Affinity Publisher Review: An InDesign Alternative

Update: June 19, 2019

Affinity Publisher officially released! You can buy the full release on Serif’s site, right now with a 20% discount.

Do you use MS Word or Pages to write and layout your books? Have you found that designing a perfect book interior is a challenge? If so, you’re not alone. While word processing software is great for writing, designing a book often means utilizing a program with that specific use in mind.

For most, this means using Adobe InDesign, the industry standard for desktop publishing. Or hiring a professional to do the work for you. Today we’re going to look at an alternative—Affinity Publisher from Serif.

What is Affinity Publisher?

Affinity Publisher is desktop publishing software for PC and Mac that works in very nearly the same way as InDesign. The program is from Serif, a company dedicated to building design software with designers in mind. Which essentially means they aim to compete with Adobe.

Affinity Publisher is the third program they’ve created, with Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer released in 2014 and 2015. Publisher is currently in a free to use Open Beta testing phase, with a planned release later this year. If you’re interested in learning about using complex publishing software, now is a great time to test out Affinity Publisher Beta!

Understanding InDesign Principles

I’m a decidedly novice book designer. So I’m not going to try to provide a deep dive into how to use Affinity Publisher. They’ve got a great series of tutorials and an active Forum with users supporting each other. And, while the software worked great for me while laying out a couple of book interiors (and one truly horrible cover design), it is still in beta testing. There’s likely some bugs and glitches still to be ironed out.

If you’re interested in learning how to use desktop publishing software, I encourage you to check out our series on using InDesign to layout your book. The principles are unchanged. You’ll still be using Master Pages, adding text blocks, working with page spreads, and layering content on the page.

So what makes Affinity a different desktop publishing app?

Getting to Know Affinity Publisher

The first thing I did after downloading the software was to watch the 16 tutorial videos, which total about 45 minutes of viewing time. They broadly cover the basics of using the interface, setting up a document, adding images and text, linking frames, setting up styles, and using advanced features like tables, baseline grid, and table of contents.

These videos are exceedingly basic and high-level, so you’ll need to use the forums and possibly just some trial and error to figure out the more complex actions. For example, here are a couple of ways Affinity Publisher is not a one-to-one analog of InDesign.

The most obvious difference is linking text frames so the text flows.

If you’re familiar with InDesign, you know how useful it is to set up a Master Spread for a book’s body copy, then simply paste in text and let the pages—more or less—build themselves. Affinity has the same capability but it doesn’t make it immediately clear how to link one spread to the next:

Unlink Text Frames
Linked Text Frames

As you can see in this example, the first image shows two spreads with unlinked text. The text on the right side page flows outside of the text box. In my master, I linked the left and right pages in the spread, but the text doesn’t automatically link to the next spread. It requires using a ‘shift+click’ (which is displayed lower left in the tooltip) to turn on ‘autoflow’ and allow the text to continue populating more text frames until all the text is visible.

Not complicated, but one of those small differences that have to be learned to make efficient use of Affinity Publisher.

What Makes Affinity Publisher Unique?

Again, if you’re familiar with InDesign, you won’t see a lot of differences. The workflow is not exactly the same, but the variety of controls and options are essentially the same.

But, if you’re primarily a book creator, you may find Affinity more intuitive. I say this as someone who has some experience laying out text-heavy books, but much less experience with graphic-heavy books like a course book or magazine. For a simple book layout, Affinity was faster and easier to use than InDesign for me.

The main differences I found are:

  1. Updating the contents, spreads, and master page layout loaded much faster with Affinity
  2. Using Sections to control design and assign master pages is more intuitive
  3. Editing the master layer on an individual page was simple (once I found the option to edit the layer)
  4. Editing styles felt more like working in MS Word and was even easier to control

Using Sections

Assigning ‘Sections’ to the overall document made it much easier to control page numbers and header/footer content in the document. This is often something Word handles poorly. And while InDesign can handle these operations, Affinity does it in such an easy manner that I was able to figure out the intricacies on my own, in a matter of minutes.

Using Sections in Affinity Publisher

Applying and Editing Styles

When I write in Word or Google Docs, I tend to use the minimum amount of styling. Usually just Heading 1 (title), Heading 2 (chapter titles), and body text (everything else). The Styles Panel looks and acts much like you’d expect from Word, but is clear and concise with little to no bloat.

Most significant is how simple it is to select and edit large quantities of text without slowing down the software. In Word (or even InDesign) editing all the body text can result in long waits or the dreaded spinning beach-ball (on Macs). Affinity makes it simple to edit a Style, and to update that Style quickly.

Using the Affinity Publisher Style Bar

A Viable InDesign Replacement?

We have to appreciate that Affinity Publisher is still in a Beta phase. This is great since it means we can test Affinity for laying out book pages without paying anything. But also means we’re not testing a finished product.

Once the product releases to the public, it will cost something. Based on the price point for Affinity Photo and Designer, we can guess Serif will charge something around $40 or $50 to get the complete Publisher software. Which is a steep discount when you consider InDesign is a $19.99 per month subscription.

If the Beta is a clear indication, it’s quite likely the average, DIY book designer will find Affinity to be a potent and affordable replacement. Print book and ebook layout (and even cover design) can be done in Affinity Publisher with same or great efficiency as InDesign.

Have you tried the Affinity Publisher Beta? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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