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Desktop publishing software falls into three types

Desktop publishing software lets you design printing projects that are as simple as a greeting card or as complex as a full-length book. You can accomplish these tasks in word-processing programs, such as Microsoft Word 2010, but desktop publishing software makes the finished products more professional and eye-catching. Also, the best desktop publishing software prepares PDF files with embedded color profiles and color separations, so commercial printers can reproduce exactly what you designed.

With prices ranging from free to around $800, desktop publishing software falls roughly into three types:

  • Professional desktop publishing software provides the ultimate in precise placement and page and text design. This is what designers use for magazines, professional newsletters and sophisticated marketing materials. The software streamlines many tasks, saving professionals' time.  Adobe InDesign Creative Suite (CS) 5.5 (*Est. $700 or $200 to upgrade) dominates this category, having overtaken QuarkXpress 9 (*Est. $800). Scribus, a free open-source program, isn't quite as sophisticated as the Adobe and Quark products, but runs on Linux, Windows and Mac operating systems and integrates with other, related, freeware.
  • Small-business desktop publishing software is less complicated, with numerous templates to make designing faster and easier. The software often includes photo-editing tools. Desktop publishing software can produce PDF files to send to a professional printer, but with less precise color control than professional-grade software. This software works well for a range of printing projects for home and small-business use, including the creation of stationery, brochures, newsletters, labels, and cards, but isn't intended for producing full-length books or magazines.
  • Personal desktop publishing software is packed with templates and clip art for scrapbooking, greeting cards and other fun projects. You can use the software to make business cards and stationery by starting with blank pages, instead of using the informal templates. However, for regular business use, this software is inefficient and won't produce professional-looking materials.

Professional-grade software gets the most attention in reviews, partly because it's so complex that there's simply more to discuss. Since both Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress have evolved through different versions over the years, users need reviews to help them decide whether or not to pay for another upgrade. For new users, reviews of an $800 item are more important than reviews for far less expensive software.

If you only plan to use desktop publishing software occasionally, reviewers agree that purchasing Adobe InDesign CS5.5 or Quark Xpress 9 would be overkill. Even the free Scribus software, discussed later in the section on free software, can seem complicated to beginners, as it has a steep learning curve. Reviewers recommend picking the software type that matches your needs and skill level. It's easier, for occasional use, to customize a template, while power users can adapt more quickly to new software. Small businesses likely won't have in-house support for marketing professionals who use design programs like Quark, so a deep understanding of how the software works is critical for users.

Not surprisingly, we found the best reviews of desktop publishing software at computing sites such as Macworld and In addition, magazines geared towards designers, like HOW and Digital Arts, provided comprehensive reviews for design software. The guide to desktop publishing discusses quite a few software titles, but with varying degrees of testing and detail. Consumer reviews posted to websites like, CNET, and also provide insights into the advantages and disadvantages of the most talked-about desktop publishing software titles.

Quarkxpress 9 UPG For Macintosh/Windows Single User DVD Media V.9 9(Upgrade from any previous version of QuarkXPress)
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