Star product: Serif Affinity Publisher

Simon Eccles
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A fully featured page layout program with complementary image and vector packages that has the potential to take on Adobe’s dominance at a fraction of the price, from British developer Serif

What does it do?

This is a UK-developed multi-page, multi-layer layout program that supports professional print file formats. It is the third member of Serif’s Affinity suite, joining Affinity Photo, an image editor, and Affinity Design for vector graphics. Together they compete with the print-related Adobe Creative Cloud applications InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. 

The Affinity programs can run independently, but Publisher’s new StudioLink feature accesses Photo and Designer tools directly if you have them – for instance you can edit a photograph using Photo ‘persona’ tools while staying in Publisher. 

All three Affinity programs are notable for relatively low cost (£48.99) ‘perpetual licenses,’ by contrast with the ‘subscription-only’ Adobe CC which switches off access if you stop paying. Unlike CC there are fully functional iPad/iOS versions of Photo and Designer (for £19.99 each), with Publisher for iOS planned for 2020. 

When was it launched and what are the target markets?

After a six month beta period, Publisher was released on 19 June. Target markets are professional designers who need to work in printable multi-page documents. 

How does it work?

Affinity Publisher uses all-new, modern code, Serif stresses, running on both Mac OS and Windows. It is a successor to Serif’s previous PagePlus layout program, which was well regarded but was Windows-only and was something of a niche product. Publisher is a more direct rival to InDesign with pretty well the same feature set, although it is missing a (very) few things that may be important for some users. 

There’s a full set of typographic controls (including ‘optical alignment’ i.e. hanging punctuation), with support for OpenType fonts in a nice live preview menu. Photoshop native PSD files can be placed in layouts, with editable text layers preserved. Table generation is straightforward. Indices and tables of contents can be created with markers, but there’s no footnote/endnote generator (promised for an upgrade). 

Layer effects such as drop shadows, glows and embossing are built in, but for really fancy stuff you can use Photo and Designer personas. 

Colour management uses ICC profiles. Colour models include RGB, CMYK and a list of Pantone systems. User-defined spot colours can be set up and preserved as spot colours or converted to RGB or CMYK. 

PDF export options range from PDF 1.4 to 1.7, and PDF/X-1a (2003), PDF/X-3 (2003) and PDF/X-4. SVG and EPS are other print-friendly options. 

However the initial release does lack some important features that may prove a deal-killer for professional print users. It can’t open or save the Adobe native INDD layouts, or the Adobe IDML interchange format. IDML import is promised at some point in the future, possibly export too. Markzware reports some success in converting Publisher’s PDFs to editable InDesign files using its PDF2DTP utility, although some features are lost. 

Also absent is mail-merge from database lists such as CSVs, hampering variable data print. Unlike Photo and Designer there is not yet provision for third-party plug-ins. Serif PR manager John Atkin says both are planned for a future upgrade. 

What’s the USP?

This is a modern alternative to InDesign for a keen one-off payment, with excellent cross-compatibility with the complementary Affinity Photo and Designer applications. 

What does it cost?

Affinity Publisher costs £48.99, the same as the developer’s Designer and Photo products.

How easy is it to use?

Anyone who has used a layout program before should be able to grasp Affinity’s user interface almost immediately. The well written online manual is suitable for beginners to design and typography as well as experienced designers. There are video tutorials on YouTube. 


SPECIFICATIONS

Platform Mac OS, Windows

File import support PSD, AI, PDF, JPG, TIFF, PNG or Affinity Photo/Designer

Export support PDF 1.4 to 1.7, and PDF/X-1a (2003), PDF/X-3 (2003), PDF/X-4, SVG, EPS plus flattened graphics formats

Price £48.99

Contact Serif (Europe) 0115 914 2000 www.serif.com


ALTERNATIVES

Adobe Creative Cloud

The all-conquering, dominant graphics design, video and web production suite that pretty well everyone has. It works well for print. Since 2013 it has been rental-only (Adobe calls it subscription). Individual applications (or a Photoshop, Raw and Lightroom package) can be rented from between £10 and £20 per month. 

Print-relevant applications InDesign (layout); Illustrator (vector graphics); Photoshop (bitmap imaging and photo editing), LightRoom CC (photo workflow); Bridge (previewer/file organiser) Adobe Raw (raw file processing); Acrobat DC (PDF file processing)

Platforms Mac OS (10.12 or later), Windows (7 or current 10, not 8.1)

Price £596.33/year (for all apps)

Contact Adobe 01628 590000 www.adobe.com

CorelDraw Suite 2019

A long-established pair of vector graphics/layout program and photo editor with support utilities. They have been regularly updated but have mainly been Windows-only over the years. The 2019 Suite added a Mac version with all-new code. The main applications are CorelDraw (vector graphics and multi-page layout) and Photo-Paint (bitmap graphics, photo editing and painting)

Support utilities Corel Font Manager, PowerTrace, AfterShot

Platforms Mac OS (10.12 or later), Windows (7 or later)

Price £599.99, or £299.99 Windows-only upgrade or £199.99/year subscription

Contact Corel 0800 026 0663 www.corel.com

QuarkXPress 2019

The dominant professional layout program in the 1990s, later overshadowed by InDesign. It’s still seeing yearly upgrades and now has HTML5 export for web pages, unlike rivals including Publisher. A change of ownership this year saw the introduction of optional subscriptions for quarterly upgrades, though the licence remains perpetual. 

Platforms Mac OS (10.12 or later), Windows (8.1 or later), 64-bit only

Price £835 or £250/year Quark Advantage subscription

Contact Quark 020 3318 4862 www.quark.co.uk


USER REVIEW

The whole newspaper is now being produced in Affinity. It’s a bit rough around the edges in places and there are some niggles, such as the way tables are produced, but the most important thing is that for readers, they won’t notice a thing. I’m hugely excited about the potential Affinity has and the way it will be a gamechanger against InDesign. It’s a fine product that will only get better” Phil Creighton Editor, The Wokingham Paper

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