Mon, 08 Sep 2008 QuarkXPress 8 review
A new version of QuarkXPress is big news, but can it regain the DTP crown?
- Manufacturer: Quark
- Pros: Interactive Designer, new interface, flexible content handling, direct manipulation of boxes and pictures, design grids, new shortcuts for tools, improved Bezier performance, universal file format
- Cons: Experienced users may have usability issues with new interface, pricier than InDesign, no support for PSD layer effects, page navigation controls require fine tuning
- Min specs: Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5, 256MB RAM, 1GB HDD, PowerPC G4/G5 or Intel Mac
- Price: £779
- Star rating:
By the streamlined interface, WYSIWYG font menu, and context-sensitive tools and tasks, you can see that productivity has been key in this near-rebuild of QuarkXPress. On opening a new project, the toolset is noticeably smaller, with most of the functions hidden within a roll-out panel. Clicking and holding the first icon offers the various tool options, but you can perform the same task with new keyboard shortcuts. For example, holding down the P key will cycle through the Bezier Pen tool and then other point and curve editing tools, all of which are easier to use in version 8.
Subtle colour coding on the pasteboard now indicates active spreads. Switching between pages is intended to be swifter, with a Mac-only feature that pops up page navigation thumbnails at the bottom of the project window. The up and down arrows change the size of the thumbnails, but you’ll probably need to move the Dock and there’s no way to jump to a new page short of clicking with the mouse, which defeats the purpose.
The rebuild also extends to the new context-sensitive item and content tools, delivering probably the biggest productivity gain from this new version. Previously, to import pictures or text you’d have to draw the respective text or picture box first. Now placing content involves just drawing a box and watching it change to Text or Picture mode to suit the content you import. It’s also possible to drag and drop images and other content from the Finder or Adobe Bridge. Furthermore, double-clicking on text brings up the Text Content tool, while clicking on an image activates the Picture Content tool.
There are new modifier keys throughout. For example, to duplicate an item when dragging just press the alt key before releasing the mouse button. Quark has also done away with the need for using the ‘group’ command when you want to manipulate multiple objects – just select them all and resize the lot.
Another speedy way of working is the use of Item FindChange, which can search for and change Item attributes, while Item Styles are like style sheets for boxes and lines that can helpfully make changes to a recurring item throughout a document. There’s also a feature to interactively add drop shadows, so you can directly manipulate the direction of the effect.
Typographical features are the next big change. You can position a hanging character more precisely over the boundaries of your text, working on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. Converting single characters into separate text boxes has been extended to cover a line of text, as well as the entire contents of a text box, a spread, or a linked story. As well as enhanced guide controls, the new Design Grid feature lets you define different baseline grids for different master pages and also for individual text boxes. Grid styles can be defined, working in a similar fashion to item styles and style sheets, while selecting any newly formatted text and clicking update in the Style Sheets palette now revises the linked style sheet.
A few workflow gripes have been addressed too. A new universal file format means that there will be less risk of text reflow problems between projects in different languages and there is support for opening projects with East Asian fonts and formatting. Unicode support has also been improved.
Native Illustrator files are now fully supported from Version 8 onwards and you can now import PDF 1.6 and 1.7 files. Photoshop files are also handled natively, with layers generally being preserved, while the dedicated PSD Import window allows you to apply blending options within XPress. However, if you’ve included layer effects in the PSD file the image is imported as a composite image instead.
Quark is keeping its prepress customers sweet by including job jackets and output styles suited for Ghent Workgroup workflows, but it’s also aiming for another market by integrating the previously £139 Interactive Designer product within the main application. Interactive behaviours are added by clicking through a series of drop-down selections rather than scripting. Video, Flash animation and sound elements can be embedded in the page and the whole layout exported as a single Flash (.SWF) presentation file or a multi-page website that adheres to CSS standards.
While this facility probably won’t cause professional web designers to switch to XPress, it scores over the similar InDesign/Dreamweaver/Flash workflow in terms of letting you stay within the same tool until output.