Desktop Publishing Software: Create Striking Marketing Materials Like the Pros

Tired of bland, cookie-cutter collateral failing to capture attention and clearly communicate your messaging? Producing captivating, professional-caliber marketing materials is easier than ever with the power of desktop publishing (DTP) software.

Once only accessible to printing presses and graphic design agencies, DTP tools now empower entrepreneurs, small business owners, non-profits and pretty much any organization to take marketing creative into their own hands.

This guide will explore the capabilities of leading desktop publishing platforms allowing you to craft striking flyers, postcards, signage, catalogs and more that position your brand cut above the rest visually.

An Empowering Technology for Marketers

So what exactly makes desktop publishing software so uniquely equipped for DIY marketing material design?

At its core, DTP provides an intuitive interface and toolset enabling anyone to:

  • Arrange and structure content by fluidly manipulating text, images, shapes and other elements
  • Dial in messaging through advanced typography and text handling controls
  • Enhance visual appeal importing/editing photos, graphics, clipart, logos
  • Automate repetitive tasks like applying brand styles across 100 page documents
  • Output and publish material optimized for print and digital channels

And leading options layer on additional capabilities like:

  • Pre-made templates to simply drag and drop content into professional layouts
  • Brand asset libraries to maintain logo files, imagery and other files in one central location
  • Real-time collaboration enabling dispersed teams to co-design
  • Variable data publishing to generate personalized documents tailored to each recipient

The end result? Marketeers and creatives transformed into designers with no specialized artistic training required.

While DTP software originated decades ago, constant innovation continues unlocking new levels of visual impact and communication sophistication to amplify your message.

Emerging capabilities like integrating augmented reality, interactive elements, dynamic scripts that update documents automatically make DTP an ever-evolving landscape.

Just look at Adobe introducing 3D and AR functionality or Lucidpress connecting datasets to documents for personalized variable publishing. Exciting times ahead!

Now let’s explore the specific features empowering stunning designs followed by leading software options to consider.

Key Desktop Publishing Software Features

While desktop publishing platforms share the same fundamental layout construction and manipulation DNA empowering anyone to become a designer, they differentiate across factors like specific toolsets, templates, interoperability with other apps and unique innovations.

Let’s break down the composition of features that define the desktop publishing category:

Precise Page Layout Controls

All desktop publishing software focuses first on equipping you to accurately structure documents combining text, images, shapes and additional embellishments.

Drag and drop interfaces allow fluidly arranging content with alignment guides and snap-to positioning for pixel perfect precision. Group elements to move around as a single object. Layer objects for depth and dimension. Arrange the ultimate visual hierarchy focused on clarity and interest.

Such intuitive page layout capabilities form the foundation for DTP magic.

Typography Power Tools

Messaging lives and dies through the effectiveness of language. Desktop publishing grants immense typographical control to tune text for clarity, consistency, flow, contrast, emphasis and alignment with your brand identity or publication theme.

Expect features like full stylistic families, character/paragraph formatting, grids, columns, font embedding, language support, shaping, spacing, text wrap among other text handling superpowers.

This level of texts manipulation propels readability and refinement from bland Microsoft Word docs to refined pieces.

Image Import, Optmization and Editing

What’s a visually compelling marketing piece without eye catching graphics and photos? Desktop publishing software makes incorporating relevant, high quality imagery breezy.

Expect some combination of built-in image optimization and editing tools or seamless support piping in files from other applications like Photoshop. Auto clean up. 4-color process handling. Layering effects like shadows and masking. Crop, size and filter images.

Augment visual interest strategically reinforcing the essence of whatever you concept you look to get across.


Looking to create a polished 100 page product catalog or 5,000 personalized graduation programs?

Desktop publishing solutions understand. That’s where various forms of automation come in incredibly handy by reducing repetitive grunt work.

Options like batch processing functions to traverse thousands of files automatically watermarking or sizing…macros to record commonly reused sequences…scripting integration empowering advanced users to programmatically trigger behaviors ranging from layout out books to applying brand styles across documents.

Depending on the platform scope, automation may happen at the document level or extend to full production systems through integration with database publishing sources.


Creating compelling, on-brand collateral no longer needs to be a solo design affair conducted in isolation. Modern desktop publishing tools acknowledge content often gets created collectively.

