Editor's Choice 2019, macOS, Production

Affinity Publisher is an InDesign killer

Affinity Publisher layout design app review. Interface view.

Serif, the developers of Affinity Photo and Designer, last week released their much-anticipated publishing app, Affinity Publisher. The new layout design app comes with a good deal of unique and very clever features, including “StudioLink”, an integration system – that re-defines the adjective “seamless” – between Publisher and their Designer and Photo apps.

Serif hasn’t been around all that long and yet it has released its third major design app in less than a decade. During the live event to launch Affinity Publisher and discuss Affinity Photo and Designer 1.7 – which come with their own high “Wow” factor – the Managing Director communicated some stunning usage figures. It appears Publisher has been beta tested by over 200,000 people and that the company’s user base has grown to two million.

It’s clear what the reasons are for this success:

  • The company listens to its users’ needs
  • They don’t include unnecessary or obsolete features in the products
  • They innovate but only if it benefits a workflow and your working pleasure
  • They heavily focus on features that enables users to be more creative and productive in less time.

StudioLink is the most head-turning and time-saving new feature of Affinity Publisher, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Instead of allowing an image in Publisher to launch, for example, Affinity Photo when a placed image needs to be edited, StudioLink simply replaces the tools of Publisher by those of Photo. This seems to be based on Serif’s use of “Personas” which, when the Affinity products were first launched, seemed a bit odd to me. Now that the benefits of Personas have become crystal clear, it has become obvious that it enables a much faster workflow.

Of course, a layout artist’s basic needs are all catered for, including double page spreads, live master pages, nested master pages, image frames with intelligent scaling options, text wrapping with fine padding control, custom shaped text frames, the ability to link multiple text frames together across your document, advanced guides, grids and snapping, tables and custom table formats, etc.

Simply brilliant is that you get a lot of visual feedback about sizes, positions and more. This is all done with automatically appearing and disappearing helplines and dots, as well as number bubbles along lines as you move the cursor or an object that you are placing somewhere on the page. Snapping is, of course, possible too, but with the help lines/dots you can place objects with high precision too.

I also found Publisher offering some very intuitive tools that I’ve never seen before… Table customisation is an example. You can do the usual things to tables and cells, like changing frame and line colour and thickness, but also, for example, rotate the complete table.

Another such tool is the fonts list that drops down when you click on the font name in the toolbar. If you selected a word, line or paragraph before scrolling, as you go up or down the list, you’ll see the font under the cursor being previewed live in your design on the page. That’s extremely efficient as it doesn’t leave anything to imagination.

Yet another example is font styling. Some fonts contain, as you know, swash and other embellishments, including fancy numerals and multiple designs for an uppercase character. In Affinity Publisher, you can open a panel that shows you all those styles in a checkbox list. Select the character(s) you want to experiment with in terms of these embellishments, and check each box (or some, of course) in succession, and you’ll instantly see the characters change in the document – no guessing.

Publisher places PSD, AI, PDF, JPG, TIFF, PNG and Affinity files with the ability to pin graphics to float or be placed inline with text. I sort of expected the Photo Persona taking over when I wanted to select a RAW file, but that didn’t work. RAW files do require you to open Affinity Photo and “Develop” the image and then save to one of Publisher’s supported formats.

Of course, Affinity Publisher is designed to create printing press ready files as well as desktop printing and web-distributed PDFs. Hence, it supports Pantone libraries, end-to-end CMYK and ICC colour management. And it opens, edits and outputs PDF/X files.

Conclusion

Just as Serif has done with Affinity Photo and Designer, Publisher is sure to quickly have a huge and faithful following of hundreds of thousands of users very soon. It’s at least as good as InDesign – my educated guess is that it’s going to be gauged as even better by the layout designer community.

And of course it’s a perpetual licence you’re buying, not a subscription. Just like in the olde days of computing, when QuarkXPress and Aldus PageMaker (which later became Adobe’s InDesign) were the layout apps of choice. The difference is that, while I could create lovely things with PageMaker and later with InDesign CS, Affinity Publisher’s power blows those out of the water at a price that is ridiculously low.

Affinity Publisher is now available at €54.99. For the time being, you can have it with 20% off.