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Desktop Publishing on a Budget

Our customers include a lot of novices in the area of graphic design who may not be well prepared to work with images and fonts effectively and often lack basic software appropriate for desktop publishing and graphic design.  Everyone seems to have Microsoft Word, but it just doesn’t do the job when it comes to even fairly simple integration of fonts and graphics in an attractive publication design.who want to use our fonts and graphics but don’t have a background in desktop publishing or graphic design or the need for advanced software like Adobe Creative Suite. There are some things which you just can’t do if you’re a novice at computer design and limited to programs like Microsoft Word.

Even fairly basic design projects require either an advanced image editor or some sort of desktop publishing software. The key break point where a text-oriented program like Microsoft Word comes up short for anything but the most basic design projects, is in not facilitating the easy manipulation and positioning of images. For example, to use the many borders in our collections you need to be able to resize and reposition them and most importantly superimpose type on them, and you just can’t do that practically in Microsoft Word which is not designed to handle complex two-dimensional manipulation of text and images.

In the past this has been a real problem because high end graphics or design programs have been prohibitively expensive and there have been few reasonably priced alternatives. For OSX users this has changed with the advent of the App Store. The pricing practices which became common with the App Store for the iPhone and iPad have carried over to OSX and this has brought down the price of many applications and even led to creative pricing solutions from the highest end software publishers like Adobe.

For many users the learning curve is less steep and needs are easiest to meet with desktop publishing software, but with premiere packages like InDesign or QuarkXPress priced around $700 they are not a realistic purchase option for novice or casual users, so what do you do if you just want to design a cool newsletter or invitation or the occasional brochure or business card? Here are three options which may fit your needs and let you do just about anything you would want to in document design, and one of these options is bound to fit the needs of any user from the novice to the professional and at a very reasonable price.

Swift Publisher 3.0

BeLight Software’s latest version of Swift Publisher is a strong entry-level desktop publishing application which offers pretty much everything a novice user needs for typical projects like designing invitations or holiday cards or simple brochures, and even includes templates for many of these projects to help out beginners right out of the box. It includes most of the features you would find in a higher end design application like the ability to flow text from page to page, multiple layers, scaling images and some control over the spacing and formatting of text, though not as much as some users might want.

The interface is relatively simple and designed for ease of use, but it is also very much oriented towards beginning users and focused on using templates rather than doing custom designs. This is good for those with no experience, but for more experienced users it may prove somewhat frustrating. The learning curve is very easy for simple projects, but for more advanced uses it may seem cumbersome and the focus on templates may become very limiting. But if you just have a flyer or simple card to do Swift Publisher will start you off ahead of the game and allow someone with very little experience to produce a professional-looking product very quickly.

At just $19.99 the entry cost is very low, just where you want it to be for the casual user.

Creator Express

Creator Express has actually been around for a very long time as a competitor to high end programs like InDesign and QuarkXPress, but it never really found the same status in the marketplace. This latest version has been released through the App Store at a much more reasonable price and may find its market in that environment, as a lower-priced alternative for publishing professionals in small businesses.

Creator Express is less of a beginner application than some users may want, but offers high end features which many will find useful. The interface is fairly complex, but will be familiar to those who have used Adobe products. It is very similar to what you find in PhotoShop or InDesgn, though somewhat simpler than the latter. It is tool palette driven and oriented towards blank-canvas design, assuming that the user has some idea what they want to do and how to use the tools. It is a full-featured design package with strong tools for controlling shapes, colors, images and also text. It’s really very reminiscent of earlier versions of some Adobe products, particularly PageMaker which was the predecessor of InDesign. For someone like me it was a snap to use because it was just like stepping back a couple of years and working with programs with which I’ve been very familiar for a long time.

It also offers some very nice higher-end features like highly customizable shapes in which you can insert images, drawing tools, texture tools, sophisticated gradients and text manipulation tools, including adapting texts to paths with a tool which may be superior to the equivalent tool in Adobe Photoshop.

Creator Express is a great alternative for those with some experience who want to do higher-end design work, but it may be harder for novices to just pick up and use out of the box. AT $29.99 the price is outstanding for the quality and versatility of the product.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe’s approach to the problem of providing advanced software at a reasonable price is the innovative idea of the the Creative Cloud, which essentially lets you rent a very expensive program for a finite period of time, accessing key components through their server and never actually owning it as a complete piece of software resident on your computer. This is new technology and it may have shortcomings based on your internet speed and the capabilities of your computer, but cloud integration is being pushed very heavily by Apple and if you have a good DSL or Cable internet connection this may be a viable option for you. It allows you to access high-end programs for a monthly fee, starting as low as $19.99 a month for a single program like InDesign or Photoshop and at a still reasonable $49.99 a month for the full Creative Suite with InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat and more. This program includes a free 30-day trial and lets you save a lot of money if you just have the occasional project to work on. The pricing is carefully structured so that if you are likely to use the software for two years or more then you’ll be better off purchasing the full version rather than using cloud access. These are the best programs of their sort available, setting the industry standard, and the ability to access the latest versions for a short term at a low price is a major market innovation. Adobe’s main competitor in Desktop Publishing is QuarkXPress and though it is arguably superior to InDesign it is not available in any form other than as the full installed package for $849.

Rating 4.00 out of 5


4 Responses to “Desktop Publishing on a Budget”

  1. Brian S. Anderson on October 17th, 2012

    I’m a big fan of Serif PagePlus. ( ) It’s currently selling on their site for $75.

    It’s very feature-rich and powerful. People who use it and have experience with the big DTP packages say it competes very nicely with them.

    It’s currently in version 16 (“X6″), and I’ve used it since version 6.

    The company is very user-friendly and has a great forum, with frequent participation from the developers. They respond to problems very quickly and issue patches to deal with them. They’re a small company that is very passionate about their product and about excellence. They remind me a lot of Scriptorium in that respect! :)

    Check them out; they even have earlier versions of the package available as free downloads, so you can try them out, no strings attached.

  2. Irma on October 18th, 2012

    You were true to your word David. Thank you for the information, to a novice like me having an expert giving advice is invaluable.Greetings from Mexico.

  3. Dave Nalle on October 19th, 2012

    Glad this was helpful. After I do some reviews of low cost graphics programs I’ll look at a few more DTP packages, though $75 may be on the high end for what I’m trying to do in keeping the entry price as low as possible.


  4. Michael on October 21st, 2012

    There’s another piece of design software you can look at too, called Scribus. It’s free and open-source and appears to have some very nice features, though I expect it’s not the most user-friendly software on earth. I’m afraid I’ve never used it as I have ready access to fairly up-to-date Adobe Creative Suite programs.

    I’m a full-time, professional graphic designer and pre-press operator for a printing company. As someone who’s job it is to take customer files and make them work, I’d like to mention one thing to keep in mind when using any design software. That is, the types of file it will output. I can pretty much guarantee that if you have to take files to a print shop, they won’t be able to open these programs’ native files. We just don’t have any reason to keep a bunch of other applications installed and constantly updated when 95+% of the files we get are in InDesign or Quark.

    This isn’t to say you shouldn’t try using these programs. They may well do everything you could ever need. You just have to think about how you’re going to get anything printed, should that be important to you. You’ll have to save the files to something like high-resolution PDF, EPS or TIFF for them to be useable in print. If all the software can save is it’s native format and, say, JPEGs and HTML/XML, it may be an excellent choice for web design but it won’t help you print Christmas cards. It’s just something to think about.

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