Capabilities supporting seamless real-time co-creation of documents empower collaboration. Expect functionality like shared cloud-based libraries, non-destructive annotating for feedback cycles, commenting tools, revision histories and approvals processes.

Collaboration features help align dispersed teams for unified visual communication.

Pre-Made Templates

Even with all the layout, typography, image and automation features discussed, starting any design project from a totally blank canvas still poses a creatively intimidating task.

Where to start structuring content? What embellishments pair well with core messaging? How ensure accessibility guidelines get met on this 50 page report?

Leverage the wisdom of crowds through libraries containing thousands of professionally created templates for nearly any type of document imaginable. Custom tailoring pre-made designs serves as launchpad for augmenting vs reinventing your vision from scratch.

Modify colors…insert brand assets…rearrange…delete…tweak templates into personalized manifestations unique to you.

Leading Desktop Publishing Software Contenders

Now that you grasp the landscape of features fueling desktop publishing awesomeness, let‘s explore top specific platforms worth considering to bring stunning creations to life.

I‘ll summarize 8 of my favorites spanning needs from free and easy to advanced-and full featured.

1. Adobe InDesign

The market leader cherished by professionals across the printing, publishing and marketing industries for good reason – InDesign delivers sophistication lagging options can’t rival.

As part of Adobe’s powerhouse Creative Cloud family integrating with Photoshop, Illustrator and more, it offers a mighty feature set enabling accomplished creatives full control.

Robust typography functions, library of high quality templates spanning documents to apps, augmented reality support through Aero help forward thinking teams craft immersive user experiences.

Collaboration capabilities like seamless Google Drive integration encourage smooth team creation flows augmented by Adobe’s astonishing Asset Link to manage centralized creative assets. Perhaps no other desktop publisher bridges print and interactive creation so intuitively.

The sophistication predictably translates into steeper learning curves and steadier cost. But for organizations invested into achieving design excellence, InDesign represents the golden standard.

Pricing: Subscription only – $239.88/annually


  • Windows
  • Mac
  • iOS
  • ChromeOS

Best For: Creative agencies, marketing teams, publishers seeking extreme DTP depth fully leveraging Adobe’s ecosystem.

2. Affinity Publisher

Representing the most full featured alternative to Adobe InDesign, Publisher offers striking similarity in core desktop publishing functionality for a much lower permanent license cost.

Part of Affinity’s suite of apps aligned to combat Adobe’s Creative Cloud offerings, it interoperates tightly with Affinity Photo and Designer counterparts.

For teams satisfied with more mainstream DTP features like multidimensional layout engines, pro typography handling, smooth image integration and diverse output options, Publisher checks all the boxes at a fraction of the price.

The main tradeoffs come by way reduced auxiliary capabilities around next gen areas like augmented reality, automated batch handling and built-in collaboration lacking in early Publisher versions. But the dev team focuses heavily on rapid innovation cycles closing gaps.

For most general marketing design teams rather than cutting edge publishers/agencies, Affinity Publisher represents outstanding value.

Pricing: One time $55 purchase


  • Windows
  • MacOS

Best For: Marketing teams seeking a cost effective alternative to InDesign capable of producing equivalent core deliverables.

3. Lucidpress

Lucidpress, recently rebranded to Marq by Lucidpress, opts for a friendlier cloud hosted model lowering barriers to sophisticated designs through effortless collaboration in an affordable subscription package.

Seeking to balance wide accessibility through its intuitive browser based interface with retaining pro layout sensibilities, Lucidpress hits the mark on both fronts.

Real time co-editing support allows globally dispersed teams to simultaneously work within shared documents. Conversation style commenting baked into the viewing experience encourages continuous feedback cycles. And like other leaders, batch automation empowers blazing through repetitive tasks to focus creativity on higher level tasks.

For mid size companies needing to arm non-designers employees to contribute visual assets aligned with brand guidelines, Lucidpress strikes an ideal balance of usability and power.

Pricing: Freemium (Free – $10/month per user)

Platforms: Browser based

Best For: Companies seeking an accessible cloud DTP tool fueling remote collaboration

4. QuarkXPress

QuarkXPress owns longstanding traction especially from within print, advertising and graphic design orbits as a preferred desktop publisher thanks to its power user appeal. Beyond the norm document creation capabilities, Quark introduces more advanced bells and whistles like JavaScript libraries for programmed interactions and HTML5 export bridging digital experiences.

