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Designing and creating PDF files does not have to be expansive.

Some of our customers want to find the way to publish while limiting the costs. Most of the magazine designers use InDesign and there is no doubts that it is great, but still pretty expensive software. Here you will find a review of low budget and professional designing tools for designing and creating PDF files.

Free open-source DTP software

Free DTP software tools for creating PDF files

There are different types of DTP (Dscriesktop Publishing) software available nowadays, either as online or downloadable versions. The purpose of these appplications is to enable users to create magazines, brochures, posters, books, newspapers or flyers. Exporting/importing the Portable Document Format (PDF) files is possible as well. While most DTP programs are quite expensive, the cheapest – and some even free – among them are listed below, along with their corresponding tools and plug-ins.

Inscape logo


Inkscape has been released under the GNU General Public License. It is 100% free and can be easily downloaded from its website www.Inkscape.org. Inkscape is an easy to use open source vector graphics editor, which uses the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format. It can easily compete with Adobe Illustrator, Xara X or CorelDraw.

Interface and usability of Inkscape

  • Universal keyboard accessibility.
  • Convenient editing on the canvas.
  • Has come a long way in terms of usability since the start of the project.
  • Keyboard shortcuts and toolbars docked within the editing window can reduce the number of floating dialog boxes.
  • The toolbar at the top of the window always displays the controls relevant to the current tool.
  • Provides floating tooltips and status bar hints for all buttons, controls, commands, keys, and on-canvas handles.
  • A given object can display up to 4 hints while editing with a single tool.
  • Comes with a complete mouse and keyboard reference in SVG and HTML.
  • Can open and fully edit PDFs.

Template availability:

  • Creation of web templates.
  • Extraction of vector images from a PDF file.
  • Can create SVG documents.


  • All vector transformations, scale, rotation and positioning (minus skewing) have keyboard shortcuts with consistent modifiers.
  • The most common operations (such as z-order, transforming, zooming) have convenient one-key shortcuts.
  • The Alt key transforms by 1 screen pixel at the current zoom, and Shift multiplies the transformation by 10.

Scribus logo


Scribus has been released under the GNU General Public License. It is 100% free and can be easily downloaded from its website www.scribus.net. You can create all manner of great looking documents with this easy to use and powerful DTP application, which can easily compete with the leading commercial and expensive DTP program, which is Adobe InDesign. Scribus has plenty of options to choose from to achieve best results.

Scribus interfaceImage source:forums.scribus.net

Interface and usability:

  • One-click color management.
  • Document preview without frame borders and guides, and many more viewing options.
  • A search feature for the document outline.
  • Many options to speed up and automate the insertion of frames (such as the Sticky Tools option, or the Insert Frame dialogue).
  • Enhanced Scrapbook.
  • Context menu for the canvas, with options to activate viewing or to insert vector graphics directly.
  • Can open and fully edit PDFs.

Template availability:

  • Added many more templates donated by artists.
  • Template descriptions and categories are translated to different languages.


  • Connection with stock image database.
  • Non-destructive image effects.
  • Good handling of clipping paths and layers.
  • The following image formats can be imported: PNG, JPEG, EPS, GIF, TIFF, EPS and XPM.
  • Image management.
  • Import SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) images.


Serif PagePlus X-9

PagePlus X-9 developed by Serif Europe is a proprietary, commercial software application available for purchase from the website www.serif.com/pageplus for $105.24. You can create all manner of great looking documents with this easy to use and powerful DTP application, which can easily compete with the leading commercial and expensive DTP programs, which are Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Publisher. PagePlus X-9 has plenty of options to choose from to achieve best results.

Interface and usability:

  • Supports page layers and master pages.
  • Supports page layout with full freedom.
  • Supports professional PDF/X-3 output for print shops.
  • Can open and fully edit PDFs.
  • Able to import Microsoft Word 2013 files with maintained layouts.
  • eBooks are compatible with Kindle and all other stores.

