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Desktop Publishing Options on a Budget

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I run a little web business marketing original fonts and graphic arts resources. My customer base includes a lot of novices in the area of graphic design who aren’t well prepared to work with images and fonts effectively, even lacking basic software appropriate for desktop publishing and graphic design. Everyone seems to have Microsoft Word, but it just doesn’t do the job when it comes to even fairly simple integration of fonts and graphics in an attractive publication design.

Even fairly basic design projects require either an advanced image editor or some sort of desktop publishing software. The key break point at which a text-oriented program like Microsoft Word comes up short for anything but the most basic design projects, is in not facilitating the easy manipulation and positioning of images. For example, to use the many borders in our collections you need to be able to resize and reposition them and most importantly superimpose type on them. You just can’t do that practically in a program not designed to handle complex two-dimensional manipulation of text and images.

In the past this has been a real problem because high-end graphics and design programs have been prohibitively expensive, and there have been few reasonably priced alternatives. For OSX users this has changed with the advent of the App Store. The pricing practices that became common with the App Store for the iPhone and iPad have carried over to OSX, and this has brought down the price of many applications, even leading to creative pricing solutions from the highest end software publishers like Adobe.

For many users the learning curve is less steep and needs are easiest to meet with desktop publishing software, but with premiere packages like InDesign or QuarkXPress priced around $700 they are not a realistic purchase option for novice or casual users, so what do you do if you just want to design a cool newsletter or invitation or the occasional brochure or business card? Here are three options which may fit your needs and let you do just about anything you would want to in document design, and one of these options is bound to fit the needs of any user from the novice to the professional and at a very reasonable price.

Swift Publisher 3.0

BeLight Software’s latest version of Swift Publisher is a strong entry-level desktop publishing application which offers pretty much everything a novice user needs for typical projects like designing invitations or holiday cards or simple brochures, and even includes templates for many of these projects to help out beginners right out of the box. It includes most of the features you would find in a higher end design application like the ability to flow text from page to page, multiple layers, scaling images and some control over the spacing and formatting of text, though not as much as some users might want.

The interface is relatively simple and designed for ease of use, but it is also very much oriented towards beginning users and focused on using templates rather than doing custom designs. This is good for those with no experience, but for more experienced users it may prove somewhat frustrating. The learning curve is very easy for simple projects, but for more advanced uses it may seem cumbersome and the focus on templates may become very limiting. But if you just have a flyer or simple card to do Swift Publisher will start you off ahead of the game and allow someone with very little experience to produce a professional-looking product very quickly.

At just $19.99 the entry cost is very low, just where you want it to be for the casual user.

Creator Express

Creator Express has actually been around for a very long time as a competitor to high end programs like InDesign and QuarkXPress, but it never really found the same status in the marketplace. This latest version has been released through the App Store at a much more reasonable price and may find its market in that environment, as a lower-priced alternative for publishing professionals in small businesses.

Creator Express is less of a beginner application than some users may want, but offers high-end features, which many will find useful. The interface is fairly complex, but will be familiar to those who have used Adobe products. It is very similar to what you find in PhotoShop or InDesgn, though somewhat simpler than the latter. It is tool palette driven and oriented towards blank-canvas design, assuming that the user has some idea what they want to do and how to use the tools. It is a full-featured design package with strong tools for controlling shapes, colors, images and also text. It’s really very reminiscent of earlier versions of some Adobe products, particularly PageMaker which was the predecessor of InDesign. For someone like me it was a snap to use because it was just like stepping back a couple of years and working with programs with which I’ve been very familiar for a long time.

It also offers some very nice higher-end features like highly customizable shapes in which you can insert images, drawing tools, texture tools, sophisticated gradients and text manipulation tools, including adapting texts to paths with a tool which may be superior to the equivalent tool in Adobe Photoshop.

Creator Express is a great alternative for those with some experience who want to do higher-end design work, but it may be harder for novices to just pick up and use out of the box. AT $29.99 the price is outstanding for the quality and versatility of the product.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe’s approach to the problem of providing advanced software at a reasonable price is the innovative idea of the the Creative Cloud, which essentially lets you rent a very expensive program for a finite period of time, accessing key components through their server and never actually owning it as a complete piece of software resident on your computer. This is new technology and it may have shortcomings based on your internet speed and the capabilities of your computer, but cloud integration is being pushed very heavily by Apple and if you have a good DSL or Cable internet connection this may be a viable option for you.

It allows you to access high-end programs for a monthly fee, starting as low as $19.99 a month for a single program like InDesign or Photoshop and at a still reasonable $49.99 a month for the full Creative Suite with InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat and more. This program includes a free 30-day trial and lets you save a lot of money if you just have the occasional project to work on.

The pricing is carefully structured so that if you are likely to use the software for two years or more then you’ll be better off purchasing the full version rather than using cloud access. These are the best programs of their sort available, setting the industry standard, and the ability to access the latest versions for a short term at a low price is a major market innovation. Adobe’s main competitor in Desktop Publishing is QuarkXPress and though it is arguably superior to InDesign it is not available in any form other than as the full installed package for $849.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.