Free Desktop Publishing Tools

Category: Printing , Software

Desktop publishing software makes creation of printed materials easier and enables professional-grade design, layout, and printing. But leading commercial software DTP is expensive. Fortunately, there are free and budget-minded desktop publishing programs for non-profit and low-budget publishers. Here's a roundup of your best options...

Desktop Publishing on a Budget

So you want to make your own newsletter, brochure, invitation, poster or stationery? Desktop publishing (DTP) software makes it fairly simple with templates, clipart and drag & drop design tools. But who wants to spend a lot of money on software they'll only use once or just occasionally?

Microsoft Publisher, a mid-grade suite suitable for general business purposes, sells for around $110; QuarkExpress, the gold standard of the publishing industry, goes for $300 to $900 depending on the options you choose and the type of organization that buys it. And you can't even buy Adobe's Creative Suite software -- you have to rent it at a cost of $20 to $50 per month. These prices are a bit steep for anyone who doesn’t make money with what they create.

Free DTP software

The good news is, there are quite a few free and low-cost alternatives to these commercial software products. You can create professional-looking wedding invitations – hopefully, a one-time need – and then delete the free DTP software without a care. One-man shops can easily create brochures, posters and postcards. School teachers, club officers, and others who can’t spend a lot of money on software or training can avail themselves of simple yet powerful and inexpensive DTP software.


Scribus is a free, open-source DTP solution for Windows, Mac, Linux, and lesser-known operating systems. Scribus’ feature set competes with industry powerhouses like QuarkExpress and Adobe's PageMaker or the newer InDesign CC. It can be used to prepare publication files for professional image-setting equipment. If also creates animated presentations in PDF format, and can insert interactive form fields in PDFs. Scribus is used by small newspapers, freelance designers of brochures, business cards, and other marketing materials. It’s also great for creating large posters or typesetting a self-published book.

PagePlus Starter Edition is a Windows program (32-bit, XP through Win8) distributed by Serif Europe. It is a slightly older version of the commercial program, but it is not obsolete or lacking in features. It supports CMYK layout, OpenType, and Optical Justification, among other features found in more expensive programs. It can create files in PDF and e-book formats (.mobi, .epub) as well as industry-standard DP file formats. Users of the free edition have access to free designs and templates after registering their email addresses.

Fatpaint is a Web-based graphic design, image editing, and desktop publishing software-as-a-service. There’s nothing to download or install; just log on with any Web browser and start creating. Fatpaint runs best with Java enabled; the site will ask your permission to use Java. Your browser and Windows may ask if you wish to allow Java to run, too. Fatpaint lets you publish product listings directly to Zazzle, where they can be used to buy or sell. You can search online image storage services such as Bing, Picasa, Yahoo, Flickr, and others, drawing images into your Fatpaint projects. Completed projects can be saved on Fatpaint’s servers or locally.


Broderbund’s PrintShop starts at just $49.99. It is one of the oldest and popular entry-level desktop publishing programs. Designed for novices, PrintShop is ideal for newly elected club officers, neighborhood associations, and other small non-profits staffed by non-technical volunteers. It’s only available for Windows.

Pages for Mac is an Apple iOS and OS X 10.6+ word processor and layout program. It costs only $19.99 at the iTunes Store. Page is kind of an orphan; once part of Apple’s iWorks productivity suite, development on Pages stopped in 2009. But user demand brought it back as a standalone, inexpensive option.

What do you use for desktop publishing? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Free Desktop Publishing Tools"

Posted by:

Joel Portman
02 Aug 2013

I've used PagePlus for years after having used Pagemaker and I find that it is more than satisfactory for my needs. I publish some books, using PagePlus to format the entirety of each one and then send the formatted document by PDF to the printer. I also publish several monthly magazines on the internet and use PagePlus for them as well. It's not perfect and they keep "bugging" me to buy the newer versions, but I find that they don't do anything for my needs that the older versions don't do as well.

Posted by:

02 Aug 2013

I have used PagePlus SE for years. It is a great program for making large posters and meets most of my DTP needs. Highly recommended!

Posted by:

02 Aug 2013

Thanks for the suggestions Bob and recommendations from Joel & Larry. I'm going to try the Page Plus software.

Posted by:

02 Aug 2013

Looking for a simple monochrome copier for my small office. Just need it to scan and copy documents. No computer interface, no WiFi. Just an old-fashioned, plain copying machine that isn't the size of a house. Maybe 30 copies daily.

Posted by:

John Page
03 Aug 2013

Do any of the free ones permit you to directly email the finished product from the DPT? Thanks, John

Posted by:

03 Aug 2013

Thanks. Useful suggestions, especially Scribus, which I hadn't heard of. A check on the Apple site shows that Pages is still marketed under 'iWork', but the three programs can be purchased separately. The iTunes Store will, I think, only get you the iOS version, while the Mac's App Store is the place for the desktop version. It might be worth adding that Pages and the other iWork apps can save files in Windows-friendly formats. I'm not a great fan of Pages (I prefer NeoOffice), but Keynote and Numbers are more user-friendly for the non-specialist than their bloated MS counterparts, as, indeed, is Pages. I greatly miss the old AppleWorks program, which provided great dtp functionality and was provided free with a Mac. Nowadays not even iWorks comes included. Fortunately, as you so usefully point out, there are free alternatives.

Posted by:

Nancy Ayers
11 Aug 2015

I am using MS-Word to write a small book. When I insert photos, the text moves around in unpredictable ways. I'm wondering if MS-Publisher or PagePlus or Scribus might do a better job of handling photos fluently. Anyone have advice?

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