How to Choose the Best Software for Print Book Design

Sarah Juckes

Sarah Juckes of Completely Novel, an ALLi Partner Member

Sarah Juckes of ALLi partner member CompletelyNovel offers some answers for those in search of the best software to design their own print book, including CompletelyNovel’s own ratings on various criteria. As well as the price (UK rate, as she’s UK based), she’s given a rating for how easy each tool is to master, plus a rating for how much control you can have over what your book looks like. A key aspect of print book design is being able to produce a high quality PDF file, so she’s rated this aspect, too, and has also provided useful further reading resources to help you gain mastery of whichever tool you choose. In the interests of fairness, we should note that other software is also available!

1) Microsoft Word – for interior/manuscript files

  • Price – £5.99 per month
  • Easy to master? – 4/5
  • Degree of control – 3/5
  • Export to PDF – 3/5

Killer feature:

Paragraph styles – The key to keeping your formatting consistent. Master these, and your book will look much more professional

CompletelyNovel’s verdict:

You can achieve professional results from Word, but it does get tricky if you try and do complex formatting, such as images and tables.

Resources and alternatives

How to typeset your book in Microsoft Word – a free guide

Open Office – a free (basic) Word alternative

2) InDesign – for interior/manuscript files

  • Price –  £17.15 per month
  • Easy to master? – 2/5
  • Degree of control – 5/5
  • Export to PDF – 5/5

Killer feature:

Master pages – These enable you apply a template to your pages, so you can make changes to a group of pages at a time. Great for keeping your manuscript consistent if you decide to shift things around a bit later.

CompletelyNovel’s verdict:

If you have a complex book, with lots of images or tables, then you’ll find InDesign much better than Word. For text-only books however, InDesign has more in it than most people will ever need.


Free Indesign tutorials – Good for getting started

An Introduction to typesetting a book using Adobe InDesign

10 of the alternatives to Adobe Indesign

3) Scrivener – for interior files

  • Price – $45
  • Easy to master?  – 3/5
  • Degree of control – 3/5
  • Export to PDF – 3/5

Killer feature:

The Inspector pane – Scrivener lets you add notes to each part of your manuscript so you can keep everything organised when writing.

Our verdict:

A seriously great tool for writing, but overly-complex for formatting a print book. This being said, if you’ve written your book using Scrivener and you know your way around the program, then it’s possible to get the same kind of results from Scrivener that you could get from Word.


How to format a book for printing using Scrivener

Free Scrivener tutorials for beginners

9 free Scrivener alternatives

4) Photoshop – for cover files

  • Price – £9.00 per month
  • Easy to master?  – 2/5
  • Degree of control – 5/5
  • Export to PDF – 5/5

Killer feature:

Content aware fill –  perfect if you need to expand/doctor an image.

Our verdict:

Wonderful for experts, but often frustrating for beginners, as there are things that don’t seem to do anything when you click on them. Unless you have a lot of time to dedicate to learning Photoshop, you’ll probably find that you’re better off using simpler software.


Photoshop tutorials from

Free, downloadable book cover templates

Photoshop alternative: GIMP

5) Canva – for cover files

  • Price – free!
  • Easy to master?  – 5/5
  • Degree of control – 3/5
  • Export to PDF – 2/5

Killer feature:

Pre-loaded templates enable you to create an awesome-looking front cover very simply.

Our verdict:

A great tool for eBooks, but not so good for full-cover print books. As a high-quality, low-budget option, try creating your front cover in Canva and transferring it to your publishing provider’s Cover Creator (more about CompletelyNovel’s cover creator here.) You can then create a more basic back cover and spine using this tool.


The basics of good design, via Canva Design School

Which book creation software have you found the best in these criteria? Please do share below so others can benefit.

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21 Responses to How to Choose the Best Software for Print Book Design

  1. Philippe Roy August 18, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    You can’t achieve professional results with Word. You can make a book with it, but you have to lower your standard a lot to call it «professional». It lacks many basics typographic features. Template or not.

    • Graham Lea April 16, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

      I will rant for a moment about producing non-fiction books. MS Word belongs in the dustbin of history. So many things do not work properly. Nor can it control every aspect of the page layout. Worst of all: Word’s inability with footnotes and endnotes is pathetic.

      The other packages mentioned have just a few of the features to be found in WordPerfect, which elderly persons may remember.

      I used WordPerfect 4.2 from around the late 1980s, with only a couple of updates. My files are often more than a million words long, with more than 2,000 subheadings in a five-level contents list, as well as generated indexes. I used WordPerfect 10 from 2002 until early this year, when I updated to WPX7. I would recommend anybody to start with WP10 however (look around online for a good price).

      WP has had troubled financial times recently. What went wrong for WP was that people used it happily for many years so there were no new sales, and of course Microsoft was doing its best to sabotage WP as it was a serious competitor.

      Try to talk to people who have used both . . .

  2. Geoff Palmer August 16, 2015 at 10:16 pm #

    Or you could do it all with FREE open source tools:

    LibreOffice ( – for interior/manuscript files
    * Easy to master? – 4/5
    * Degree of control – 4/5
    * Export to PDF – 5/5

    Gimp ( – for cover files
    * Easy to master? – 2/5
    * Degree of control – 5/5
    * Export to PDF – 5/5

    Sigil ( – produce full ePub formatted books
    * Easy to master? – 4/5 (Come with a great Help tutorial)
    * Degree of control – 5/5

    Just those three applications will save you around £33 per month (by your figures). But the really great thing about FOSS (Free Open Source Software) is that you can have as many copies on as many machines as you like — desktop, laptop, notebook. Plus the three applications mentioned work on Windows, Macs and Linux machines.

