The last time I did any desktop publishing it was ten years ago and I used Microsoft Publisher. Now I need to put together a product user manual, troubleshooting guide, and a new catalog. I figured Adobe would be the place to start, but their product features section focuses so much on cross-platform functionality and collaboration that I can't tell which product, if any is used to lay out a multi-page document. I'm primarily a Windows user on a desktop. I can afford software licenses but I'm not married to Adobe. Where do I start?

EDIT: I'm a mechanical engineer with very little desktop publishing experience. The documentation I'm trying to create includes the installation manual for my product, a separate troubleshooting manual, and a product line catalog. I have two engineers working for me contributing content. We don't all have Publisher so I would prefer to find another program, preferably one with the smallest possible learning curve. If the results look too rough, I can always turn the result over to a professional and say "Make it look like this, only better."

  • Are you just going to do the layout or are you also writing the content? What is your background (graphic designer, programmer, something else)? Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 15:15
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    Btw, the two Adobe products for this kind of things are InDesign (for attractive page layouts) and FrameMaker (for technical writing, like use manuals). There are many tools out there for technical writing, and the correct one will vary based on your experience, the experience of your team (if any), etc. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 15:17
  • @Scribblemacher Framemaker was a dead product for a long time. thy did upgrade it but its still not what i would call perfect. However one note you would probably want to use frame maker AND indesign to get the output out, as indesign reads XML.
    – joojaa
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 15:50
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    There is also Scribus which is open source. I confess that I have not used it and I am unsure of how it will play at the printer's.
    – Yorik
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 15:54
  • @joojaa FrameMaker still has a rather dedicated following among professional technical writers. Many, many product manuals are still made in FrameMaker. It is very much still a used tool among that audience. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 16:21

5 Answers 5


You need to answer some questions first.

1. What is the use of the document?

a) It can be for commercial print, let's say if you need to do more than 500 copies of it, needs to be distributed in a printed format to customers or it is a material for an expo for example.

b) Or it is only to be printed in the office's laser printer, you only need one dozen copies for a meeting.

c) It is for electronic distribution, mainly on a pdf format and the user does not intend to print it.

d) Some other usage.

2. Is this a one time job?

e) Are you willing or need to learn a new program, spend some cash and time on it, because you need to do this kind of jobs periodically.

f) You only need to do this one time and that is it.

For commercial print, I totally recommend that you or your boss hire a designer, because there are a lot of intrinsic problems related to commercial print and they will impact on the finances. It is not a trivial job.

But let's say you want to prepare the content and let the designer only to solve some technical problems.

Then you need a real desktop publishing solution, so the output is in the correct form.

The main program used is InDesign, that can be used on a monthly basis. But there are some other options. Not very popular anymore is QuarkXpress, but I think you need to purchase it.

A free program is Scribus it has limitations but it is good enough if you know what are you doing.

The next option is Corel Draw, that has a real multipage system and some publishing tools like master styles, that is fine for small publications, let's say 48 pages, but you can work in modules and do longer publications.

Another program is Affinity Publisher, that on this date (Dec 2018) has a beta program.

But if it is only for the office, for a meeting; If you still have Publisher and that meets your requirements, use it.

You can also simply use Word, that has a lot of tools to do a decent job, or you can use a free office suite, like Libre office.

But one thing is assembling the publication and another thing is to make the images for it.

You probably need an additional program if you need diagrams. Like Illustrator, Affinity design, or Corel Draw that I already mentioned.

Or probably you need 3D models, CAD blueprints, etc, then need to be imported on your layout program.

But again, if your company really needs printed and electronic documents, hire a designer. Keep in mind that a document is not just a bunch of text with some smeared images. It needs to be prepared so people actually want to read it.


It sounds like what you are writing is technical documentation, since you mention a user manual.

InDesign's strength is layouts. For technical writing, you generally need better capabilities with your content than just appearance. You might need different formats, the ability to extract data from it, the ability to re-use content, etc.

There are a lot of dedicated tools for technical writing. A few popular ones that support print output

The right tool will depend on a lot of factors:

  • Are you a programmer or a designer? A programmer is going to be more at home with tools like DITA and DocBook
  • Are you writing the content or is it being provided to you?
  • Are you working with other people on this project?
  • What's in your content? Are there a lot of images? Technical figures?
  • Who is the audience and what do they expect?
  • Do you need an index?
  • What do you already know how to use?
  • I can get behind a xml workflow personally i write manuals in rST that i autoconvert to xml and from there to a 90% done indesign doc. There are more tools like arbortext etc. like you said lots
    – joojaa
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 23:06

I think it's worth mentioning that Affinity Publisher (cheap alternative for Adobe InDesign - one time fee, not subscription) is available for pre-order till June 19th (release date).

One important disadvantage till now: cannot import / export indd files (however pdf import / export works pretty well).

Give it a try now (public beta installer is available there for the next 2 days only: https://forum.affinity.serif.com/index.php?/forum/58-report-bugs-in-publisher-beta-on-windows/). Check Affinity Photo and Designer also for bitmaps and vectors - they are worth of it.

PS Links above are not affiliate ones - they are clear URL's;-)


Adobe InDesign - For Magazines, Publications, Books & Other Multi-Paged Items.


From wikipedia:

Adobe InDesign is a desktop publishing software application produced by Adobe Systems. It can be used to create works such as posters, flyers, brochures, magazines, newspapers, and books. InDesign can also publish content suitable for tablet devices in conjunction with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. Graphic designers and production artists are the principal users, creating and laying out periodical publications, posters, and print media. It also supports export to EPUB and SWF formats to create e-books and digital publications, including digital magazines, and content suitable for consumption on tablet computers. In addition, InDesign supports XML, style sheets, and other coding markup, making it suitable for exporting tagged text content for use in other digital and online formats. The Adobe InCopy word processor uses the same formatting engine as InDesign.


Free alternative, you can make own catalog with fastcataloguer.com

On website, you making data entry or product data at zip file to upload.

Catalog is ready, you can download. Simple website.

print catalog

  • 2
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    – joojaa
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 8:04
  • Moreover, as-is, your answer looks a lot like spam. We've had quite the influx of spam lately and the community cracks down hard on anything remotely looking like it. Please edit your post to include an explanation why you specifically recommend this website. Thanks!
    – Vincent
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  • Hi, thanks for reaction. society will be better. Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 0:17

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