When Adobe Systems introduced InDesign in 1999, QuarkXPress was the dominant page-layout program for graphics and prepress professionals, and early versions of the Adobe software did little to change that equation. But taking advantage of aggressive upgrades, synergy with other Adobe applications and Quark’s snail-like development efforts, InDesign gained ground with each new release, eventually surpassing QuarkXPress in design functionality and mind-share, if not in actual market penetration.
Quark made some strides toward closing the gap in 2006 with version 7, and last July the company unveiled its latest effort, QuarkXPress 8. It’s a nice upgrade sporting a streamlined interface, better integration with Adobe applications and numerous other goodies. However, some of the added features belong in the “why did they take so long” category, merely bringing the product up to par with InDesign CS3. And now we have InDesign CS4, a significant upgrade that Adobe released last October. Based on an early look at that program, I think Adobe is making its strongest case ever for QuarkXPress users in the design world to switch.
The centerpiece of QuarkXPress 8 is its streamlined interface. This is most apparent from the revamped toolbox, reduced from 14 items to eight. For example, the separate tools for creating Text and Picture boxes are history. Instead, there’s a single set of tools for creating containers that can be used for text or graphics. Also gone is the rotation tool. Now you can rotate (or scale) an object by dragging on handles that appear when you click on it.
Even better, you can import text or graphics without creating a container ahead of time. Just open the file and click on the page, and it’s there (this is a feature that should have been added long ago). You can also drag and drop images from the desktop or from Adobe Bridge, the file management program that accompanies Adobe’s graphics apps.
I also like the way QuarkXPress 8 handles cropped images. If you use the new Picture Content tool to click on an image, you can see the portion that’s been cropped. Without going back to the toolbox or even touching the keyboard, you can scale or rotate the picture box and/or the image within it.
Some of the added features are aimed squarely at Adobe users. You can now import native Illustrator files, and the Bezier drawing tools—now grouped together in the slimmed-down toolbox—behave more like those in Adobe apps. Also new is Hanging Characters, Quark’s answer to InDesign’s Optical Margin Alignment. You can use this to extend portions of specified characters beyond the boundaries of a text box to improve the optical alignment.
There are other additions too numerous to detail here, including a WYSIWYG font menu; Grid Styles that can be automatically applied to text boxes; Item Styles that let you automatically apply a wide range of graphic attributes to selected objects; and Item Find/Change, which lets you globally modify those same attributes. The latter two features were previously available as XTensions. Version 8 also incorporates Quark Interactive Designer, an XTension—previously available for additional cost—that enables users to create interactive Flash presentations.
Adobe InDesign CS4
InDesign CS4 is one application in a revamped version of the Creative Suite, which also includes Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Bridge, DeviceCentral, Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, After Effects, Premiere, Encore and Contribute. Each program will be available separately or as part of various bundles. What follows is a first look at the key features based on a late beta version of the software.
Live Preflight QuarkXPress and InDesign both offer the ability to preflight documents prior to output. Before you print a file or send it to a service provider, the preflighting option flags common errors such as missing fonts, broken links to external files and placement of low-resolution or RGB images. InDesign CS4 improves vastly on its predecessor’s preflighting capabilities and also one-ups QuarkXPress.
The centerpiece is Live Preflight, which works in real time as you’re designing a project. A green signal at the bottom of the screen turns red as problems occur and indicates the number of errors. The new Preflight panel provides details about each error, along with a link to the problem area. You can create custom preflight profiles that determine which errors to flag, and share these with other users. Also new is the ability to flag overset text—text that fails to appear in the document because it flows past the confines of its container.
Smart Guides This set of features allows you to position objects on a page without relying on a grid or the Align panel. As you build your layout, Smart Guides automatically appear to help you place, move, rotate or resize objects based on the attributes of neighboring objects. You also see a live indicator of an object’s dimensions, position or rotation, depending on what kind of operation you’re performing. You have to see these features in action to fully appreciate their impact on productivity.
