, I found it not fit for purpose

by ErikJon (not verified) on 23. October 2011 - 4:07  (81966)

Hello, friends.

Just a warning...

Recently I was using the same computer for many consecutive days at a nearby Internet cafe, if not weeks. The computer had been working fine, and even for hours on the same day before something strange happened to me, as soon as I downloaded and installed the latest free version of PagePlus.

A mysterious "keyboard virus" started to appear. In other words, as I was typing away in Microsoft Word and other programs, I would type a series of words for example, and the computer would suddenly double, triple or quadruple at random one letter in one of the words. I thought perhaps I had held down the key too long, so I would back up and re-type, and this time nothing would happen. After one minute of continuous typing I noticed the same thing happening again, this time with the space bar. For the next 45 minutes I was very careful about what I was typing, and saw that, no less than fifty times this "keyboard virus" would randomly mess up my words, but only while typing them. In fact, it got worse with time, and it would repeat random letters thirty times or more. In some cases it would not even let me backspace to correct the errors, which was extremely frustrating.

I rebooted the computer several times, with the cooperation of the manager of the cafe, and every time the keyboard virus reappeared (in spite of a "freezer" program that the cafe uses, which supposedly restores every unit to its original state when re-booted, in order to prevent customers from changing the settings, for example.

I immediately went online and searched for a solution to this keyboard virus, which I had assumed was unrelated to PagePlus. To my surprise, one of the first comments I came across, on a certain blog about computer problems, was from a fellow who had had the very same problem as I, and immediately after downloading PagePlus. The only difference was that he had bought the latest paid version, while I had downloaded an earlier version (which was now their free version). His keyboard virus appeared at this point, just as mine had.

It was too much of a coincidence, not to be related to something on the Serif website, or else embedded in their software, so I would caution everyone not to take any unnecessary chances, and not to download this program. I thanked God that I had been on a cafe computer when this happened, and not on my home computer, because the problem simply would not go away.

Of course, I should mention that one or two of the best anti-virus programs were up and running on the cafe computers, as usual, and yet none of them could detect this keyboard virus.

Best wishes.

by MidnightCowboy on 24. October 2011 - 6:38  (82044)

I think it's important to consider the difference between a virus and a bug which in any case could be hardware/driver related. I appreciate it isn't impossible for VirusTotal to miss a detection, but with multiple scanners it is highly unlikely, and the score when I uploaded PagePlus just now was zero.

by Ellie (not verified) on 24. September 2011 - 14:39  (80257)

Thanks so much for this post. I installed Serif & even though i'm a novice at this design stuff i thought i lacked some basic functions. So i took the plunge & downloaded Scribus. I find Scribus not very user friendly, & had to watch YouTube Tutorials to get the hang of it....Now a few hours later i'm into the swing of it, i'm sure there are loads of functions i won't even need to use, i'm just designing a few fliers and posters for a small business and it is just what i needed.
Thanks Again,
Ellie

by Stretch (not verified) on 18. August 2011 - 10:01  (77885)

Scribus

I had a look at this program because I produce reports containing graphics and annotations that I then send out as PDF's. I use MS Publisher at present but I'll always try an alternative out of interest. My reports contain a lot of graphics, text blocks, bulleted points and arrows. I use styles and master pages.
I tried to do bullets in Scribus but couldn't work out how to do it so googled it and it turned up something to do with editing python scripts - to do bullets? That's a deal breaker to me but I experimented a little more. I tried creating a text box and editing the text. Standard stuff like selecting a block of text and changing the font, size and style. No toolbar to do this (even changing the font size!) and then I found the right click "properties" box which I found a little awkward. Then even selecting a block of text was somewhat flaky. Depending on the direction the text was selected it would sometimes select all the required text or not. Then I tried arrows. Can be done but not obvious. All very, very clunky and not all intuitive.
Maybe there are more efficient ways to do these basic things but they weren't obvious. IMHO having basic formatting immediately available is DTP 101.
Having said all this I always appreciate the efforts of programmers who create open source stuff - amazing really. From other comments it is able to produce excellent output. If the user interface were made more intuitive and presented more of the common functions more obviously it would no doubt be excellent. I'll try it out periodically and see what happens.

by Stretch (not verified) on 17. August 2011 - 11:04  (77789)

A note to anyone who wants to run an old program that they like on a newer operating system that doesn't support it.

