Adobe InDesign vs. Microsoft Publisher – The Great Debate


You’re probably thinking after reading that headline: “There’s no comparison! InDesign, duh!” However, if you need another (somewhat biased) opinion about this great debate, here’s my two-cents based on my experience in using both desktop publishing programs.

My page layout experience started when I used QuarkXpress since I was a Rutgers design student working at the college newspaper for very small pay. That was about 15 years ago (I know I’m dating myself). Fast forward to just six years ago, I’ve transferred over to Adobe InDesign and I have not gotten back to Quark since—sorry for all you legacy Quark fans! (And don’t ask me about Pagemaker, I’ve never used it so I have no opinion about it.)

At my corporate job, which 75% of my job consists of designing marketing collateral, we recently migrated to the latest Microsoft Office and one of the applications included is Microsoft Publisher. I haven’t used Microsoft Publisher since I was an office temp after I graduated from college (again I’m dating myself). Even though I still have CS in my computer (albeit version 5 on a PC at work, but still…), I don’t think I will ever go back to Publisher.

On a designer’s perspective, I will ALWAYS, ALWAYS be an InDesign-er and I feel that using any page layout software is nothing compared to InDesign. I have the creative control of designing my own print materials and web graphics, as well as smoothly integrate with the rest of Adobe Creative Suite, such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Plus, this tool is the industry standard for high-end graphic design work, especially if you’re working in advertising, printing, marketing, editorial, among other industries. For the budget-conscious, sure it’s an expensive software program. However, if you (or your designer) want to create top notch, professionally designed projects, then InDesign is a very good investment. Let me repeat again — a good INVESTMENT.

On the other hand, Publisher is Microsoft’s less expensive answer to InDesign. This desktop publishing software is meant to be for someone who is not a trained graphic designer and who wants to create simple design projects using mostly pre-set Microsoft Office templates. Plus, this program is used by companies with very limited budgets or who cannot afford to hire a graphic designer. If you know how to use Microsoft Word, then you should be able to use Publisher since the menus and functionality are similar. However, I don’t recall ever hearing from commercial printers or print shops using a Publisher file. Plus, the graphic design and printing community LOATHES it. Don’t believe me? Check out this LinkedIn forum.

So the next time someone asked you which is better, InDesign or Publisher, just send them this page.

Now it’s your turn. I have to know…InDesign or Publisher? Post below.


12 thoughts on “Adobe InDesign vs. Microsoft Publisher – The Great Debate

  1. I have never used Indesign but I didn’t hear you give any concrete examples of why I would pay for desktop publishing software when I can use Publisher which I already have. It would have been a lot more helpful to me had you given some real examples of something you can do with indesign that you can’t do with Publisher. I also use nothing more than Adobe Photoshop Elements and not even a current version of that, and I don’t have any trouble going back and forth between publisher and Photoshop Elements…so I hear someone who likes one a lot better than the other but I don’t understand why or why I should spend my money on another program that will just be obsolete in a few years when the next ïndesign comes out!

    1. I too have not spent any time on InDesign, primarily because I cannot afford it. I am new to the industry, coming from more admin-type roles. However, I’ve designed several different types of media and I have to say that I’ve found when I need to produce super high-quality end products, Publisher has given me the results I and my clients were looking for (banners, newsletters, websites, flyers, technical writing, and illustrating books). But I have to admit, I do not always use Publisher alone, I do use other programs when it comes to certain specialty tasks – so I add an extra step every so often, I go edit my photos elsewhere, but always put all the pieces together on Publisher, because, let’s face it….Publisher does not offer the best photo editing tools, a couple cool effects, but not nearly as expansive as true photo editing programs. So bottom line, I agree with Randy, what exactly is the “better end product” I keep hearing about InDesign? I’d love to try it, but the money is way out of my league and for a new to the industry, non-schooled in graphic design person who uses MS and various other programs (most online & free) – I make a pretty good income for each project. Now I just need more projects…LOL. Bottom line, MS offers a pretty good tool at a very reasonable price and their new subscription plans mean I always have the most updated version available – you really can’t beat it at $25 per year.
      One more thing…I said I’ve never used InDesign, or any of their other “creative” apps, again mainly for financial reasons, but I’ve been on the site many, many times in an effort to educate myself and if I was being honest, their “creative” site is not very user-friendly. I find it is not geared towards new users or those who lack “formal industry-specific” education. This industry is a little difficult to gain employment because many employers require Adobe experience – if I could afford the entire Adobe creative package I would not need to work for someone else, right? I’m done – thanks Randy for asking the same questions I was thinking! Good day all!

  2. I’ve used both. While inDesign produces better material and graphic designers feel they have more control over the document, publisher is easier to just pick up and use. This is more useful for collaborative documents that get passed around a company that multiple people (who are not graphic designers) need to add to, e.g. proposal documents.

    TL;DR: Publisher 80% of the time.

  3. Personally, I think it’s just a matter of preference. Both programs do the same job at the basic level. As far as precision goes, InDesign has the edge.

