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InDesign or FrameMaker: Which to Use?

A common question desktop publishers frequently hear is, “which software is better: InDesign or FrameMaker?” The answer depends on what type of project you have to do. If you can answer that, you will know which is the best option.

InDesign was made to produce high-quality layout and definitely has a tremendous edge in terms of graphics tools for all sorts of marketing content. The application shines when it comes to beautiful print and refined typography. InDesign shares almost the same interface and user experience with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and all are part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.

FrameMaker certainly takes the lead when it comes to publishing long and complex documents with more than 1000 pages. It also offers unparalleled support for working on structured content and helps the author create XML content with DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture). FrameMaker is part of the Adobe Technical Communication Suite (TCS), which includes RoboHelp software to convert FM content to a variety of online help systems.

Side-by-Side Comparison

The following comparisons can help you understand the differences between InDesign and FrameMaker and how they handle each situation.




Building Long Document Features

Book management

  • Books are containers with limited functionality.
  • Documents in books can be reordered but not grouped or excluded from output.
  • Books control the consistency of all lists, TOCs and documents.
  • Documents in books can be grouped and excluded from output.

Master pages

  • Page layout is defined on master pages.
  • It is more flexible when you need to handle exceptions.
  • Page layout is defined on master pages.

Table of Contents

  • Good set of tools for generating TOCs from specific paragraph elements.
  • Limited control over inclusion of numbered paragraph prefixes, etc.
  • Strong control over styles and display of TOC elements.
  • Multiple TOCs are possible.
  • TOCs are placed in documents and not managed by the book document.
  • Automatically generated from any paragraph or XML element text.
  • Can include entire or partially numbered paragraph prefix.
  • Order of text, leader dots and page numbers can be easily defined.
  • Multiple TOCs are possible.
  • TOCs are placed in specific documents within a book and generated when the book is updated.


  • Any paragraph may be a target of a cross-reference.
  • Special panels display all cross-references in current document.
  • Unresolved cross-references are highlighted.
  • Any paragraph or XML element may be a target of a cross-reference.
  • Special pods display all cross-references in all open documents.
  • Unresolved cross-references are highlighted.


  • Yes, but no text wrap; doesn’t support multiple character styles,
  • Good control of variables

Multiple print formats in one document.

  • Use the Liquid Layout of InDesign to automatically adapt content when you create an alternate layout with different size or orientation in InDesign.
  • Works for PDF.
  • N/A


  • ePub 3 with great feature to handle the format.
  • WebHelp, HTML 5, CHM, MOBI, KF8 (requires additional software or service).
  • ePub 3, WebHelp, HTML 5, CHM, MOBI, KF8.
XML Authoring

Role-based XML authoring

  • A simple structured tree view and XML code are available.
  • Style mapping formats pre-defined (and well-formed) XML on import: elements are mapped to formats.
  • A full-featured XML and DITA editor.
  • Authors have three views: XML View, Authoring View, and WYSIWYG View.
  • Full XML editing is possible in all three views.
  • It is also easier now to hide menus and customize workspaces.
  • The structure tree to navigate long documents is configurable, showing only parts of the text or the longer form.

Ability to edit DITA

  • N/A
  • Can use structured applications that will support native *.xml files, not just *.fm binary files with embedded structure.
Other Features

Drawing tools

  • Great tools for drawing with good integration with Adobe Illustrator.
  • Basic tools only.

Layers and spread

  • Text layers contain objects and can be set to hide (e.g. watermarks).
  • Text spreads (pages) can be reordered to reflect printed output.
  • N/A


  • Recurring content (images, text styles, colors etc.) can be placed and managed in Creative Cloud libraries.
  • CC libraries can be shared with other authors.
  • N/A


It is unclear why Adobe maintains these two applications. Many users say that Adobe should merge both software tools into one. Others say that is too much for only one software to handle. Although the differences are becoming subtler, they still remain and Adobe points to different uses for each one. So, I hope this brief guide helps you make the best decision for your project.