Use Virtualbox to run the old operating system within your new one: Install Virtualbox, turn off the internet access so you don't have to run a virus scanner or firewall (which will make the old OS run fast and smooth), turn off disk indexing, install your old program and cutepdf and make a shared folder so you can send files back and forth between the host and old operating systems. Voila. If that all sounds like gibberish to you, get a computer savvy person to set it up for you. It's really much easier than it sounds though.

Once you've created your document in your program you "print it" via cutepdf to a pdf file which you can then print on whatever printer you have hooked up to your new operating system.

Example: say you have Windows 7 but have a program that will only run on XP (or it could be linux, windows 98, whatever). You install XP into Virtualbox running on your new computer. Then run Virtualbox (in Windows 7) and start windows XP - XP appears in a window. you run your old program, say Publisher 97, make your document, print it to PDF and save it in your "shared" folder. Then you go to that same shared folder in Windows 7, open the PDF and print it.

Also Virtualbox has something called "frameless mode" as well, so that you can run an old program in what looks like a normal window on your new operating system.

Hope this helps someone.
Stretch

by Justyna (not verified) on 17. June 2011 - 12:05  (73920)

Downloaded PagePlus Starter Edition, everything would be great, there is only one thing missing: I need to use hyperlinks, and exactly this function is disabled (I do a newsletter linked to products in my shop). So, if I want to have this option, I need to buy a full version.

by Kiku (not verified) on 5. May 2011 - 4:32  (71440)

I want to make sure: can Scribus save a file as a PDF?

by Tylerhw (not verified) on 5. May 2012 - 1:42  (93050)

Yes Scribus can save to a PDF file. The PDF icon will take you to a page where you can adjust your settings prior to creating the PDF.

by Liz (not verified) on 18. November 2010 - 17:23  (61361)

HELP PLEASE!
I need to create a PDF which was hyperlinks in it. would one of the free programs above have this feature?
I have Microsoft Publisher 2000 at the moment, which is fine but it does not allow hyperlinks to websites.
any help would be fantastic

by Jojo Yee on 19. November 2010 - 4:10  (61377)

Scribus allows for external web links via PDF Annotations. After editing, use Export to save your document as pdf.

by Ronald (not verified) on 11. November 2010 - 0:30  (61008)

Hi Dave,
I was sent an email that was a .pub and I didnt have a desktop publisher so I saved it to my documents and then down loaded Scribus. When I tried to open it a Scibus dialouge box said
C:\Users/Ronald/Disability/PCP.pub is not an acceptable format.
Can you help to resolve this so I can review and edit this document.

Thank you for any help you can offer

by dave007 on 22. November 2010 - 19:42  (61514)

I can't give much help on this. .PUB is a proprietary format from Microsoft. I do not know of any conversion software from .PUB to something that Scribus can handle.

Does anyone else know of any such software??

by Betty (not verified) on 10. August 2010 - 17:39  (55749)

I have read the comments above and found them very helpful, but, alas(!), I don't always understand the verbiage used to describe different programs and/or processes. I'm a word processor "from way back," and have Microsoft Works on my XP computer.

I have written a book, about 150 pages or so, and have been finally stopped in my efforts to "put it all together," especially with getting page numbering to start with page one where I want it to so I can use Roman numerals on the beginning pages that are entitled Acknowledgements, Preface, Forward, Table of Contents, etc.

My son forwarded Open Office to me but I lack the ability to fully understand how to apply its functions to an already typed and formatted document. I have found that its capability to forward my document to a publisher via email in Microsoft Word has been great . . . at least I think so.

I am continuing to be so aggravated at how the publishers all want me to pay $1500 to have it published but only if my book (which is already typed up and formatted and professionally edited)can be redone according to their standards: margins, font and font size, heading sizes, etc. So I am at a standstill right now as I continue to wait for the latest publisher to tell me if they've even read my book.

I've been able to print it out at home and then get it copied at a photocopy place and then have it bound with those curly thingamagigs and then sell it at Bible studies and/or give it and/or sell it to people who really need to read its contents in order to be set free.

It's been an aggravating process to forward its contents back and forth between my son and I as he has attempted to help me, even with the page numbering problem. Finally, he came to the conclusion that it was getting changed between our computers because the software was different.

I like the way "it looks" on my computer, but some weird things seem to happen in transmitting it back and forth.

