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Affinity Publisher: Your Guide to InDesign’s New Rival

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Adobe InDesign has long been the market leader in publishing software. But rival layout design programs are starting to make waves in the market, with Affinity Publisher being the latest to offer a competitive alternative to InDesign.

affinity publisher logo

If you’re considering trying out Affinity as an alternative to InDesign, consider this your ultimate Affinity Publisher guide. We’ll weigh up the pros and cons of each software option, look at some of Affinity Publisher’s coolest features, and give our verdict on whether the Affinity design suite offers serious competition for Adobe’s Creative Cloud. 

This Affinity Publisher review is based on my experience of using the most recent version of the Affinity software (1.8). As a seasoned InDesign user (I even created a website, InDesignSkills, devoted to my love of the program), I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using Affinity software. Read on to discover what Affinity Publisher is, and why Affinity is an alternative to InDesign for aspiring and pro designers alike. 

Discover a range of professionally-designed Affinity Publisher templates over at Envato Elements.

What Is Affinity Publisher?

Affinity Publisher is a publishing program for Mac and Windows that allows you to create single- and multi-page documents. Publishing programs are suitable for creating layout-based media, which combine typography, graphics, and photos, such as magazines, brochures, flyers, and books. Most publishing programs allow users to create content for both print and online, as well as EPUBs (eBooks). 

affinity sample layout

Serif released the full version of Affinity in June 2019 (it had previously only been available in beta format). Fans of Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, decent and good-value alternatives to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, will find that Affinity Publisher makes a seamless and useful addition to their collection of Affinity apps. 

Through technology called StudioLink, Publisher can be integrated with the other apps in the Affinity design suite, Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, allowing users to seamlessly create and edit images before integrating them into Affinity Publisher layouts. 

affinity studiolink

The lead developer of Publisher, Adam Whitehouse, has commented that Affinity Publisher for iPad is also in development, which will allow Publisher to reach a potentially broader audience than desktop users alone. 

Read on to discover my Affinity Publisher review, as well as my ultimate Affinity Publisher guide, why Affinity is an InDesign alternative, and the verdict on which software to plump for.

Should I Consider Switching From Adobe InDesign to Affinity Publisher?

For budget-conscious creatives, the main advantage of Affinity Publisher is that it's excellent value, retailing at just $49.99 for the single app download. Users aren't tied into a subscription model, unlike Adobe members. 

Publisher's competitive price will make it a serious competitor on price point with Adobe, which offers InDesign CC at a subscription price only, with the single app costing users $20.99 a month. 

In terms of usability, Affinity Publisher owes a great deal to InDesign in terms of functionality and interface. Superficially, the differences between the two are minor, and it really comes down to which program you feel most comfortable using. 

I took Affinity Publisher for a test drive to see how it compares to InDesign and how it functions as a publishing program. Read on to discover my thoughts on Publisher and assess whether you should make the switch from InDesign.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Affinity Publisher, and How Do These Compare to InDesign?

Affinity Publisher and Adobe InDesign are both 2D publishing programs, and they're both modelled around a similar interface, with comparable functionality and tools. 

The differences between the programs are minor, and most users with prior experience of InDesign will find a transition to Affinity Publisher to be relatively painless. However, there are a few differences between the programs to be aware of, which might affect your workflow and the sort of items you’d like to design. 

Affinity Publisher: The Pros

publisher logo

Affinity Publisher has a huge amount going for it, despite the fact that it’s not currently the market leader in publishing software (watch this space). Some of the main advantages of Affinity Publisher are that:

  • It’s excellent value, making it a great choice for students, aspiring designers, and professionals on a budget.
  • It can be trialled for free for a 30-day period.
  • It’s intuitive—all Affinity programs have been created with simple-to-use interfaces, in-built tips, and helpful tutorials accessible online, making it easy to get to grips with the software quickly.
  • It’s compatible with both Windows and Mac.
  • It uses technology called StudioLink, which lets users switch between the Affinity design suite of Affinity Publisher, Affinity Designer, and Affinity Photo, all within the same app.
  • It allows users to create professional-standard documents for print, such as magazines, posters, and brochures, and has excellent export capabilities for creating PDFs and image files of your work. 
exporting files

