Alternative to InDesign?

This is tangentially related to Dorico, but on-topic enough that I feel justified in asking here.

At present, I engrave hymns in Dorico, one hymn per project file, and combine them into a finished hymnal in InDesign. I do three things there:

  1. Pair up longer hymns on a left page (one page plus a system, maybe) with shorter hymns on a right page
  2. Add hymn numbers
  3. Use master pages for topic headers (Adoration, Confession, etc)

I’m looking for an alternative to InDesign. It feels like overkill, with tons of complex features I never plan to use. I know how to manage what I need to do, clumsily, but I’ve never taken the time to learn the software properly. Plus monthly subscription. :imp:

Is there a simpler/cheaper software that would do all these things? Or should I stick with InDesign? Of course I can google “alternatives to InDesign,” but I’d like to hear what others here have used.

PS: I’ve considered using Dorico for the entire hymnal, but 2 reasons I haven’t:

  1. 300–500 flows is a bit much
  2. I’m working on multiple hymnals simultaneously, some of which are using many of the same hymn files, and I want edits and corrections to apply to one file that is then updated in all locations where that PDF is linked.

Take a look at Affinity Publisher. Only $50, no subscription.

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I use Affinity too, not super easy and intuitive and the user forum isn’t as nice or as patient as Dorico’s, but I’ve managed to do everything needed in it.

Dan, would you say it’s easier than InDesign, or harder? Relative question, I know.

+1 for Affinity Publisher


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Here are the tutorials for Affinity Publisher, if you want to get an idea about it.

You can also try an open source alternative, such as Scribus. Full disclosure: I tried Scribus years ago and didn’t get along with it, that was literally many, many years ago, and the software has probably changed as well.

Sorry Dan but I don’t know InDesign at all and can’t compare.

As a Mac user whose old version of Creative Suite 6 is approaching end-of-life, I’m using VivaDesigner, which is a professional DTP app that can open InDesign .indd files. It’s a nice way to continue using my legacy files, if nothing else.
(Other apps, like Affinity Publisher and Scribus can open .idml files – the ID equivalent of MusicXML – but you need to have exported your documents into that format first.)

VivaDesigner comes in a range of reasonably priced licensing styles: Free, Personal, Educational and Commercial. There are cross-grades for Indesign users. E.g. Personal crossgrade price is $109.
Obvs, the Free licence is a cut-down product, and I don’t know whether that will import .indd files.

Affinity Publisher is very good for things like creating prelims, but it has a major flaw when importing PDFs onto its pages: you can’t rely on it displaying text objects in the correct font or glyph variant. This has major implications for putting music onto a page, unless you “outline” the fonts into vector lines first.

I’ve written a guide to alternatives to all the main Creative Suite apps here:

I used InDesign intensively for a few years from its release twenty years ago and at the time it was a dream come true. I only use it occasionally nowadays and don’t have a subscription (i.e. I use older versions). I also have Affinity Publisher.

Affinity Publisher is cheap and quite powerful but it’s not simpler than InDesign. Serif chose to try to make the transition to Affinity from the Adobe suite straightfoward and didn’t try to design an optimal UI from scratch as the Dorico team did. I understand why they made that choice but it does mean Affinity Publisher is encumbered with an unworthy interface. The main problem though is that, as Ben has pointed out, you can’t simply place a PDF exported from Dorico and have it interpreted correctly. Affinity Publisher can’t even open its own PDF exports reliably. I imagine this will rule it out for your purposes.

I think you’re probably going to have to stick with InDesign. It’s regrettable that a subscription’s required but it’s probably the only tool that will do everything you need. If you can get hold of an older version, it would do the job for you without a subscription. I’ve got CS3 running on one Windows 10 computer (there’s a known problem during installation but there’s a way round it); InDesign 2.0 would meet your needs but I haven’t tried it with Windows 10.

I used to use indesign and I loved it. Affinity Publisher is an ID knockoff. It takes its cues from ID, right down to its visual design, but it lacks much of the finesse of ID. (One thing I really miss from ID is when you would press esc. to deselect an object it doesn’t automatically switch back to the generic selection tool, so you’re constantly pressing esc. + V.) It is sufficient for my needs, but there are things, like the aforementioned PDF issues, which can be a pain. It works fine if you import SVG files for the hymns instead of PDFs. I’m guessing, in truth, that AP would probably be sufficient for your needs since all the essentials are there. I created a beautiful 70+ page worship aid for Easter last year using the beta and it turned out really well. I wish I still had my old CS5 suite, but alas, I refuse to pay a subscription fee for it at this time.

