Adobe InDesign is a standard Word layout program that allows designers and desktop publishers to create beautiful layouts.
The original aim of this tool is to create print documents such as cards, magazines, brochures, and reports.
However, the tool has transcended into a cross-platform system for creating interactive documents like PDFs and interactive publications for mobile devices like the iPad or Android devices using Adobe digital publishing suite plugins.
With InDesign, you can import your existing Microsoft Word or Excel documents in only a few clicks.
You will have little or no challenge formatting your documents, especially if you are familiar with the basic text options that other Microsoft tools or Adobe software have to offer.
InDesign brings your messages to life with the basic formatting options and you can use the more advanced typographic options to take your designs to the next level.
However, over the years, needs and concerns arose which InDesign could not address for everyone.
For example, some users complained about the software consuming a lot of computing resources. Other users even claimed they needed to double their RAM specs to forestall constant crashes.
While some users like InDesign for the detail of its features, it is a complaint of many others who think that the workspace is too clogged up and not intuitive enough.
Some other groups of users claim that different (or the same) versions of the tool, including the cloud version, were not compatible. For them, this makes file-sharing a hassle unnecessarily.
These concerns and more are the reasons many people may be looking for alternatives to Adobe InDesign.
While we would be exploring alternative tools here, we are specifically going to focus on open-source options. Wondering why open-source? Let me explain.
An open-source software code is available for all users to inspect, modify, copy, and use in any way they choose. While you may not utilize this defining feature, it comes with many developmental implications.
Open-source InDesign alternatives give users the opportunity to pursue their creative expression without being limited by access or hardware requirements.
Also, such tools are often improved within a relatively short period of time because of public collaboration, so a lot of the defects of InDesign are rectified in these alternatives.
Below are the top 10 open-source options you can consider as a replacement for InDesign.
Scribus is an open-source desktop publishing platform. As it is with Adobe InDesign, it can be used for typesetting digital journals, brochures, banners, posters, flyers, and other single and multiple-page publication items.
Of all the items sampled on this list, Scribus sports one of the most copious operating system supports. They span MS Windows, macOS, Linux/Unix, OS/2 Warp 4, ArcaOS, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and PC-BSD. Others are eComStation, Haiku, GNU/Hurd, and OpenIndiana.
The platform is equally versatile in terms of file format support. They include JPEG, TIFF, EPS, PSD (Photoshop), AI (Adobe Illustrator), and vector files (SVG and XFIG).
Coming to color scheme support, Scribus accommodates the CMYK color model. It also complies with the International Color Consortium’s (ICC) color management system.
One important reason you can consider Scribus as a valid alternative to InDesign is that it is totally free to use and distribute, unlike InDesign. Scribus is distributed under four different licenses that grant different levels of distribution permission to end-users. These licenses include:
- GNU Lesser General Public Licence (LGPL 2.1)
- MIT Licence (x11)
- BSD Licence
- Public Domain License
Again, although Scribus is free, its quality of user support competes favorably with that of InDesign. Apart from the community support at Scribus, there is also a dedicated team of real people which is extremely rare on a fully open-source platform such as this.
As of June 2021, the five-man support team is comprised of Andreas Vox, Craig Bradney, Christoph Schäfer, Gregory Pittman, and Jean Ghali.
You can easily reach them by pointing your Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client to the libera.chat and using the #Scribus channel on Freenode. You can equally take advantage of their user mailing list which is available here.
Polotno Studio is an open-source InDesign alternative you can consider for several reasons. Among these is the fact that it stands out because of its ease of use and clean interface.
For example, the online platform is not only fully free and open-source but it also doesn’t require that you sign up to use it. Also, it doesn’t run ads.
Going further, Polotno Studio has a simple WYSIWYG interface that almost mimics MS Word. Thus, as soon as the home page opens, you can immediately see menu items like ‘New’, ‘Open’, ‘Save’, and more. That is to signal that you can start working immediately.
Like InDesign, this software has a rich collection of photos and vector graphic elements to aid you in your design projects, but they do not have templates yet. They, however, promise that this will soon be made available too.
Unlike InDesign, this software is not only free but also promises to remain as it is to end-users forever. The admin only monetizes the software development kit (SDK).
As for use cases, you can apply this software to make just about anything that is possible on InDesign. The use cases range from social media graphics to business presentations to book covers and more.