  3. Lisa Stokely August 16, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

    I use WriteWay for all my book needs. It is a Windows based program, which Scrivener wasn’t for a long time. It’s the biggest reason I got it. It works like Scrivener in many ways. Was not difficult to learn to use and they have free videos to help you learn. Can easily import and format documents, or your entire book, to pdf, epub, etc. in just a couple clicks. It keeps track of your words per day, and deadlines. It has cover formatting ready to use, and allows for the prep and formatting of all those pages at the front. The program was written and designed by the husband of a best selling author for her and her author friends to use because programs like Scrivener were not available to Windows users at the time. I love WriteWay and all of it’s abilities. It is everything you need for research, word processing, formatting, and development of your writing works, all in one program. And, it is only $35 for the professional edition. They also have a FREE 30-day trial, if you’d like to try it before you buy it.

  4. Anna Erishkigal August 16, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

    I’ll add #6 – GIMP free photo/image editing software for cover design and images.

    * Price: free open-source software
    * Easy to Master: 2/5
    * Degree of Control: 5/5
    * Export to .pdf: 4/5
    * Export to .jpg / .png: 5/5

    Killer features: Does everything Photoshop does without the killer price tag.

    The verdict: A steep learning curve, but it does everything Photoshop does and is free. There’s a good basic ‘how to’ book out there to master GIMP 2.8 basics … use the money you just saved on Photoshop to buy it or you’ll end up ripping out your hair. If you come over from using Photoshop some of the features seem counter-intuitive until you learn the works. Graphics (text) effects can be clunky to master manually, so if you own a text editing software such as InDesign it might be easier to just import it in. Tons of free online videos on YouTube to learn fancy features, plus a G+ users group.

    Download GIMP for free at:

  5. Christine Jordan August 14, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    I just tried to download Canva and it doesn’t support Internet Explorer, which is a bit weird! You have to download Chrome.

    • Orna Ross August 14, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

      Internet Explorer is a problematic browser for lots of applications, Christine. So good move to download Chrome

    • Debbie Young August 24, 2015 at 9:23 am #

      Internet Explorer is being phased out now anyway, Christine, so much better to go with Chrome before it disappears anyway! Even some government applications don’t work with Internet Explorer, I discovered recently!

  6. Brian Palmquist August 13, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    My first (so far only) book had 220 diagrams in 300 pages (yes, there were 77,000 words as well!). I used Word with Amazon Kindle’s defaults for the manuscript, and after 5 tries over two days got a passable e-book.

    For my physical book, my graphic designer son used InDesign for cover and contents. There was so much content that he taught me what I needed to know in an evening so we could share the content creation (and yes, I did pay him for his efforts, probably better than typical scale). He also used InDesign for the covers – great results. We rented InDesign for the duration.

    Translating to epub seemed daunting, so I paid IngramSpark $150 (discount for ALLI members :))to do it for me – well worth it, the epub looks better than the kindle. They worked from the InDesign manuscript but included usual e-book features such as jumping around TofC and the list of Illustrations, etc.

    InDesign has way too many tools, hence its apparent complexity. If you have someone show you around the half dozen or so key tools and concepts needed for book design, even with so many diagrams, you should be fine.

    One last plug for design. Your book designer needs to listen carefully to what you are trying to achieve; once a design template has been created that matches your needs, infilling the balance (even 220 illustrations) is not hard. Book design includes: the structure of the contents (short tales, long chapters, etc.); Table of Contents and carrying its appearance throughout the book; a small family of fonts; pagination considerations (I have 70 tales and they all start on right hand pages, making flipping through much easier).

  7. Dave Haslett August 13, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

    For layout I use Serif PagePlus. I’ve used it for all 50+ of my own books, and many for other people too. It’s easy to learn, has all the features you’ll ever need, and is a fraction of the price of InDesign.

    • David McCarthy August 15, 2015 at 11:51 am #

      I’m with Dave – Serif’s Page Plus is a great product to use and doesn’t cost the earth.

      I’ve used it for the CA text book, other books, brochures, flyers etc. Produces print-ready files which we upload to Lightning Source … who print the books on demand.

      In Design is too expensive and unnecessarily complex for the occasional user.

  8. Christopher Holt August 13, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

    These rarely look professional. Best to save up and go to Matador who will also put your work into bookshops and get you international outlets.

  9. William Ash August 13, 2015 at 7:06 pm #

    InDesign, like Quark, is for the whole book. Especially the cover. There seems to be confusion between word processing software, such as Word and Scrivener, and Desktop Publishing software like InDesign, Quark, or Publisher. Word processors are great for creating manuscripts, but they are really bad as DTP software, which is why Traditional publisher don’t make book with these programs. Likewise, I would not use InDesign as a word processor to create a MS, even though it has some pretty powerful editing tools. Photoshop is a raster program (images with pixels) and Illustrator a vector art program. Yes, you can design covers and such with them, but they are not ideal and rather clunky for that.

    There is one important section missing here. How are you color managing your workflow?

  10. Jay Artale August 13, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    If you don’t want to go to through the hassle of formatting your own Word or InDesign Templates, ALLi advisor, Joel Friedlander—The Book Designer, has a myriad of pre-formatted templates for Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign for print books.

  11. Grace Brannigan August 13, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    I use Word for creating ebooks first and then later creating the print book (for Createspace). I have my own templates in Word I created using the Styles feature that makes it so much easier. I have a template for the specific genre I’m publishing. Romance and young adult has its own template, art books and children’s picture books have their template for ebook and also print books, and coloring books have their own for print. I use Corel Paintshop Pro for graphics. Learning some Photoshop now.

    • Sarah Juckes August 13, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

      Creating your own template in Word is a really great idea, Grace. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Anna Dobritt August 13, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

    I use Scrivener for creating ebooks, InDesign, Photoshop, and MS Word 😀


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