    1. Could you tell me how ID functions as you add layers and more details? I find some programs (not just Pub) start to bog down and sometimes the printed copy appears “heavy or almost foggy”, like, the printers try to print all the layers that went into the final look. There is a diference from my home Canon printer and printing a professional print shop (to be epected), but I still think there is the “heaviness” is apparent, no matter the program I used (with the exception of ID, I’ve not yet used it). Any feedback would be great…I don’t think I’m the only person experiencing it, but i am probably the only one who doesn’t know how to fix/avoid it. Thanks so much, can’t wait to hear!

  4. I have a very busy job with a 72 mile one-way commute, and somewhat hectic life with 4 kids, wife, pets and my 87 year old mother who lives with us and she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. So free time is something I have very little of.
    I am not a fan of MS at all. They have done nothing but held progress and innovation back. Having said that… I have to shamefully admit that at this time and for the price they offer the best OS and Office suite for general productivity from an average user perspective, let’s not talk about [in]security, spyware and bloatware or I’ll go on an anti-MS rant for days. Of course some of that can be said for Adobe too.
    What desktop publishing I do is in support of a hobby: writing books, creating displays, albums (philatelic) and so on. Having said that we’re talking thousands of pages. MS Pub is cheap and I already have it. InDesign came with CS4 Master Suite which I also have and use for web development.
    There are some frustrating things about MS Pub like it bogs down as the file gets larger but with a few poorly documented adjustments to the application, that is solvable. However, it is user very friendly for anyone who uses MS office.
    As for taking files to a professional printer, if I did, I’d simply “print” it to a PDF. Most can handle a PDF. I do that now for distribution and storage of final versions. As far as I am concerned most print shops (around here) will accept Word and even Visio files… so why wouldn’t they accept a MS Pub file? Snob attitudes don’t go far with me and any business that gives me attitude gets no money from me, the customer… If there is a legit reason, that’s something else but would make me wonder about a business without an MS Office capability or willingness to work “with” the customer within reason.
    For me the choice between the two really boils down to ease of use and quick results. Both are very capable. Those who complain about MS Pubs inability to give detail, are also people that admit they haven’t used it, or at least not for a serious try.
    Personally, I think the user interface for InDesign stinks for a non-professional who does not have a month to tinker and learn all aspects of it. In addition, I see no way to convert 1000s of pages some of which are fairly complex.
    If InDesign develops a “for dummies” user interface and import capability, I’ll be happy to give it a try. Even though I own both, I am already an advanced user for MS, attaining the same level of knowledge for InDesign would just take too much time and the results would be no different (for me). It’s just not worth the effort.
    Although I hear a lot of Anti-MS grumbling on various boards, nobody has given me, a non-professional any substantial reason for an amateur like me to switch.
    Professionals more than likely disagree with this point of view for their own use and they have the right to. I wish people would stop trying to tell amateurs that they need a professional tool.
    Maybe I’ll learn InDesign when I retire (that’s when they lower you into the ground isn’t it?)

  5. I use both programs. I’ve been using publisher since 1995 but stopped since the 2007 edition. All I want is the faster way to make publications and it seems that MS beats ID in speed (for small publications–less than 30pgs.). When I actually have time, I like to use ID to make my stories more professional. Sadly I end up sending ID files to AI (illustrator) since I’m a natural with it. So to be clear, MS for speed and ID for precision.

    1. Could you define/ explain what you mean when you say “precision”? I’m trying to wrap my head around the differences and so far, I’m not able to visualize. Please excuse my ignorance, if given the op, I would love to create two identical items one in each program to see what everyone is talking about – I just don’t have access to ID. Can anyone out there give a visual demonstration of the differences between the two final products? I’d really, really appreciate it!

  6. I usually create proposals. I have to say Adobe InDesign does have a difficult interface, while Microsoft Publisher is simple. As long as I have clean edges and guides to place information, I’m happy. I have dabbled a little in using InDesign, but when deadlines are pushing, I don’t have time for tedious commands. In my opinion, MS Publisher is for a general audience, while InDesign is for serious designers that develop marketing materials for ads or websites etc. For example, I don’t see anything wrong with using MS Pub. for an internal company newsletter or a proposal; on the other hand, if I’m developing a proposal within stringent competition or postcard for flyer to mail to clients I may take my time and painstakingly develop in Adobe InDesign. Also, cost to the company may be a factor; I have an older version of Adobe InDesign (Cs2), and I hear the newer version is easier. I know some professionals say we must use writer tools as tricks of the trade, but the work gets done using MS Pub. You have to determine the level of quality. When choosing tools think of your true job function, audience, competition, and development process for documentation.

    1. Hi Tara! There’s plenty of tutorials on InDesign on the web. However, if you’re looking for online formal training, there are InDesign courses on and HOW Design University ( When I was first trained in InDesign, it was through a formal Multimedia Design program at The Anthem University (formerly The Chubb Institute, but of course that was a long time ago). Good luck!

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