Template availability:

  • Professional templates, unbeatable value.
  • Everything you need for the web and print. Stunning templates perfect for your business, club or charity, available online as well as in print.


  • Advanced photo editing lab and image cutout studio.
  • Logo studio with graphic design tools.

PDF Filler



PDFfiller consists of an intuitive editing platform for PDFs, collaboration tools to change a document upon request and share it with colleagues, online signature technology to close deals without any printing and scanning, and several levels of advanced security.

Every part of the PDFfiller platform was carefully designed and developed according to their clients’ responses.

It has a number of features that come in handy in all industries for all kinds of tasks, so here they are:

  • Powerful PDF editor: it’s still a challenge to find a solution that would have enough tools for editing documents in PDF format and they would be easy to use at the same time. At PDFfiller, user experience is one of the keystones. The editing platform allows users to click anywhere on a PDF and start typing, erase or blackout any part of the text, highlight the crucial parts, check the document for typos and add sticky notes to the page. Besides editing text, PDFfiller works perfectly with rearranging pages and merging PDF files into a single document. This also works for other popular document formats.
  • Document creator: sometimes it’s easier to create your own reusable template for a standard document, for instance a job offer or table of content. PDFfiller provides a set of tools to design a standard document and turn it into a fillable form.
  • Host fillable documents: once you have a standard template, add fillable fields to it (like First Name, Last Name, Signature, Date etc.) and use our LinkToFill feature to host a form on your company’s website. For example, a business owner who sells hand-crafted furniture runs a blog and a Salesforce account. Using LinkToFill, he can host a fillable pre-order form on the blog, and when the customer fills it out, use this information to automatically generate the invoice and the shipping papers in his Salesforce account.
  • Signature wizard. It’s more than just the ability to put a legally binding signature on a document online because PDFfiller has a handy bonus to it – a SendToSign feature. It allows the user to request signatures on their document, send notifications to a signer or a group (and if there are a bunch of recipients, the user can even set the order of signing). Customers also can require identity verification from any recipient and receive notifications when a document is signed.
  • FillInBulk is a must-have during tax season or when processing large chunks of data and inputting the data into multiple copies of a document.

Getting on board with PDFfiller doesn’t mean to abandon the tools you already use. PDFfiller offers seamless integrations with Salesforce, Sharepoint, Google Docs, Xero, Slack, Office 365, Box and developers are welcome to use their API.

iStudio Publisher logo

iStudio Publisher

iStudio Publisher has been developed by iStudio Software, a UK based company. It is a proprietary, commercial software application available for purchase from the website www.istudiopublisher.com for $45. It is a truly great publishing app, meant to be a cheap and user-friendly alternative to the expensive and complicated DTP applications available on the market.

Interface and usability:

  • Frequent software updates.
  • Auto Save feature.
  • Stack dumps resymbolized to enable Crash Reporter.
  • If no documents are open, clicking Dock icon now shows Task Chooser.
  • Drag in PDF content.

Template availability:
– Preconfigured templates can be downloaded for publication from a dedicated template site.


  • Images can be manipulated: stretched, scaled, tiled and cropped. You can also rotate, resize and alter position of any image within its containing shape.
  • Any part of an image lying outside its shape remains hidden, so you can just focus on the parts that matter.
  • You can resize or move the image by hand with the new image tool.
  • The program can do all the hard work for you with the alignment and fitting options.

Online PDF manipulation tools

Do you know that for simple PDF manipulation and editing you can use software tools available for free online. You can also design your magazine with PowerPoint and export it to PDF file. Here is my favourite online PDF edition tools stack:

  • Sejda helps with your PDF tasks.
  • Alternatively Foxy Utils is a swiss army knife for PDF document manipulation.
  • PDF filler makes it easy to manage all your signatures along the way working with documents online
  • My favourite online PDF tool is called SmallPDF with their super awesome PDF compressor. It preserves quality while shrinking the file size.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your favourite tool for creating and designing magazine content?