Serif – PagePlus X5 review

powerful, cheap DTP for home and office use
Photo of Serif – PagePlus X5
£79.99 (full), from £49.99 (upgrade)

Crumbs, is it really 20 years since Serif first blew a raspberry up the skirts of mainstream desktop publishing software by producing a program that did many of the things they could do but at a fraction of the price? Apparently so, because here comes the anniversary edition of one of our favourite low-cost DTP programs – PagePlus X5 – and this time as well as making us look good, it’s making us feel old.

A brief catch-up for those who’ve been put off DTP by high prices or complicated design jargon. X5 can handle all the publishing requirements of small businesses, individuals, clubs, societies and schools, so that’s stuff like adverts, brochures, stationery (business cards, comp slips and letterheads) flyers, posters and newsletters.

The program includes more than 800 themed templates to help design duffers make the grade, and plenty of built-in colour schemes which can be applied across all your designs mean that you can customise and change the look of things in a flash. You can then print the results yourself (even double-sided printing is a doddle) save them as PDFs or fire them off to a print house as PDF/X documents for a bit of professional-level repro.

The new version adds dozens more features and although none of them are real head-turners, they’re all worth having. So there’s better support for OpenType fonts for fancy text effects, a colour scheme designer which lets you amend existing schemes or create your own from scratch, new gradient and bitmap fills as well as transparency on outlines, a bunch of improved editing features (a better lasso, a revamped layers tab which suddenly makes editing layers much clearer, a funky ‘glowing’ selection-on-hover tool and re-designed rotation which makes it harder to spin something accidentally).

The master page feature gets a welcome overhaul too and can now be applied to odd, even or all pages. Text-wise you can now import Word 2010 documents straight into PagePlus and we like the new cross-referencing for all kinds of elements like tables, pictures, numbered lists and headings which update dynamically as the publication gets edited.

Improvements to the way that text flows round transparent objects are also welcome, and a personal bugbear disappears with this release: you can now mix landscape and portrait pages in the same publication. Users of the previous version will also be able to import custom galleries, user dictionaries, object styles and keyboard shortcuts into X5, making it less of a chore to make the switch.

Along with that there’s all the other stuff we rate PagePlus for: the integrated tools so you don’t need another program to edit PDFs or enhance photos, a workspace which lets you display the features you need and hides the ones you don’t, as well as the on-screen how-tos, videos and tutorials which help to make the program accessible pretty well right from the off.

Company: Serif

Contact: 0800 376 7070

PagePlus X5 isn't a radical overhaul or even a major upgrade, but its steady progress is admirable and by continuing to strike the right balance between themes/templates for beginners or occasional users and advanced tools for the serious or more professionally inclined, it remains the budget desktop publishing program of choice.