Print Design! Layout Software that doesn't cost more than your rent

I love print design, and I’ve been at it for years; first my making zines in the 90’s and next by making newspapers, magazines and promotional media over the last ten years. So it makes sense that people ask me for tips and recommendations regularly.

Some examples are this page from Femme2010 program, and my print portfolio.

Collected in this post are some freeware/shareware programs that might be right for your print project, and a few tips I tell people when they ask about layout.

Learning page layout software is awesome and so satisfying — but time-consuming, just an fyi.

If you’re just making one book I don’t know if its worth it to learn ALL of any program, but you might find you love the process and thus learning a non-try-only version would be advantageous because then you could use it again.


Free/cheap layout software is one avenue in which the world of freeware is less prolific than in, say, freeware for web design.

Scribus appears to be the best of the free, as it is from 2010 and Mac/PC/Linux compatible – but I haven’t used it so I can’t say more than to read the reviews/manual and see if you think learning it is more time effective than plowing through using Word.

has a lot of free print-creation software listed; remember that you might want to edit the photos before you put them in, or you might need to try a few different programs before you find one you “get” the best.


Lots of programs are “free to try,” and often this means you get temporary access to higher-caliber programs — but I’d be careful and test them by exporting one page of my book before laying out the whole thing to make sure that you don’t have to buy the software to export your final product as a PDF.

Here’s a decent, recent list of free-to-try programs; this one, , seems to have some recommendations behind it.

Adobe’s InDesign is what I’ve used and loved for almost a decade [!], it is free for 30 days,  you will be able to export your finished file in it, AND there are good tutorials online so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Its a technically heavy program but you dont have to use all the elements.If  you are familiar with Photoshop, the “layers” feature in InDesign is similar and can give you those lovely effects of images behind text etc. Drawbacks? After 30 days you can’t make any more changes without paying the big $$…plus pirating Adobe is getting harder and harder.


1. No matter how you lay it out, please do your sanity the favor of paying attention to giving yourself at least 1/2-inch margins all the way around the page so printing/copying doesn’t cut off any text. That would suck, right?

2. I recommend exporting final files as PDFs — especially if you’ll be printing from a computer that was NOT the one you designed on, to help avoid opening your project on another computer only to find out that it doesn’t have the special beautiful font you chose and your project looks wonky. Sometimes this happens with your PDF anyway, especially if you’re going through a “real” print service. If you pick a special font it can be advantageous to keep a copy of the fonts in the folder where your document is, just in case. But making PDFs is a good idea for your archiving purposes anyway.

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