Why, you might ask, is the coauthor of a book about InDesign reviewing a direct competitor, Affinity Publisher?
Because it’s new and I wanted to check it out.
And because it’s so much more affordable than Adobe’s Creative Cloud: $600 a year for the Adobe suite vs. a one-time total of $150 for the full line of Serif’s products: Publisher, Photo, and Designer (all at half price until May 20). We both bought the Affinity software for desktop, and I must say that for the most part, we love it.
The Affinity Publisher app is for desktop use on PCs and Macs. Photo and Designer can also now be used on iPads, so check back on Publisher to see when the iPad version becomes available.
My method in trying out Affinity Publisher was to go through Book Design Made Simple and see whether I could accomplish all the book design and typesetting tasks we give you in the book.
And the answer is: Yes, almost.
And does Publisher have any extra features that might be useful to a book designer? Yes, definitely.Are you considering trying the new #bookdesign software called Affinity Publisher? We've reviewed it for you and offer a few tips to get you started quickly. https://bit.ly/2YSC33L. Click To Tweet
So here you’ll get the straight scoop on what’s good, what’s not so good, and what’s absolutely terrific about Affinity Publisher—from the point of view of a book designer and as it relates to Book Design Made Simple. I purposely have not read any other reviews of Publisher; these observations are my own.
What’s good about Affinity Publisher
Just so we’re clear what we’re talking about here: Affinity Publisher is the equivalent of Adobe InDesign, and you can open and edit .idml files. Affinity Designer is the equivalent of Adobe Illustrator, and you can open and edit .ai files. Affinity Photo is the equivalent of Adobe Photoshop, and you can open and edit .psd files.
The best thing about Publisher is that you’ll be able to accomplish almost anything you’re used to doing in InDesign. But you’ll have to search a bit on the screen at first, and learn a few new terms. For instance, the Control panel is called the Context tool bar. If you use a Library in InDesign, instead you’ll find a very convenient Assets panel. Hidden characters are easily accessible but are called Special Characters.
Be aware that there are dozens of helpful tutorial videos for Publisher (more are being added), plus many others for Photo and Designer. I’d very much like to get my hands on a printed manual for Publisher, but it’s not available yet.
Also—and this is very important—if you install all three applications, you’ll be able to work on your photos and illustrations without switching out to the other programs, as they are all so fully integrated that they are simply called “personas.”
Here’s a list of some of the more important features and actions that you’ll encounter:
- Importing InDesign files. Okay, call me crazy, but when I opened an InDesign .idml file in Publisher, it appeared so beautifully and so close to perfectly that I actually jumped out of my seat and started dancing around. (However, if the fonts had been leased from Adobe, they would probably not have imported.)
- User interface. Take a peek (below). Does this look like something you’ve seen before? If you have any experience with InDesign, you’ll notice right away the Context tool bar (Control panel) at the top and flyout panels on the right, a Pages panel on the left, and several other familiar-looking features.
- Preferences and Document Setup. Some of the items that you’d find elsewhere in InDesign are in Publisher’s Preferences panel instead, and vice versa. For example, Document Setup (rather than Preferences) is where you’ll choose your units of measurement. And some of the choices are located in Spread Setup. As far as I can tell, everything you’d need is there—somewhere.
- Importing and placing text. This works almost exactly the same as in InDesign, including text autoflow. There’s only one minor glitch involving typographer’s (curly) quotes. (See “What’s not so good” below for details).
Styles. There are character, paragraph, and object styles (see right) with all the familiar attributes. You’ll find lots of styles already listed and defined for you, but you can change them in every way and add your own. Use Affinity Publisher Help if you get confused.
- Master pages. Yes, they’re included and work as you’d expect.
- Typefaces. You’ll need to purchase your own fonts; no more leasing from Adobe. When you highlight some copy and you want to change the typeface, move your mouse up and down your list of fonts and the highlighted copy changes to each one you roll over. It’s entertaining!
- Colors, swatches, and gradients. These work almost the same as in InDesign and are very easy to figure out.
