When it comes to page layout programs for graphic designers, for some it comes down to Adobe InDesign versus Affinity Publisher. Find out the key differences between InDesign and Publisher and how to decide which page layout program is best for you.
As a graphic designer, you might be wondering the pros and cons of Adobe InDesign and Affinity Publisher and if one is better than the other. Designers seem to be on one team or the other—nothing in between.
You might also be asking: Should you switch from Adobe InDesign to Affinity Publisher? I’ll answer that too.
Comparing Adobe InDesign and Affinity Publisher
The versions that I am comparing are Adobe InDesign 2021 and Affinity Publisher 1.9.3. Both are for page layout, so they can handle anything from a one-page poster design to large books and reports. Both are available for Mac and Windows.
Generally speaking, the programs are very similar to one another. But there may be some key features that will be the deciding factor for you depending on the type of work you do.
When it comes to trying out the software, both offer free trials.
You can try Affinity Publisher free for 30 days. With InDesign, it’s only 7 days. I’d say InDesign has more of a learning curve to it, and that’s not a lot of time to try it out.
What’s helpful is there are a lot of tutorials, courses, support forums and Facebook groups for both online, so it should be easy to get any questions you may have answered.
Now, let’s take a look at pricing. This is where the two really separate themselves.
Adobe InDesign is only available through subscription-based pricing, which is a huge turn-off to many designers. Others love it because they can always get the latest version of the software.
Affinity Publisher is a low one-time fee that cannot be beat. It costs only about $75 USD, as do their Designer and Photo programs, which are similar to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
If you subscribe to only InDesign with Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription, that’s about $21 USD per month. If you’re also using Photoshop and Illustrator, you pay about $53 a month.
Many designers who use Affinity Publisher switched from InDesign. If you’re already using InDesign, I think you’ll find the transition pretty smooth.
For what it’s worth, most of my career has been spent in publication design and layout. I worked in Quark XPress back in the day, version 4.11. I went kicking and screaming into InDesign when it came out, when my place of work forced me to. I’ve been using InDesign since.
I didn’t use Affinity Publisher until I created my Brand Style Guide Builder product in multiple formats. I created it first in InDesign then opened it in Affinity Publisher, modified some of the setup to take advantage of Affinity Publisher’s built-in features where I could do so and then saved it as a Publisher file.
I picked it up quickly because I found it very similar to use. The interface is not that different from InDesign’s either.
I found the master pages and layers work a bit differently from InDesign. They confused me for a minute. But if you don’t already work in InDesign, that point is moot.
Both programs share a ton of similar features. However, Affinity Publisher uses different terminology for some of its features. I’ll get into a few of those in a bit.
Let’s talk compatibility when it comes to opening InDesign files. This will be something to think about if you switch completely from InDesign and ever need to update an InDesign document you’ve created in the past.
You can’t open the native InDesign format (the INDD file) in Affinity Publisher right out of the box. You’ll need to use IDMarkz by Markzware, the same company that created the converter for Quark XPress to InDesign files 20-some years ago.
With Affinity Publisher 1.8 or later, though, you can open InDesign’s IDML format.
You can also open a PDF (all or just certain pages). Opening a PDF is different from placing a PDF, which acts like it does in InDesign. Opening a PDF will create a new document with the individual editable pages.
There are a few caveats with this though. One is that any hyphenated words in the PDF will have those as manually inserted hyphens, which means if you reflow text, the hyphens will remain. So they need to be removed.
This same thing happens when you copy and paste text from a PDF to another program.
Another caveat with this method is there won’t be any master pages or paragraph styles in the file.
With some files I experimented with, opening a PDF didn’t require any tweaking for the visual look of it, but opening the IDML file did require some adjustments.
Both programs integrate with their own suite of drawing and photo editing programs. However, Affinity Publisher has a feature called Studio Link, which allows you to use Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer from within Publisher.
This is different from Adobe InDesign, where you have to edit images separately in Illustrator or Photoshop—and have to wait several minutes for them to even open. That drives me nuts!
Affinity’s Studio Link allows you to work on the images from within Publisher while accessing the actual program features from there. It’s really cool, and a lot of designers really love this feature.
Paragraph styles are another feature, and these work similarly in both programs but they are called different things. In Publisher, the paragraph styles panel is called “text styles” and it shows the styles as they actually look.