However, because it doesn’t require user registration, it is so far not possible to save your project and continue working on it next time.
But then, the developer Anton Lavrenov has also informed the public that an optional sign-up is in the making. He says that the aim is to help those who want to save their work to do so.
Some Polotno Studio users we found testified that it works as promised. But there have been claims by some users about their inability to download PDFs on the platform. It is likely though that this is a result of some problems with their computers rather than with Polotno Studio itself.
As of June 2021, this software is not yet optimized for mobile devices, but the developer promises that this will be taken care of soon.
If you are a developer and you want to contribute to the Polotno Studio source code, here is the software’s GitHub page. So far, however, the distribution license hasn’t been made clear.
SILE Typesetter is an open-source typesetting cum layout software that runs locally on your computer. The makers officially acknowledge that they drew inspiration from Adobe InDesign. So, it is clearly a valid alternative to the Adobe star software.
One instance in which SILE Typesetter can be considered a better alternative than InDesign is in its operating system support. Unlike InDesign that works only on Windows and Mac OS, this software runs on Mac OS, Linux, and Windows.
The range of Linux distributions immediately supported by SILE Typesetter includes Arch Linux, Ubuntu, and Void. Other Linux distros can install via Open BSD ports or through NixOS.
As for Windows support, it is available but highly limited. It is available by using pre-made Windows binaries that can be generated through the Azure build pipeline. Otherwise, if you are a developer, you can build it from scratch.
Again, unlike InDesign, SILE Typesetter can be run remotely as part of a continuous integration workflow. You can do this by using any continuous integration runner environment that you already work on (such as on GitLab). Otherwise, you can run it by using a ready-made Docker container.
Another important instance in which SILE Typesetter stands out as an Adobe InDesign alternative is affordability. Not only is it free, but you can actually make money by selling it.
How is that? It is available on the MIT Open-source Licence. This license gives everyone the right to use and copy, sublicense, redistribute, and even sell the software.
SILE Typesetter can be applied to achieve just about anything possible with InDesign. Used in conjunction with a sister open-source software known as CaSILE, you can apply it to realize any desktop publishing goal. For instance, you can use it to make press-ready outputs like ebooks and product catalogs.
Yet another instance in which SILE Typesetter (plus CaSILE) stands out as an InDesign alternative is in its use for the automation of the publishing process.
It automates the process throughout to the end. That’s because it doesn’t have to follow the production stages serially. For example, a book’s exterior and interior designs can be done simultaneously. Otherwise, any stage can come before the other.
Formerly known as UXbox, Penpot is an open-source software program that is used for both graphic design and UX prototyping. Its first stable release was in February 2021, but it had already been in its beta phase since 2016. It is fully open-source and free to use.
Just like InDesign, Penpot allows team members to collaborate in real-time on a design project. Each team member can view and contribute to the project and make comments for other team members to see and respond to.
One major reason you might want to replace Adobe InDesign with Penpot in your toolbox is affordability. As already said, it is free to use. All you need to do is create an account or log in with your Google account and you have it all for free.
Once logged in, you can create teams and invite people to join. Then, you can design a shared library where your team’s projects/elements can be saved. You can save your ongoing or completed projects. You can equally save elements like colors, fonts, icons, and more to be reused in future sessions.
Penpot can be considered a better alternative to InDesign for another reason: it is entirely web-based. As a result, you can work on it both on the desktop and mobile screens.
In case you are a developer, you can contribute to Penpot here on GitHub if you like.
This is an open-source desktop publishing platform that is available on the GNU General Public Licence version 3 (GPL-3.0). So far, it runs only on Linux distributions. As of June 2021, the latest stable release is Laidout 0.097.
Laidout is for you especially if you’re looking for an InDesign alternative for creating multi-page publications like booklets, brochures, magazines, and product catalogs.
That’s because, according to the developer Tom Lechner, the software was created with multi-page productions in mind. So, it may not be for you if your thing is to make single-page items like posters, flyers, and logos.
As an InDesign alternative, Laidout is unique in one area: You can use it to make pages that are non-rectangular. Also, you can use it to incline a page at any angle of your choice. This is available in case you want to achieve some special effects with that.
The file export options available with Laidout 0.097 include PDF, PNG, EPS, and SVG. It also offers limited exports to Scribus (.sla file format). The Scribus exports are limited to images and groups only. It also offers file exports to Passepartout. This too is limited to images and groups.
