A graphic designer's work becomes much harder if they don't have a canvas. Most top-of-the-line design programs have a large barrier to entry, though. If you want to work your way up to those, Scribus is an awesome place to start. It can run stride for stride with higher-end graphic design programs like Adobe InDesign -- and it's free.
It takes a while to actually get started with Scribus. Not only is it a relatively large file to download and install, but the program takes some exploring to figure out. Most of that can be forgiven for the sheer number of features you get. Plus, if you've ever used InDesign, you won't feel too lost using Scribus. It mimics InDesign's layout almost exactly. There's no toolbar like there is in most programs, but you can create just about any sort of graphics, text and boxes to make a clean layout. Color selection isn't as robust as you might expect, but you can blend colors to create the look you need. The program has an easy PDF creator that makes creating a printable worksheet or layout simple.
Though it's missing some of the advanced features of InDesign, the essentials are all here. Since you're saving a considerable amount of money, it's expected that you might lose the ability to use gradients or other features. However, if you need to make a layout for a page, Scribus is a lifesaver. It gives you enough to make a gorgeous layout if you know what you're doing. If you're not terribly experienced, the tool is a great starting kit to work your way up to paid graphic design programs.
Scribus (64-bit) is an Open Source program that brings professional page layout to Linux/UNIX, Mac OS X, OS/2 Warp 4/eComStation and Windows desktops with a combination of press-ready output and new approaches to page design. Underneath a modern and user-friendly interface, Scribus supports professional publishing features, such as color separations, CMYK and Spot Color support, ICC color management, and versatile PDF creation.
April 20, 2013
Version: Scribus (64-bit) 1.4.2
Produces professional quality output. Precise guidelines, text baselines, versatile layering, excellent frame linking allows linked pages to be easily rearranged, master pages, automatic page numbering. I produce a 40-page saddle-stitched booklet every month, and its never loooked better, after using paid software before. Excellent management of inserted illustrations, with features like adjust-image to frame abd adjust-frame to image. Has features needed for commercial printing. 32 and 64 bit capable, muli-platform, I'm running it on 32-bit Win XP, planning to switch to 64-bit Linux. Links to Gimp for image processing.
Latest stable release was a major revision, and some features don't work as well as they should, but should be fixed soon. Designed for using text that has been polished on a word processor, its own text input system is cumbersome, but works. Color management is a bit weak, but is to be fixed at next update. Has some minor hiccups, usually easy to work around.
An excellent desktop publisher, certainly the best at the price (free), and better than any mid-priced paid software I've used. I'm not able to compare it with the top paid software, as I've never used them, but I don't have any reason to think I need them.
Updated on Apr 20, 2013
The automatic page numbering didn't work for my saddle-stiched booklet, had to do the page-numbering manually. The page sequence is quite complex, no other DTP that I've used has been able to do it either.