It also includes both the paragraph and character styles in one panel and gives you the option to show any overrides on the style that has been applied.
As part of its paragraph style features, InDesign has what’s called “nested styles,” where you can set up one or more character styles to be applied to parts of a paragraph automatically.
Publisher has something similar, called “initial words,” which lets you set one character style to be applied to a predetermined number of words or up to a certain type of dash or space or character of your choosing.
There are keep options like in InDesign, but they are called “flow” in Affinity Publisher.
Another feature is placeholder text.
Both programs give you placeholder text. InDesign calls it “placeholder text.” Publisher calls it “filler text.”
What I like about Publisher’s filler text is that it’s dynamic. So when you adjust the size of the text frame, text is automatically removed or added depending on whether you make the frame smaller or larger.
The other thing is that in Publisher, the filler text gets treated like one unit by default. There’s no selecting it at the paragraph or character level, unless you check that option in the preferences. In InDesign though, you can select any part of it, remove something, break it into more paragraphs, copy it, etc.
Footnotes and Endnotes
Footnotes and endnotes are another thing to consider. These can be done in InDesign with a built-in feature, but they cannot be done in Publisher in this way.
If you don’t work with documents that have any, this won’t be an issue. If you did need them, the work-around is to add them manually. In a large document with a lot of footnotes or endnotes, especially if they need to be clickable, this could be extremely time consuming.
When it comes to creating and editing tables, Publisher makes this easy by giving you options right there on the page when you click inside a table. It gives you an easy way to add more rows or columns.
You can do this easily in InDesign if you use shortcuts.
Table of Contents
When it comes to creating a table of contents, I know how much designers avoid using an automated table of contents with their document and will do it manually. This is probably because InDesign gives you so many options, it can be overwhelming at first to create an automated table of contents.
So if you fall into that camp, you’ll appreciate that Affinity Publisher makes it much easier to do.
You just place your text cursor where you want the table of contents to appear, go to the Text menu, Table of Contents and then Insert Table of Contents.
Then you can select from a list which styles to include in the table of contents and which ones you want to include page numbers for.
This is actually much easier than scrolling through a long list of paragraph styles in InDesign and then adding them one by one and then going to each style individually and modifying what you want to include.
Like with InDesign, you can also have multiple tables of contents in your document.
When it comes to interactivity, InDesign offers more options, as you can embed multimedia files into InDesign, create hyperlinks and bookmarks, and even build forms. In Affinity Publisher, however, you are limited to hyperlinks and bookmarks.
In terms of accessibility, unfortunately, this is not possible with Affinity Publisher. It does not allow you to export to a tagged PDF, which is the basis for an accessible PDF. So that makes it a deal breaker for any accessible document work.
Adobe InDesign, on the other hand, does allow this and helps you get most of the way there with accessibility. Some work still must be done in the PDF.
Saving the document’s history is an interesting feature that Affinity Publisher offers, which InDesign does not. It’s found under the File menu.
In Affinity Publisher, you can save the document’s history with the document, if you choose. If you do though, just keep in mind that if you send the file to someone else, they will be able to see the steps you took in creating and editing that document.
That may or may not be what you want to do. It could be a good thing, though, like if you wanted to train a client or a coworker how to do something or if you wanted to know if you already did something in particular in your file.
Keep in mind using this feature can add to the file size.
If you change your mind after turning that feature on, you can just uncheck it in the File menu and save the document again.
Final Thoughts: Should You Use Adobe InDesign or Affinity Publisher?
OK, so there you have it—a breakdown of some of the pros and cons of Adobe InDesign and Affinity Publisher.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly page layout program and you don’t need some of the features of Adobe InDesign that Affinity Publisher doesn’t have, then Affinity Publisher makes a lot of sense.
If you design and lay out complex publications or do accessibility work, like I do, then Adobe InDesign is the clear winner.
But it also doesn’t have to be one or the other. It would be totally feasible to use Affinity Publisher most of the time and then use InDesign here and there, only when you need those additional features for a particular project.
You’ll still save a ton of money paying for Affinity Publisher one time and then paying as you need for Adobe InDesign.
So tell me which one are you using? Did you switch and which one do you prefer?