The file import options available on Laidout include EPS (only as a whole rather than components) and images at specified DPI. It also exports to Scribus and Passepartout with some limitations. The Laidout GitHub page is here.
Typesetter CMS is yet another great open-source InDesign alternative you can consider. It is basically a typesetting and layout design engine written in PHP.
This software sports a WYSIWYG editor that autosaves your design as you work. The outputs are responsive to any device from phone to tablet to PC.
Again, the software supports some of the most popular cascading style sheet languages you can find. Thus, it turns up themes that look and feel quite slick.
One instance in which Typesetter CMS stands out as an InDesign alternative is that it goes beyond just the regular typesetting and page layout designs.
Instead, it doubles as a content management system (hence the name). In this sense, it can equally be used to design great-looking websites.
You can find Typesetter CMS on GitHub here.
VistaCreate was formerly Crello. It is another open-source InDesign alternative. Some things you can easily design with VistaCreate’s intuitive interface include flyers, infographics, resumes, ebooks, brochures, letterheads, business cards, and more.
VistaCreate also works on mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS. So, unlike what you get with InDesign, you can work on a design on the go while commuting or just anywhere.
Another prominent feature of VistaCreate is its rich library of over 30,000 pre-built templates that look quite professional.
These are spread across all the categories covered by the software. Added to this is another rich library of over 1 million royalty-free images, vectors, and vids to enhance the ease and quality of your job.
This InDesign alternative also sports unique photo-editing features. For instance, you can easily use it to remove a background from a photo or make it transparent.
Typetura is a tool used for graphic design, website design, and desktop publishing.
It stands out as an Adobe InDesign alternative for one reason: its offer of automatic typography. The typography is made to be able to scale to any layout or device on its own.
Another significant feature of this software is that it combines design with text styling. With this, it is able, for example, to remove the need to write new cascading style sheet codes for every website you design.
All you need to do is plug a Typetura package in place of block-by-block CSS. Doing this, the package automatically adapts to the layout or design.
This software is open-source. In case you are a developer and want to contribute to its source code, here is Typetura on GitHub. However, its distribution license has not yet been made clear.
One important reason this software made this list of open-source alternatives to InDesign is that it is free both to use and to distribute. This is a contrast to InDesign’s cut-throat pricing. LibreOffice Draw is distributed on the Mozilla Public Licence version 2 (MPL-2.0).
One other reason you might want to use LibreOffice Draw instead of InDesign is if your work involves complex vector graphic design structures. That’s because it is made specially to handle such complex structures using shape tools and other features.
Yet another reason LibreOffice Draw should be a better alternative to InDesign is its operating system support. While InDesign runs only on Mac OS and MS Windows, LibreOffice Draw supports these plus Linux OS.
Again, the use cases for LibreOffice Draw are just about the same with InDesign. It can be used to make items like brochures, magazines, and newsletters.
You can also use it for technical art involving flowcharts and more. You can find out more about LibreOffice Draw on GitHub.
It is distributed under the GNU General Public Licence version 3 (GPL-3.0). Thus, any end-user is free to run, redistribute, as well as change its source code but may not sell it.
The major file format support for Inkscape is scalable vector graphics (SVG). But other formats can also be imported or exported.
As for Inkscape’s operating system support, it spans Linux, Mac OS, Windows, and FreeBSD. This is in contrast to InDesign that runs only on Mac OS and Windows.
The number of international language groups served by these software programs is another instance where Inkscape stands shoulder high above Adobe InDesign.
While InDesign serves 24 language groups across the world, Inkscape covers 90 groups. So, the chances of Inkscape serving your team members from different language backgrounds are significantly higher with Inkscape than with InDesign.
It has been a great ride through these software programs. Each of them can replace InDesign one way or the other in your toolbox hence the reason they made the list.
Meanwhile, Scribus tops the list for a couple of reasons.
First, it is the one open-source option that corrects the downsides of InDesign more than any other that we sampled. Also, it enjoys the most versatile operating system support among all of the samples.
Again, it is the only option on the list that is distributed under multiple licenses, so it could rightly be said to be more open-source than the rest.
Above all, Scribus tops the list because of its quality support. As pointed out earlier, the admin behind the service really deserves our applause for being able to provide dedicated support for a platform that is both open-source and free.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.