I tested more than a dozen layout and design tools, searching for free alternatives that can easily handle complex layout, design, and publishing tasks. It didn’t take long to see that the truly free tools aren’t very good. Some of the common issues I found were that programs claimed to be free but all templates were locked behind a paywall, they slowed down my computer so much I couldn’t get any work done, and in some cases, my antivirus blocked the download. Therefore, I included some programs that have a free trial, provided you can export or publish your project before the trial ends. Adobe InDesign was above the rest. It is an easy-to-use program with templates for personal and professional projects, excellent typography tools, and comprehensive editing tools. It’s a part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, making it compatible with the other Adobe design apps. Best of all, you can get it now free for 7 days, with no long-term committment – so you can create your layouts and evaluate the software. Try Adobe InDesign for Free!

Quick Guide: The 3 Best Free Microsoft Publisher Alternatives in 2023

What I Look for in a Free Publisher Alternative

After testing over a dozen different programs, I narrowed my list of alternatives to the best five. They all have the tools I needed to replace Microsoft Publisher. Here are some of the factors I looked at that helped guide me through the review process.

Ease of Use: I like software with video tutorials and an active online community. The combination of the two makes it easy to learn new tools and quickly grasp some of the more difficult functions.

Compatible with Interactive Features: I was surprised that not all layout and design programs I tested had the option to add buttons, links, poll questions, and other interactive elements. I understand that they focus on print media, but I need a program that works with online publications as well.

Templates for All Occasions: I don’t mind being creative and designing a layout myself, but I’d rather have a professional template that I can work with. The template selection needs to include all different types of media, from print, online, and mobile.

Editing and Typography Tools: The editing tools are important for adjusting the size of different elements, adding illustrations or objects to the layouts, and measuring different elements to make sure that your design isn’t too crowded. The typography tools include a wide range of font families and styling options.

Free, Freemium, or Free Trials: I needed to ensure that there was a way to use the software without making any payments. In addition to free access, I have to be able to export the work without a watermark.

5 Best Microsoft Publisher Alternatives with Similar Features

1. Adobe InDesign: Fully Customizable Layout and Design Tool that Works with Layers

With its intuitive, easy-to-use workspace, Adobe InDesign has become one of the most popular layout tools. It can seemingly do it all, from editing the layout, adjusting images, adding headers and footers, and access to the entire Adobe Fonts library. If you can’t find the font you want from Adobe Fonts, you can upload any OpenType SVG fonts. You can get started by choosing from the large selection of templates or create your template from a blank page and design the entire thing yourself. One of the big time-savers that InDesign offers is a Master Page. Use it if you want certain elements, styles, or text to appear on every page. Whether you’re working with a template or designing a layout yourself, you can add editable sections that include multiple elements. You can also divide any area of the layout into different sections and add text, videos, buttons, HTML, PDF, or any other element you want to include on your page. Finding the right font type and style is important when telling the story of your layout. InDesign is compatible with text going right to left and left to right, plus there is a Glyph panel so you can add special characters. It comes with an integrated Adobe Sensei tool, which gives you the freedom to manipulate the text how you see fit. InDesign has four types of editing tools:

Selection: The black selection arrow is needed to select an object which activates the layer. Transformation: Use these tools when you want to change the proportions of an object. You can either use the tool and adjust the object manually, or change the position, size, and rotation values in the Transform panel. Drawing: InDesign has precision pen and pencil tools for adding basic illustrations to the page. Modification: Measure objects to ensure everything fits, elements won’t overlap, and there won’t be too much white space.

InDesign gives you the option to publish your work online. You will receive a shareable URL, and it can be opened on computers and mobile devices. While there is no long-term free plan, you can get a 7-day free trial to test InDesign for yourself. It comes with 100 GB of cloud storage and access to more than 20 Adobe creative apps. Try Adobe InDesign for Free!