Thanks everyone. Hearing AP has some irritating limitations is a deal-breaker for me. I’ll stick with InDesign.

If you have an existing version of ID, then I’d stick with it, but I certainly wouldn’t pay Adobe’s subscription if as you say “It feels like overkill, with tons of complex features I never plan to use.”

Old unsupported versions may stop working (reliably) at some point in the future, so it’s always good to have a Plan B.

Indeed I am paying monthly. It’s bundled with Acrobat Pro, which I also need. I’d buy an old version outright, sans bells and whistles and slick UI, in a heartbeat if I could. But at least for Acrobat Pro, it’s impossible.

To be clear: I didn’t mean to scare you off. Honestly, I’ve been relatively happy with AP in spite of the little quirks. You have full control over typography, layout, master pages (you can apply multiple master pages and do individual page edits while masters are still applied), bleeds, styles, asset management… etc. etc. It is indeed quite powerful. Frankly, it’s amazing considering the price.

I also get the feeling that this is just the beginning as far as this suite is concerned. They are under active development in a way that something like Viva doesn’t appear to be. From poking around, I get the impression that viva is just maintenance to keep it running, rather than active development per se. Many of the resources available for it are quite old whereas people are creating new content for AP almost daily.

James (Romanos401), this is the issue that would make it a non-starter for me. The majority of what I do in InDesign is import PDFs of each hymn and place them on the page. If AP can’t render them correctly, there’s no way I can use it.

I guess I’ll stick with ID, pay the subscription, and occasionally mutter incoherently at my screen. Oh, and take some time to learn the software.

Viva has just released a new version 10, which has several new features, and there’s been a maintenance update since then. I’ll admit their documentation and web info is a bit behind the times, but it’s far from just ‘ticking over with no active development’. It’s certainly one option in a box of tools.

If you have a CS5 or CS6 installer and activation code - you could create a Parallels Desktop system with an older MacOS. My only concern would be whether Adobe is still allowing authorizations for CS5 or CS6.

I’m using CS6 (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc…) on an iMac Pro - still works great in Mojave - I’m not finding any limitations… I also have it ready to go in a Parallels Desktop guest OS - running MacOS El Capitan. (The web has many tutorials on how to avoid any pitfalls - one being a java issue for photoshop that has a stable fix)

There is no observable difference in performance - same speed and all capabilities running InDesign within Parallels Desktop/El Capitan. I keep a backup in the event that my main guest OS system gets corrupted, but theoretically it would be possible to continue via Parallels Desktop indefinitely - using the non-subscription version of PD.

At a minimum, you could set this up and use it until you find a viable 64bit replacement for InDesign and also for accessing earlier work product.

I’m also looking at VivaDesigner - given that it opens .indd files. (Even the “commercial” version is less than a year of an Adobe subscription - plus additional workstation installs are only about $40)

One of the features that is keeping me with InDesign for the time being is a plug-in called “MultiPageImporter 2.5”. This amazing third-party script will import any type of multi page PDF - automatically add new InDesign pages, and place each PDF page exactly where you want it on these new pages. It basically allows me to import 40+ page scores in seconds - adding new pages when needed. I can also combine all instrument parts into a single PDF and import 100+ pages of parts into a single InDesign file - also in seconds.

An added bonus to using Parallels is that I can continue to use older Xerox/HP printers that don’t and won’t ever have 64 bit printer drivers. They print perfectly from within Parallels - again, with no visible speed difference.

If or when I ever find something as quick and convenient as InDesign w/MultiPageImporter plug-in, I will gladly switch - but until then I’m waiting until these newer apps mature a little more.

Doug – Dan’s on Windows, so not faced with the same ‘cut-off’ as Mac users. (For now…!) But yeah, I have CS6 on a Mountain Lion VM, which I authorised last year or so.

Since Dorico can export in SVG, can’t this format be a viable replacement to the PDF as an exchange file format?