It was referred to in the comments above that there is a vast difference between word processing software and Desk Top publishing. Would you explain to me in "layman's terms" what that different is? Also how hard it would be to "change my thinking" from a word processing understanding in Microsoft Works to one that can do what I need it to do to get the book(s) published?

When I first started working in what we called word processing 100 years ago (I'm kidding), I started out on an electric typewriter that had more than one space bar so you could count the units of measure for each word, add them up to right hand justify, and then use the appropriate space bar to cause it to justify!

Then I worked in a technical document/production typing scenario where I learned about cut and paste and used electric typewriters and printers. I think I used Word Perfect back then as well which mentally challenged me at times!

But now with all the very new stuff and language, I'm lost and somewhat overwhelmed because I just assumed a publisher would be able to receive my document as an attachment or even printed out and sent to them and that they would take care of it from there and make it into a book.

But now I'm finding out about the incapatibilities of different software programs to be able to receive the document and have it interpreted to look the same as it was in the format which the document has been originally printed.

The idea of having to retype everything and change the format, fonts, varying sizes of headings, etc., is so very overwhelming. I'm not sure how to proceed. Can anyone out there help me? I have much on the inside of me to write and believe I have experienced so much spiritually that will help hurting people and writing the book(s) I've written so far has been my way of spreading out this knowledge to those people who desperately need it.

But I'm being technically challenged because of the modern ways of communicating electronically and the demands made on me to conform to their level of computer knowledge. I have so much more to write, but I need to know how to proceed so that it will be compatible with other software where I might send it so it can be published.

Your help and comments will be so appreciated. Thank you for any help you might be able to give me!

by Dr. Eugene Emahiser sr (not verified) on 16. November 2012 - 19:06  (102426)

I am in exactly the same boat, with the same questions, and the same frustrations. I have a brand new (Nov 2012) built from scratch, high powered PC, with Version 7 Premier and use Open Office to handle my writings and Picasa3 to hold and use my photos. I have had problems with conversions with PDF, and also older (circa 2000) writings in various formats into ODT, the system used by Open Office... I wish that publishers would either 1) unify their program/print requirements (standardize them) or else electronically make themselves reception friendly to whatever mode we creative writers are using. Like you, I have a lot to say (Full Gospel) about the Word, and a lot to say about life in general, that would be welcomed into many lives -- call me Great Grandpa Gene -- and want to get on with it. My prayers now will include your version of personal grief.

Dr. E

by Carol Wright (not verified) on 1. March 2011 - 0:59  (67210)

Betty,

Hope by now you have found help getting your book "printed." If the company wanted $1500, they are a book PRINTER, not a publisher. A publisher takes your manuscript, gives you a modest royalty advance, then takes on the job from there of editing and proofing, designing, formatting, printing costs, promotion costs, etc. What you ran in to was a "vanity press," like Vantage Press,where essentially you take all the risks. This company may provide its isbn number, company logo, etc. It may for a fee design the cover for you.

Even so, you have to submit the manuscript in the intended format. Perhaps by now they might give you a template for word or other program so you can run your book in in the format they need.

Now, however, I would not even go that route. For almost no money, just a little time to learn, you can format your book for Kindle and other readers and sell it on Amazon. You can download the Kindle software for free to your pc or your smart phone...you don't need the dedicated reader unit. Then look up ebooks or epublishing and pick a simple How To book for starters. There is one I am reading about how to format an ebook in an hour.

As far as your book being stuck in works...there area various Save As formats that may give you appropriate formats. The ebook formatting is actually simple html coding, like on a web page. The end result has NOTHING to do with the formatting you may do to get your Works document looking nice.

If you cannot save your Works document in different formats, then highlight the entire file, do a copy, then paste it into Open Office. Even free online is google Docs, a free word processing program.

So many of us in the trade, with thousands of dollars invested in college education, computer equipment and graphic design programs and years in the industry...are also having to relearn this new way of working...meanwhile people with no training are learning to do it themselves...and complaining it's not easy.

Truly we are spoiled.

by Celie (not verified) on 7. August 2011 - 9:29  (77071)

What a great reply, I have had a few of the same problems, especially with page numbering which was a nightmare and also with exchanging files created by MS Word. I learned that Word is not a file sharing medium and whatever you do, it will change things along the way to someone else and again coming back. You have to use something like Open Office. Good luck, I am looking at my book right now and if I did it, so can you if you can persist.

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