Desktop publishing software buyer's guide

Before you buy desktop publishing software, consider how the software will be used. The amount of publishing you'll be doing, and the quality of items published, weighs heavily on the type of software to be purchased. Do you want to design a professional logo for your business, or create fun stationery and scrapbooking pages?

What to consider when choosing desktop publishing software:

  • Take advantage of free trials. Many desktop publishing software titles get mixed reviews and ratings for interface and ease of use. Individual preferences surely account for some of the contrasting opinions. Take advantage of the free trials offered by software publishers to determine which program fits your working style. Except for Serif PagePlus X5, the software in our Best Reviewed section is either available as a free trial download, comes with a money-back guarantee, or, in the case of Serif PagePlus SE and Scribus, is completely free.
  • You may already own or have access to software that can double as desktop publishing software. Word processing programs like Microsoft Word or Apple Pages can be used to format booklets, cards, stationery, and most other basic printing projects. Most photo-editing software includes templates for creating greeting cards and newsletters. Free clip art and stock photos are available online. Many desktop publishing projects can be finessed using word processing software, photo-editing software, clip art and stock photos.
  • Choose between using a professional printing service and desktop printing. This is important because not all desktop publishing software can produce color separations and files that commercial printers can use.
  • If you want someone else to do the printing, consider using a photo-sharing site. Many online photo-printing services allow users to upload photos and artwork, and then print business cards, greeting cards, and more. The websites allow users to format and do some basic design for projects online, so there's no need to buy desktop publishing software. We have a separate report on digital photo printing websites.
  • Determine whether you need templates. Most desktop publishing software includes templates that require minimal customization, which can speed up tasks. If you'd prefer to use your own design ideas, this feature will be wasted on you.
  • Do you need clip art? If you'd rather use your own photos or artwork, there's no point in bogging down your computer with clip art that you'll never use. On the other hand, many users need access to a large clip art gallery.
  • What about fancy fonts? An unusual font can make your project distinctive. Some desktop publishing software titles have better text tools than others, so you can take a font and add a drop shadow or other variation.
  • Some desktop publishing software includes photo-editing tools. If you already have photo-editing software that you like to use, there's no need to duplicate this function. If you do need photo-editing tools, be sure to choose desktop publishing software that incorporates this feature.
  • Determine if you need a website publishing feature. Some desktop publishing software can convert your design to HTML for creating a website or adding pages to a website. The main drawback is that unless the software uses new technology, you may end up with an outmoded site. (We have a separate report on web design software.)
  • Check for rebates and sales when you buy desktop publishing software. Look for coupons and sales online, and in Sunday newspaper inserts. To be eligible for rebates, make sure you're buying a legitimate retail copy of the software. Always use a reputable retailer to purchase desktop publishing software.
  • Confirm that freeware is legit. Before you download any freeware, research the company and read online reviews. There are many good freeware programs online, but there are also a number of free software programs that are riddled with viruses and other security issues that can be harmful to your computer. Download directly from the software company or from a reputable download site.

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