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Nothing too complex. I need a few custom paragraph styles, and here and there a graph or diagram will be interspersed with the text.

I've looked at Scribus, and it seemed suited for my needs... only it runs quite slow, and it's crashed once. I fear it will start crashing / slugging on me halfway through my work. It's not very good at handling lots of text either.

I've also considered LaTex, which I'm only barely comfortable with; but I'm definitely not trusting myself with LaTexing a whole book. I've tried LyX, but found it nowhere near as intuitive as others have.

Really, all I need is something that's a step above Pages and allows for a bit more customization and and easier time working with paragraph styles and graphics.

I am currently writing the book in HTML, broken up into separate files, using some custom tags which I hope the software could be made to read as paragraph styles (it can be done in Scribus via HTML_custom-tag).

It would be good if I was able to import said HTML text directly into the program.

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I think Scribus is the best you will find in the cheap category in terms of general page layout/publishing. LaTeX is powerful, but not really a page layout tool. That said...maybe you could do your layout completely in HTML then print it as a PDF...which could then be brought into a PDF based publishing system/software. – DA01 Feb 3 '12 at 6:56

4 Answers 4

There are a number of open source tools that might be what you need. The right tool will depend on 1.) Length of your work 2.) the content and 3.) whether this is a one-time thing or you want to invest some time into learning a new publishing method.

Note: I'm assuming that you're targeting PDF.


Great tool with a number of caveats. As you noticed, it will crash sometimes, and it becomes difficult to work with large amounts of text. I've never used it for documents longer than 20 pages for that reason. I do a lot of technical writing, and Scribus is not good with that kind of stuff (page references, autonumbering, etc). You generally have to split your book into separate Scribus files per chapter, which is very annoying to work with in my opinion.

For long documents like books, Scribus works best as the final step in your workflow, not the main tool. In fact, the Official Scribus Manaul suggests treating it that way, as a tool for a very specific job (page layouts). You can use a tool like LibreOffice (or just a simple text editor with good Markdown support) to write your text, create a Scribus template, import each chapter, and then use a separate tool to stitch the final PDF together. This means you're waiting until your book is essentially done before you start producing that final PDF. It can be hard to work this way sometimes, since you may need advance copies or drafts, and it's hard to work hard on something and not start seeing results until late.


This is a swiss army knife for document conversion. This could be used to get your HTML quickly into LaTeX, for example, or ODT. It's markdown variant is pretty good and there are a lot of options. You could convert your HTML into markdown and work with that, then import it into Scribus. Pandoc can do PDF output too (using pdflatex), so in theory you could actually just shove your HTML into it and get a PDF out. You can control the output's appearance to an extent using templates, but Pandoc is probably best used for converting between intermediate formats.

TeX and Friends

TeX (the base engine) and the macro languages built on top of it (LaTeX, XeLaTeX, LuaLaTeX, etc) are ubiquitous for a reason: they are powerful. As you've noticed, there is a steep learning curve, and even with some programming experience, the syntax and features of TeX can be mind baffling.

To learn LaTeX, I used this wikibook and LyX (screwing around with it in WYSIWYM mode, and then looking at the LaTeX source). There are lots of book and resources out there including fabulous the TeX SE. Once you spend a little time with it, it will become easier.


Docbook is an XML tool. You use it in conjunction with the Docbook XSL to produce the output. Docbook is obviously geared towards technical publications and has a higher learning curve since it requires some skill with XML (and customization is a beast if you've never used XSL or FO). Pandoc can convert HTML to Docbook, and there are XSL stylesheets out there that can convert HTML to Docbook, but I've never tried this. You'd probably only want to go this route if you write technical stuff and plan on writing more in the future.


An XML tool similar to Docbook, but geared more towards modularity. There are a few transformation options, with the DITA Open Toolkit being FOSS and pretty powerful. Like Docbook, there is a high learning curve, and you'd probably only go this route if you are a technical writer.

So what to use?

  • If you want high-quality and can invest the time, use LaTeX
  • If you want to get good results and see the layout as you work with it (and can tolerate its quirks), get all your text into a format that can be easily imported, and then use Scribus
  • If you are a technical writer, learn Docbook or DITA
  • If you want to try different tools, use Pandoc to convert your existing work.
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I love Serif PagePlus. It is rated very close to InDesign. It is easy to use and doesn't crash. And is better than CorelDraw or Publisher (I've used both.) The current price is $120.00. My advise though is to download the free Starter Edition and then wait for Serif to make you an offer you can't refuse. They let me download the full program for just $60.00.

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Serif is interesting, but is Windows only. – Rafael Feb 3 at 21:48

I would recommend Mellel. It is not free, but it is cheap. I like their approach. The only way to style the text is by creating character styles and paragraph styles that you then use throughout the document. It is how you should work in all word processors, but many, notably Word, tempt you to work in wrong ways that are confusing, cumbersome, and give an inconsistent result. It has many other good points, check it out. It is easy to use and can do a lot.

Tex in some flavor is of course the ultimate solution. It is free, and it can do everything to a high level of typographic quality. But it demands some learning effort if you want to go outside the default solutions.

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What's the final delivery method? Print? digital - epub - webpages? all of the above?

For print... if you're looking for fairly cheap on the Mac, you could use Pages. It's not overly robust but will handle most general needs. Then there's always Word/OpenOffice/NeoOffice as well.

FOr digital, ebooks are basically html files merely packaged together. You can look at Calibre for OSX, it's free and builds ebooks from html files. For epub, you may need to invest is something.

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Mostly print. My previous two were 100% text and Pages was enough, though its poor handling of paragraph styles meant more time tinkering by hand than I'd've liked. -- This new one I'm working on involves a few graphs, and I'm a bit weary of its handling of graphical content. – iDontKnowBetter Feb 3 '12 at 7:11

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