How to Select Desktop Publishing Software

The software is determined by what you are creating

hidden for layout purposes

[Back to Desktop Publishing Software]

Don’t break the bank, but also don’t try to force a square peg into the proverbial round hole

The questions you need to answer are:

  1. What am I creating?
  2. How much do I have to spend?
  3. How quickly can I learn the software?
  4. Will it do the job?

When the task at hand becomes to complicated using the software tool you have picked, you are likely in a situation where you’re attempting to do something with that application that it wasn’t designed to do.

The following is meant to be a guide for you to select the right tool for the job.

If you want to do this:

Go with this:

Reasons, tips & advice

Create a document with a lot of text and hardly any pictures, like a board report or a press release

Word processing application

A document with mostly text does not require sophisticated layout skills. The screwy way many of these programs, starting with MS Word, deal with pictures becomes irrelevant compared to the need to be able to apply styles to text and the ability to format it in a more or less linear fashion with ease.

While this is not all a word processing application can normally do, it is what it was designed to do, and one should keep this in mind when using it.

Create a document with lots of text and some pictures that doesn’t need much special formatting, like a newsletter or a simple flyer

Word processing application

There is no hard rule as to up to what amount of graphic elements you should use a word processor, and after what point you should switch to a dedicated desktop publishing software.

Our rule of thumb is: if you are starting to struggle, if you keep thinking “This should be easier.” or “Why is this not working??”, it is probably time to explore other options.

Create a document with more sophisticated layout, like pages with different columns and differently formatted sections

Dedicated desktop publishing application


While word processing programs like MS Word or OpenOffice Writer have certain layout capabilities, they were never meant to replace MS Publisher, Adobe InDesign or OpenOffice Draw. Just because you can use them to go for really sophisticated layouts doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

Text boxes to Word are still anchored objects, so they will move in weird ways with other items on your page. Text doesn’t overflow from one to the other, either. You will know when you run into obstacles all over the place that it’s time to switch.

Have full control over placement of pictures and other graphic objects

Dedicated desktop publishing application

A dedicated desktop publishing application such as MS Publisher, Scribus, or Adobe InDesign treats all text and pictures as independent objects, which you can move around on a page freely, like pieces on a chess board. This enables you to have items overlap, for example, or have text overflow from one text frame to another.

Create a brochure (tri-fold)

Word processing or dedicated desktop publishing application

As we show in the section on copywriting, it is absolutely possible to create a decent-looking tri-fold brochure in a word processing application.

Create an event flyer

Word processing or dedicated desktop publishing application

As we show in the section on copywriting, it is absolutely possible to create a decent-looking event flyer in a word processing application.

Create a website or dedicated HTML editor (advanced)

Please refer to our section on web design and hosting for details. Side note: if you can code HTML, this site is probably not advanced enough for you (insert smile emoji here). We recommend one of the many online sites on HTML, CSS etc.

Create an infographic

Dedicated design program (preferred) or desktop publishing application; also usable: slideshow application

Due to the potential complexity, you will need a program with advanced design capabilities. All of the infographics and other graphic elements throughout this website were done in Affinity Designer, a low-cost alternative to Adobe Illustrator. You can also use a software like Affinity Photo or another drawing program.

Slideshow applications like MS PowerPoint have some capabilities in this respect as well, but if you cannot get your hands on a dedicated design program, we would recommend you go with at least a desktop publishing software.

Create a mass mailing on letterhead

Word processing application

This is a classic use for MS Word or OpenOffice Writer.

Create a slideshow with handouts

Slideshow application


Create a document with tables in it

Word processing application coupled with a spreadsheet application (preferred)

It is oh so very tempting to use the built-in table tools in MS Word or OpenOffice Writer. And they will do just fine for some things.

Again, if you find yourself struggling or if your table is too big or too complex, you are better off completing it in MS Excel or OpenOffice Calc and then embedding it or linking to it.