For enterprises already bought into Quark’s ecosystem and technical teams craving scripting control through app extensibility options unavailable to competitors, Quark still warrants consideration amongst more mainstream contemporary options.

Pricing: $849 new license perpetual license. Subscription options available.


  • Windows
  • Mac

Best For: Technical designers desiring maximum scripting control customizing desktop publishing behaviour to suit eccentric needs.

5. Swift Publisher

A friendlier, more playful feeling desktop publisher compared to traditional clinical business-first alternatives, Swift Publisher proudly caters to the Mac faithful through tight ecosystem integrations. Drag in images from your Photos library. Flow charts from your iTunes media. Customize templates from its hip collection containing cool illustrations tuned to indie creators, bloggers and hustlers.

While lacking in some more advanced typography and batch handling options limiting capabilities for higher volume agency work, Swift empowers entrepreneurs just kicking off marketing efforts on a budget.

And its affordable single purchase perpetual license model avoids inflating costs. For fresh startups and lean teams committed to Apple’s interfaces, Swift warrants consideration.

Pricing: $20 one time purchase

Platforms: MacOS

Best For: Entrepreneurs, bloggers, and goal-oriented creatives building marketing foundations in Apple’s ecosystem

6. Scribus

Scribus attracts bands of designers to its completely free open source DTP offering. Supporting most core desktop publishing features like advanced typography controls, color management and scriptable automation through Python, it impressively competes favorably even alongside paid tools…with some reasonable limitations.

Namely, in lacking extensive pre-made templates and associated libraries of clipart/imagery common in leading SaaS packages, expect starting more from scratch. Fine tradeoff for $0 in perpetual licensing costs, especially for capable designers embracing DIY mentalities.

For freelancers and budget conscious creatives willing to architect designs themselves in exchange for outright software ownership, Scribus delivers plenty.

Pricing: 100% Free and open source


  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux

Best For: Bootstrapping freelance designers comfortable working from blank canvases for maximum custom work flexibility

7. Photoscape X

Photoscape X offers an interesting lightweight freemium desktop publishing gateway for small business owners just getting started designing collateral without committing to advanced platforms premised on mastery.

Its simple interface prioritizes playful creation through curated templates, handy photo/graphic incorporation tools and a comforting volume of guidance documentation removing early barriers. Export finished work directly to popular printing platforms.

And for fledging product companies or sole proprietors OK trading advanced typography controls for app approachability to craft menus, coupons, event flyers and other modest documents, Photoscape X keeps overhead low financially and mentally.

Pricing: 100% free version. $39.99 Pro version.

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Best For: Microbusiness owners getting started with lightweight marketing materials and unfamiliar with advanced DTP tools

8. Canva

Of course no overview of accessible design focused software would feel complete lacking mention of Canva. While supporting robust desktop publishing capabilities, they smartly position as a welcoming graphic design platform for all vs a traditional DTP tool targeting hardcore creatives.

Access a mammoth template vault spanning needs from social media posts to posters, either customizing free public versions or opting for premium layout ownership. Effortlessly populate sharp templates with images from Canva‘s own libraries. Inline photo editing options enhance images without switching apps. And real time collaboration features now allow teams concurrently crafting.

For solopreneurs to enterprises more concerned on ease of use than advanced typography controls, Canva removes all friction welcoming anyone contribute visual assets. Its model appears poised more newly founded teams starting marketing efforts.

Pricing: Freemium – $9.99/month Premium templates model

Platforms: Pure browser based, completely platform agnostic

Start Creating!

Hopefully this guide has spotlighted the awesome power desktop publishing platforms place at your fingertips.

DTP software continues maturing rapdily while retaining that core page layout/design DNA opening up compelling, persuastive and memorable visual communication mediums to everyone.

We stand at the cusp of being able to transcend static flat collateral into multi-dimensional experiences blending both physical and digital realms through emerging tech like augmented reality and variable/automated content tailoring.

Review the stylistic and functional differences across the showcased contenders through the lens of your organization‘s specific needs and processes.

Confidently take first steps enriching branded communication and never look back. The realm of possibilities remain wide open to craft marketing that converts.

What designs will you create first? I‘m excited to see it!