For example, when you move an object, a Smart Guide automatically appears when the edge or center aligns with a neighboring object, column, margin or gutter. Adobe calls this feature Smart Align. A similar Smart Dimensions feature indicates when a resized object matches the dimensions of a neighboring one.
Smart Spacing makes it easy to maintain equal distance between objects placed on a page. For example, if you have two neighboring photos and place a third one, a Smart Spacing indicator appears when the space between the second and third images matches the space between the first and second.
You use the Smart Rotation feature when you want to ensure that an object’s rotation matches that of a neighboring one. As you’re rotating the object, the Smart Guide appears when the angles match.
Conditional Text This feature makes it easier to create multiple variations on a single document, such as U.K. and U.S. versions of the same catalog. It introduces yet another panel, Conditional Text, that functions much like the current Layers panel. For example, if you’re producing a catalog, you can set up “U.S. Price” and “U.K. Price” as conditions. You enter both the U.S. and U.K. prices for each item, and tag them with the appropriate condition. To produce the U.S. version of the catalog, you click on the visibility square for “U.S. Price,” and that’s all you see.
You can group conditions into Condition Sets—similar to Adobe Photoshop layer comps—that you can turn on or off collectively. The Conditional Text function can also be used to switch between long and short versions of the same article. It’s a powerful tool for accomplishing tasks that previously required multiple layers.
Interface As with its predecessors, InDesign CS4 implements many features through panels and adds some new ones, such as the Preflight and Conditional Text panels. They tend to clutter the workspace, and keeping track of them can be a headache despite Adobe’s efforts in CS3 to make them more manageable. This is one point in Quark’s favor.
The major interface enhancement in CS4 is the Application bar, which provides quick access to functions that change the workspace. These include a menu that lets you choose workspaces optimized for different kinds of projects, such as books or interactive layouts. You can select one of several built-in workspaces or configure your own. A view option displays all open documents side-by-side in a single window. The Application bar also includes a search function and a button that opens Adobe Bridge.
Another welcome addition is tabbed documents—similar to the tabbed browser windows in Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox. You can easily switch between open documents by clicking on the tab.
File Placement One of the coolest additions to InDesign CS3 was multiple file placement. When importing images or text files, you can select multiple files in a single operation and then place them one by one into the document. InDesign CS4 goes further by allowing you to place the multiple files all at once into a grid. Adobe is touting this as an easy way to create contact sheets, but you can also use it to dump a bunch of images into a document and then position them accordingly. As with QuarkXPress 8, you can also drag multiple images from the desktop or Bridge.
Other Features Spread Rotation, useful for package design, lets you temporarily rotate the layout to view items placed sideways or upside-down without rotating the document. The Links panel, which provides information about linked external files, now displays a thumbnail of the linked item and can be customized to show various details, such as file size. If the same item is used in multiple places, it’s listed once, with each specific instance displayed when you click on an arrow. You can now edit tables in the Story Editor.
The new Smart Text Reflow feature, especially useful for long documents, automatically adds pages (with new frames) when text overflows the existing frames. For example, if you put three pages’ worth of text into a two-page layout, this feature (when enabled) will add the third page and flow the text accordingly. Another useful feature for long documents is the new Cross-References panel, which allows you to dynamically link text in different parts of a document. For example, you can link the title of an article to the article’s entry in a table of contents. Changing the title in the article causes the TOC to change accordingly.
Diehard QuarkXPress users will appreciate the program’s new interface and other enhancements, even if many of them simply bring the program up to speed with InDesign. It remains a solid tool for almost any day-to-day layout task, especially in print media; the new Interactive Designer offers a decent set of multimedia productions tools in one package. If you have a heavy investment in QuarkXPress, in terms of XTensions, legacy documents, familiarity or other factors, the new version is probably worth the upgrade price.
However, InDesign CS4, with a raft of innovative new features, feels like a 21st century publishing tool whereas QuarkXPress 8 seems more like a retrofit. We’ll give Quark a polite round of applause, followed by a loud standing ovation for InDesign CS4.
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