Affinity Publisher: The Cons

While Affinity Publisher has been hugely improved since its beta release, thanks in part to Serif’s choice to involve users heavily in enhancing the program, there are still a few things that could do with further development, including:

  • Affinity Publisher can still feel, at times, a little buggy. Navigating on a Mac can force font sizes to balloon or shrink at random when using the Character panel, for example, while layer navigation can sometimes feel frustrating (see below).
  • Setting up a new document requires a little more thought. While InDesign automatically assigns facing pages, for example, Affinity Publisher requires the user to check and set this to begin on a left-hand page themselves. Not a problem for experienced users, but additional options like this can make the setting up process more fiddly.
  • Layers are more difficult to use than InDesign. Creating layers on a Master page does not mean these layers are created on the main pages of your document, and vice versa, which can make using layers in Affinity Publisher feel a little clunky. 
  • Affinity Publisher doesn’t provide built-in templates for document types, unlike InDesign, and given that the software is young, there are fewer Publisher templates available for download online than for InDesign. Luckily for you, we’ve compiled a selection of the best Affinity Publisher templates on the web here:

Adobe InDesign: The Pros

indesign logo

InDesign has been around since 1999 and has dominated the publishing software market ever since. Because of its age and the heft of Adobe behind it, InDesign has benefitted from decades of development. As a result, it arguably offers more professionalism and added extras than Affinity Publisher, which makes it an attractive offering for pro designers and studios. 

The main advantages of using Adobe InDesign vs. Affinity Publisher are that:

  • InDesign is exceptionally professional, and allows users to create advanced design work for print and online.
  • It has an intuitive, slick interface that anticipates the designer’s needs and requirements for creating documents and creative work.
  • It integrates with other Creative Cloud apps, including Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, hosting the apps on a cloud platform for ease of use. 
  • It’s compatible with both Windows and Mac.
  • Adobe offers extra apps and features that can enhance the design experience as part of an Adobe subscription, including Adobe Fonts, Adobe Color, and Adobe Stock.
  • It’s still the industry standard, with most professional designers, studios, and agencies still opting for Adobe over Affinity, making it a necessity for individuals who want to share files seamlessly with other businesses who use it. However, it is possible to use Affinity Publisher files in InDesign (see below). 
indesign postcard

Adobe InDesign: The Cons

Nobody’s perfect, and even InDesign has its flaws, which might influence your decision on which program to opt for. Some of the potential drawbacks of Adobe InDesign include:

  • It’s expensive... really expensive. With a single app subscription costing an individual $20.99 each month, and the full design suite running at $59.99 per month, that’s adding up to a serious investment. There are deals available for businesses, students, and educational institutions, but the subscription model applies across the board. 
  • A free trial of InDesign only lasts for seven days, compared to the 30-day period offered by Serif, giving new users less time to get to know their way around the program.
  • Since InDesign’s latest release (CC), users of older versions such as CS5 and CS6 will feel a little left behind. Aside from the newly introduced subscription model, opening files between different versions requires files to be properly packaged and saved as IDML files, before being resaved on opening in the older or newer version of the application. 

Can I Use InDesign Files in Affinity Publisher?

Yes!

Until recently, users of Affinity Publisher and InDesign were firmly in two separate camps, but new updates by Serif now mean that it’s possible for Publisher users to convert and use designs created in InDesign, transforming the whole process of file sharing between the two programs.

As of the Affinity 1.8 update, it’s now possible to import InDesign IDML files into Affinity Publisher. The process is quick and easy, and it simply involves saving or packaging your InDesign document as an IDML (as opposed to INDD) file and opening the IDML file in Affinity Publisher.

Read this tutorial or watch the video below for full details:

What Are Some of the Main Features of Affinity Publisher?

It’s Adaptable for Print and Web Design

The latest release of InDesign CC has certainly improved the web and ePublishing design experience for users, with better capabilities for setting up web-friendly layouts and exporting to interactive formats. However, Affinity Publisher has put the modern web design process at the heart of its interface. 