- Hyperlinks. Yes, you can create them, of course. The procedure requires a little extra clicking around, but there’s a tutorial for that.
- Section Manager. It is well worth your while to learn to use the Section Manager. This is where you add changing running heads (text variables) and is very clever indeed.
- Merge documents. This is equivalent to InDesign’s Book feature and purports to work more or less the same way. I did not try it.
- Indexing. This feature works very well and includes a handy panel on the left that shows all your entries. You can find, add, or delete entries right inside the panel either before or after you’ve added the index on the page.
- Automatic table of contents. First watch the tutorial, and then it works like a charm.
- Producing PDFs. PDFs are generated pretty much the same way as in InDesign, with professional results, as far as I can tell.
What’s not so good about Affinity Publisher
A few nifty features that we use happily in InDesign seem to be missing at the moment from Publisher, or they work so differently that you’ll need to relearn them.
- Purchasing fonts. If you’re used to relying on Adobe’s Typekit, you’re going to be a bit perplexed at first. (“What?!?! I have to pay for typefaces?”) This doesn’t bother me at all, and you might also discover that shopping for them is one of life’s little pleasures.
- Importing text from Word. In general, all your text will come in just fine, but if your Word doc has straight quotation marks, you can’t change them to curly (typographer’s) quotes with just one click as you import. Your best bet is to change them in Word (it’s very easy) ahead of time. For our own detailed instructions on how to change quotation marks either before or after you place your text, click here.
- Layers. I am still struggling with the Layers panel. It works sort of like the layers in Photoshop, so that every time I add anything to the document it appears on its own separate layer. Once I get accustomed to it I’ll be fine, and I hope you will, too. In the meantime, I’m learning not to drag anything up or down on the Layers panel, as that only wreaks havoc. I must use the Layers menu instead (Layer > Arrange > Move to Front [or Back, etc.] ).
- Strokes. Stroke styles are limited to solid and dashed—no double strokes, dots, or wavy lines. However, you can customize the dashed lines, just as in Adobe Illustrator. So with strokes, some things have been taken away but replaced with a precision dashed line feature, which also means you can devise a custom dotted line with a little extra effort.
What’s absolutely terrific about Affinity Publisher
- The price. I can’t stress it enough: Affinity Publisher is very inexpensive compared to the Adobe subscription, and even much, much less than buying Adobe products before a subscription was required. Even with a few minor missing features, it is completely worth buying and hanging on to. And until May 20, 2020, Serif is offering all three apps for half price. Updates are free.
- The shape drawing tools. Look at the choices (right)! This is going to be so much fun.
- The Crop Tool. Finally, finally, you can crop your geometry shapes right inside the program. Here’s an example below. I grouped the rectangle and the jagged line on the left, selected the Crop tool, then shaped the crop frame the way I wanted it. Is this not completely cool?
- Switching among the Affinity “personas.” If you’re in Publisher and you decide to use a brush tool, simply click on the Designer icon at the top left corner of the screen, and your very same workspace loses the Publisher tools and gains the Designer tools. Ditto with the Photo persona. When you’re done, just switch back; it could not be any easier.
- The type menu. As I mentioned above, if you highlight some text and then roll over the list of fonts, the selected text will change as you move up and down the list. The same thing happens to a paragraph if you roll over the paragraph styles list.
- The Artistic Text Tool. This is like a dance party for type geeks! Just select the “A” tool and type something, then resize the text frame at random and you’ll watch the type shrink and grow to fit. Next, roll over your font list and the font will change accordingly, too.
Is it any wonder that Affinity Publisher was the official Mac App of the Year for 2019? We encourage you to try it, using the current 90-day free trial version if you like. Watch the tutorials, try their instructions, and you’ll soon feel like a Publisher pro.
I do believe that, with patience, you could use Affinity Publisher with Book Design Made Simple as your guide and successfully design your first or hundredth book.
Read more: InDesign object styles » works in general with Affinity object styles, too.
Read more: Using a layout grid in book design » demonstrates how to keep your design under control (and thus more attractive).
Read more: Your book promotion materials » suggests many more uses for Publisher.
Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.