PROS / Publisher has excellent layout and typography tools, and you probably already own it with your copy of Microsoft Office.
CONS / It's missing a number of useful graphic design tools.
VERDICT / Given Office's ubiquity, it's tough to go wrong with Microsoft Publisher. Just don't expect to have the same level of fidelity over visuals that you can get with other software.
As it's one of the many programs that come with Microsoft Office, you probably already own a version of Publisher. It's been included with higher-end copies of Office for almost 20 years, offered as a lightweight alternative to professional layout software such as Adobe InDesign. Though it's rarely used in a professional capacity, Publisher remains a surprisingly capable desktop publishing application. It sports excellent typography tools and one of the best template selections we've ever seen. It doesn't pack substantive graphics editing support, but given the strength of its template selection and its usefulness when creating long-form publications, Microsoft Publisher remains a great option for at-home users, earning our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.
Layout & Publishing
Unlike other desktop publishing programs, Microsoft Publisher isn't designed to stand alone. It's available as part of certain versions of Microsoft Office, and consequently pairs well with the rest of the Office suite. For example, it natively imports Microsoft Word .doc and .docx files, parsing them perfectly and integrating them into complex layouts with ease. Likewise, if you need a table or graph from Excel in your next newsletter, you can pull it in without hassle.
But while Publisher works well with other Microsoft products, it can't open or import popular file types such as PDFs or Photoshop PSDs. You can save to PDF, but should you want full-featured, editable forms, you'll need to create them with different software.
We may wish Publisher offered better compatibility with Adobe products, but it still shines as a layout tool. Custom guidelines help you position objects with perfect alignment, while master pages give you control over elements that will appear on every page of a document, like page numbers or framing blocks of color. Publisher even has full support for CMYK-optimized printing.
Publisher's greatest weakness is its lack of graphic design tools. Where other desktop publishing packages let you craft logos or touch up photographs, Microsoft Publisher supports neither. Instead, it sticks to simpler effects such as 3D extrusions, bevels and basic quickshapes. If you're not experienced with any sort of image editing or graphic design, you might not miss those absences, but the ability to smooth out a blemish or recolor a stock logo can make all the difference between a template and a personalized publication.
Weak though Publisher might be in terms of graphic design, its text-management features are as impressive as you'd expect from some of the best desktop publishing software around. If you're interested in creating a longer-form publication such as a newsletter, for example, you'll appreciate its dedicated word processor and text reflow capabilities. Formatting styles let you make sweeping changes to fonts across an entire publication with just a few clicks, while kerning controls give you the sort of fidelity over the appearance of your text that professionals rely on. We're particularly happy to see native support for tables, charts and graphs built into Publisher's interface. It's no surprise to find solid infographic support from the company that brought us Word and Excel, but it's nevertheless a welcome addition to the program's repertoire.
Projects & Templates
The true power of Microsoft Publisher is in the superb quality and selection of its templates. Unlike so many of its competitors, Publisher links to Microsoft Office's online template portfolio, which is regularly updated and sports crisp, clean designs that can easily jump-start your projects. The template selection isn't particularly huge – you can only expect access to about 700 different options, compared to the thousands that other software offers – but it's diverse, covering every type of project you might undertake. Microsoft hasn't tried to inflate its numbers by offering dozens of ugly variants of the same template, picking quality over quantity every time.
Microsoft Publisher might seem like a secondary choice next to so many dedicated competitors from other companies, but don't be fooled by the Office moniker – this is some of the best publishing software around. Granted, it has its drawbacks – we wish it offered some more impressive graphic design tools – but as a product for laying out your family's next scrapbook page or putting together a new resume, it's tough to beat.