Discover how to create a cover for a digital magazine in Affinity Publisher:

You can choose from a wide range of screen size options, which include all mass-market up-to-date devices. You can also choose to design specifically for Web or Devices, each of which contains a wide range of pre-saved formats to choose from, including an updated catalogue of iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, Nexus, and Kindle screen sizes. 

publisher devices web

It’s More Progressive Than InDesign... in Some Ways

Because InDesign is built on foundations which preceded web design, stemming from the technology developed by Quark for the first layout publishing program, QuarkXPress, it is still a traditional print publishing program at heart. 

Affinity Publisher, by contrast, though inspired by the InDesign interface, doesn't have the same historical legacy, and there are some features of the program which feel more relevant for how designers work now. 

affinity publisher

One example is the ability to set a facing-page document to begin on a left-hand page. Sure, this isn’t what you’d want to choose for a traditional multi-page document like a print book or magazine, but there are occasions where you might want to start your document with a two-page spread, like eMagazines or interactive PDFs, for example.

It's Speedier and Lighter Than InDesign

One of the main complaints about InDesign is the processing power of the software. It’s a very heavy program, which can have an impact on usability, particularly if you’re working on a laptop rather than a desktop. Switching the Display Performance in InDesign to Fast Display can solve the problem, but it also means you have to do the bulk of your work while looking at heavily pixelated images. 

Publisher is a heavy program too, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. It’s whippet-quick, even when I was trying it out on my ancient laptop, which struggles to open InDesign in less than 15 minutes. 

Images in Publisher remain crisp and clear, which helps you to assess the quality of images accurately while you work. 

image quality affinity

An extra bonus—I had no issues with stalling or crashing, which was an almost daily occurrence when I was working with InDesign CS6 and a monthly occurrence with InDesign CC. 

If You’re an InDesign User, It Feels Intuitive

Serif has mimicked the InDesign interface in Publisher for good reason, in the hope of converting committed InDesign users. 

If you’re a seasoned InDesign user, the Publisher interface will feel very familiar, with the Tools panel docked to the left and the most-used panels, including Colour, Swatches, and Stroke, docked in their usual position to the right. 

The Pages panel has been shifted to the left, but personally this feels like an improvement on InDesign's default docking of the same panel to the right of the screen.

interface overview

It Has a Useful Clipboard Feature, 'Assets'

Clipboards are really useful for producing designs that use repeated visual content (such as company logos) or specific sets of icons (such as emojis or UI icons).

Affinity has a handy clipboard function called Assets, which is docked on the left side of the interface, alongside the Pages panel. 

It's quick and easy to create your own library of asset categories, allowing you to access essential images in an instant. This is particularly handy for designers working with brand identities.

assets panel

Affinity Publisher: Our Verdict

If you’re looking for a good-value alternative to Adobe InDesign, Affinity Publisher is a fantastic option for budget-conscious creatives.

For marketers needing to create print items in-house or designers looking to pick up new publishing design skills, Affinity Publisher is an intuitive way to hone your design skills and create a wide range of layout media, from magazines to books, brochures, and business cards. For budding web designers, there’s also plenty on offer for creating layouts for websites, apps, and EPUBs.

If you’re a committed InDesign user, you might find it initially difficult to make the switch to Affinity Publisher, as the latter lacks some of the sophistication and advanced features of the former. Publisher can feel a little clumsy in comparison, but this impression quickly diminishes the more time you spend using the application.

newsletter created using affinity

All in all, Affinity Publisher is shaping up to be a serious rival for InDesign, competing on both value for money and functionality. With Affinity Publisher for iPad in the late-development stages, the potential for Affinity to transition publishing design into the tablet market is really exciting. Watch this space!

We'd love to know your thoughts on Affinity Publisher. Are you a Publisher convert or die-hard InDesign fan? Perhaps you think both InDesign and Affinity Publisher have room for improvement? Leave your thoughts and experiences with using both programs in the comments below. 

Discover a range of professionally designed Affinity Publisher templates over at Envato Elements.

Check out more reviews of Affinity programs, Affinity Publisher tutorials, and suggestions for alternative design software:

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