PROS / You won't find a more polished, capable and feature-rich desktop publishing tool for under $100.
CONS / Developer Serif doesn't offer live chat support for when you need direct assistance but want to avoid the telephone.
VERDICT / It might not be professional layout software, but it's the next best thing: PagePlus X7 is the finest consumer-level desktop publishing program around.
There was an audible sigh of relief when we first fired up PagePlus X7 – after testing desktop publishing programs that felt like antiquated '90s holdovers, its rich feature set was a welcome change of pace. PagePlus opens to a Windows 8-style startup screen, which gives you easy access to tutorials and one of the highest-quality template libraries we've seen. Select one of those templates and you're presented with an editing interface that's capable, but not so overwhelming as to be unusable to newcomers.
True, PagePlus's simple, gray color scheme isn't as slick as you'd find in professional layout software, but the program doesn't lack for features – even veteran designers will find plenty to keep them busy. With that huge feature set, dedicated graphics tools and plenty of quality templates, PagePlus is as easy to recommend as it is fun to use. It rightfully earns our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award.
Layout & Publishing
No other desktop design software we tested was as across-the-board capable as PagePlus X7. The ability to import content from staple programs like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop is eminently useful; likewise, its support for ePub exporting makes creating your own eBooks a breeze. But the software's real strength is its support for industry standards like CMYK printing and master pages. You may not need to use either if you're putting together a flyer or brochure, but the moment you start work on longer publications like newsletters, you'll appreciate the extra flexibility.
Any decent desktop publishing tool will let you export to PDF, but one that gives you full editing control over existing PDFs is a rare and worthwhile find. PagePlus lets you do things usually restricted to Adobe Acrobat, like create fillable forms. The extent to which you can modify a PDF is limited by the quality of the program used to create the original file, but if it can be edited, PagePlus will let you open it.
Although it may not approach the capability of a dedicated vector graphics program, PagePlus's integrated LogoStudio is still surprisingly powerful. It has several hundred predesigned logos you can tweak, along with tools to create your own – vector controls, rich fills and gradients, even Photoshop-style filters.
The program's PhotoLab, meanwhile, gives you easy access to both basic and complex tools for perfecting pictures. Red-eye removal and photo recoloring can both be accomplished with a few clicks. You may need to tap into your creativity to make more complex changes, such as removing the background scenery from a family photo, but such modifications are perfectly possible within the PagePlus toolset.
While most desktop publishing software has integrated spell-check tools and support for Word-like formatting styles, only the best will give you access to settings like kerning (which regulates the space between letters) or the ability to dynamically flow text from one column to another. Along with support for both, PagePlus has other helpful extras, such as margin and gutter settings, page bleed, and similar options you'd find in professional software.
We were dismayed to learn how few publishing tools support document basics like graphs; most force you to make them in other programs, turn them into graphics, and insert them as photos. Fortunately, PagePlus X7 natively supports them, so you'll be able to throw together tables, lay out organizational charts, or make and dynamically alter a variety of different graphs, all from within the software.
Projects & Templates
You won't find templates in professional layout and publishing software; helpful though they are, career designers often think they're unnecessary. This is one of the reasons we find PagePlus so appealing: It offers many of the same tools you'd find in a program like InDesign, while sporting a superb selection of templates. From birthday cards and certificates to invoices and letterheads, if there's a publishing project you can think of, chances are good that PagePlus supports it – and in multiple color schemes, to boot.
Help & Support
Serif offers one of the best, most in-depth series of training videos and tutorials we've yet seen for any publishing tool. Right from the program's welcome screen, you can access over two dozen videos and step-by-step walkthroughs, showcasing many of PagePlus's features and breaking down exactly how to use them. If you need further help, an online knowledgebase offers answers to frequently asked questions, and you can contact Serif directly via either telephone or email. The only help not available to PagePlus users is live chat, but given the wealth of other support options, we're not particularly concerned.
If there's anything negative we could say about PagePlus X7, it's that the program's Windows XP-style interface is a little on the dated side. The visual disparity between its gorgeous welcome screen and the rest of the software is immediately noticeable. But an aging visual aesthetic doesn't detract from the program's inherent power and capability, the best of all the publishing software we tested. If you're in the market for a program that's feature-packed and easy to use and yet offers plenty of help to get you up and running, PagePlus is our first recommendation.