Publisher can easily get forgotten about in the Office 365 mix, not least by Microsoft, which doesn’t make any web interface or mobile apps available for the program. If you need layouts that are more advanced than Word can offer, however, Publisher is worth a look.

Sure, it might not be threatening Adobe InDesign in the desktop publishing market, but if you need to quickly put together flyers, newsletters, posters, address labels, banners and the like, Publisher can help – and it’s simplicity when compared with the big names in DTP can actually be seen as an advantage.

You can pick it up as part of an Office 365 subscription or as part of a one-off Office 2019 purchase.

 Microsoft Publisher for Office 365: interface 

While Publisher is capable of more advanced layouts than Word, its interface is actually more straightforward and less cluttered – everything you need from borders to shading to text formatting is easily accessible. You really can just dive in and get started (the smart guides that pop up to help with alignment are one useful touch here).

Microsoft Publisher review

Microsoft Publisher review

The ribbon menu up at the top of Publisher, as with most Office 365 applications, changes depending on the context: select a text box and you get a different set of options than if you select an image. The tools and menus (some borrowed from Word, some from PowerPoint) make it easy to get around.

If you are going to use Publisher seriously as a desktop publishing program, then you’ll want to adapt the interface to suit your own needs, and Publisher makes that possible – to an extent. You can quickly flick between single pages and spreads, normal views and master pages, and toggle elements like boundaries and guidelines on and off with a click.

Whether or not you’ve spent any time with a DTP package like this before, you can quickly put together something reasonably impressive, whether completely from scratch or using one of the many templates Publisher makes available. They’re not the best selection we’ve ever seen, but they’re good enough to get you started.

Microsoft Publisher review

Microsoft Publisher review

Speaking of templates, the choice of Schemes available under the Page Design tab makes it very easy to adjust the color scheme all across a document – something that seasoned designers would probably scoff at, but a trick that could be very useful for the more casual users out there (which Publisher will naturally attract anyway).

Microsoft Publisher for Office 365: features

On a basic level, Publisher offers everything you need to create some relatively complex layouts. You get the features that DTP programs are known for, from guides to text flow between boxes, and as we’ve mentioned it’s all very intuitive and easy to use.

It’s very much entry-level though: seasoned professionals aren’t going to use Publisher, many people will just stick with Word, and that leaves what’s presumably a small niche of customers who want to have a play around with some small-scale desktop publishing – think church magazine, not national daily.

Microsoft Publisher review

Microsoft Publisher review

We do like the way styles, margins, fonts, columns and just about everything else can be picked from a drop-down menu, with dialog boxes available if needed. This allows users to quickly whip up something that looks good, but also take more time and care over a page layout if they need to.

With features like drop caps, text direction, hyphenation rules and picture recoloring, Publisher goes beyond what Word can offer. We would like to see more in the way of image editing and vector graphics creation – you certainly can’t put together a quick logo in Publisher – but Microsoft doesn’t seem in any rush to overload this app with features.

There is certainly some crossover with the layout tools you get in Word, too, but if you need exact control over where each element goes – particularly with regards to how text interacts with graphics – or special output options like pantone or CMYK coloring, Publisher wins out. Think Word for text-heavy documents, and Publisher for anything with more images or more creative layouts.

You don’t get help that’s as intuitive as it is elsewhere in Office when it comes to Publisher, unfortunately, and you don’t get the same sharing and collaboration tools. In fact, some of the tabs on the ribbon menu can look rather sparse, as if they’re missing some options.

Microsoft Publisher review

Microsoft Publisher review

That said you can create some very impressive page layouts in Publisher, from single-page posters to 50-page brochures – and you don’t have to be a DTP expert to do so. That’s the niche that this Office 365 component continues to carve out for itself, though don’t expect it to be showered with a lot of new features in the future.

Microsoft Publisher for Office 365: mobile and web

Publisher is something of the odd-one-out in the Office 365 suite, because Microsoft doesn’t develop web apps or mobile apps for the package – you’re stuck with Windows and macOS programs and that’s it. In fact this is probably a wise decision, as the advanced layout tools you get here don’t really translate well to the web or smaller screens.

You don’t even get the usual OneDrive integration – you can save files in OneDrive, of course, and get at them from all your devices, but you can’t use OneDrive to autosave your work, or to collaborate on Publisher documents with other people in real-time. Publisher files won’t open up in OneDrive on the web, either.

Even given that no one is really going to want to lay out pages in a web browser or on a smartphone, it does feel a little like Publisher is the forgotten member of the Office 365 family. No doubt Microsoft has seen the statistics on how many people are using the app, and cut its cloth accordingly.

Microsoft Publisher for Office 365: pricing and verdict

Microsoft Publisher comes as part of an Office 365 Business package, yours for £7.90 per user per month (plus VAT) or $8.25 per user per month in the US if you pay once a year. If you’d rather pay monthly, that goes up to £9.50 per user per month (plus VAT) or $10 per user per month in the US. If you’re not ready to commit, there’s a 30-day free trial.

Microsoft Publisher review

Microsoft Publisher review

Publisher is an odd one because Word has most of the desktop publishing basics covered, and there’s no way a serious publishing studio would consider this over, say, Adobe InDesign. That puts Publisher in a very narrow niche, but to its credit, the features it does offer are intuitive to use and capable of producing some very nice results.

If your small business is going to be dabbling in some DTP work then Publisher will have most of the angles covered for you. At most, though, it’s a welcome extra to the main Office package, rather than something that’s going to convince you to buy Office 365 in the first place.

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