2. Canva: Drag and Drop Editor with Millions of Free Elements

Canva is a fully customizable graphic design tool that makes it easy to create a layout design. It comes with hundreds of free prebuilt templates for everything from business cards, invitations, promotional flyers, infographics, web design, and more. It’s an incredibly easy, yet powerful tool. While it’s not a layout designer in the traditional way, like Publisher or InDesign, it has all the tools you need. Instead of creating sections or regions that you’ll fill with content, you can use the drag and drop editor to get the desired results. Millions of royalty-free images, icons, stickers, graphics, videos, and audio clips are on the left side of the canvas. You can use the ruler tool and grids to ensure that everything is properly spaced and aligned. You can also find a large selection of font styles and colors that you can add to your canvas. One of my favorite tools that Canva has is a Brand Kit. You can upload a logo or graphics that you frequently use, pick your preferred colors or let Canva match the colors from your logo, and select a font preference and styles for headers, subtitles, and regular text. Not only does this save me so much time when creating different types of media, but it also ensures consistency for all my templates. Canva has multiple publishing options. You can save a file as a PNG, JPG, PDF, and SVG. If the design has animations, you can save it as a GIF or WAV file. There is also the option to publish directly to your social media account. While not all of the templates, icons, images, videos, and audio clips are available in the free version, I was still impressed with how many of them are free to use. Create your free Canva account, with no credit card required. Try Canva for Free!

3. Scribus: Comprehensive Desktop Publishing Software for Online and Print Media

Scribus is open-source software that was designed to compete with InDesign and Publisher. However, as with most open-source software, it doesn’t quite match up to the powerful premium software. There are nine types of layouts, that cover the most common print and digital designs. They include a word processor layout, two and three column pages, a standard professional report, a mixed number of columns, and layouts without columns. Within each category are a few templates that were created by other users and uploaded to the template library. Scribus has a decent selection of publishing tools. You can add frames for different content types anywhere on the page. The frames include text, images, and render. There is also a tool for creating a storyboard and designing a master page. Other tools include adding tables, charts, illustrations, and spelling symbols. Scribus recently added a spell checker, which is essential if you’re planning on writing in Scribus instead of importing content from a different program. Scribus has basic image editing tools, such as cropping, rotating, adjusting color balance, and adding shadows. However, if you need to do major editing work, you’ll be better off with InDesign. Scribus is a free, open-source desktop application. Since it has no web-based application, there is no opportunity for real-time collaboration with clients or a remote team.

4. LucidPress: Create Consistent Templates for your Brand

LucidPress simplifies the design process with its intuitive layout tools. You don’t need a background in graphic design to get the results you want. There is a nice collection of free templates that you can use to get started. Add your logo, text, images, and icons from the LucidPress media library, or upload your own elements. The media library can connect with DropBox and Facebook so you can quickly upload your images. The templates are fully customizable, so you can remove a section, add additional paragraphs, and change the alignment. As a web-based program, it’s easy to invite other people or teams to collaborate on projects. Set the access level for each user, and get comments, see annotations, or full edits. LucidPress has version control, so you can always go back to the edit history and see who edited the document and their changes.

5. LibreOffice Draw and Writer: Create Basic Layouts for Free

The open-source LibreOffice was designed as a free alternative to most Microsoft 365 products. It has two apps that you can use, depending on the type of layout you’re designing. Writer is a word processing tool that you can use to create a basic layout. You can add columns, graphics, page breaks, and choose from a large selection of open-source font families. It has a decent spell checker, although it lacks a grammar checker, so you can add all your content from the same app. If you are creating a more complex template for a brochure, infographics, and newsletter, you can use Draw. It’s a vector-based design tool that you can add multiple elements, move items freely around the page to find the best setup, and add shapes and lines.

When Microsoft Publisher isn’t for You…

There was a time when Publisher was a must-have program for designers and publishers. However, other programs have caught up to the powerful Microsoft tool and can match it in terms of functionality, ease of use, and with a lower or free price tag.

If you’re looking for a powerful design tool with professional templates, Adobe InDesign is the top choice. It has all the tools you need for designing your layout and ensuring all the content is up to your standards. You can try InDesign completely free for 7 days. If you’re looking for an easy-to-use program, Try the free version of Canva. Whether you use a template or create your own layout, you can use the free high-quality elements to give your design a professional style.

Is Adobe InDesign really free?

While there is no long-term free InDesign plan, Adobe has a free 7-day trial that you can claim. This gives you unlimited access to all the templates, features, and editing tools, so you can design and publish your project. If you need more time, you can take advantage of the 14-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee and receive 21 days of free InDesign access.

Does InDesign have real-time collaboration features?

Yes! InDesign is a part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, which gives you the ability to easily share projects with anyone. You have complete control over which users can view a layout, leave comments, or have full editing control.

Which is better, Microsoft Publisher or Adobe InDesign?

While both programs have the tools needed to create a wide range of layouts, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Adobe InDesign. It can do everything that Publisher can do, only better. Not only that, as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, it seamlessly integrates with other Adobe tools, such as Photoshop, Lightroom, and Acrobat, for unlimited creative possibilities.