QuarkXPress 9 review

QuarkXPress 9, the latest version of the venerable DTP tool, encompasses two strands of new features – design-driven automation and dedicated tools for digital publishing.

A prime example of the former is Conditional Styles, a way of automatically applying styles to paragraphs based on the content of the text. A menu-driven interface lets you build up the conditional style, selecting which style sheets to apply at which point in the paragraph. Typical trigger points could be when a specified number of characters or the end of the paragraph is reached  – you can apply a style and have it format backwards from the end of a paragraph, for example. You can also embed Conditional Style Markers in the text to tell QuarkXPress where to begin and end formatting.

InDesign already offers similar automation with its Nested Styles, so it’s a welcome feature in QuarkXPress 9. Another catch-up with InDesign is the Story Editor. As in the Adobe version, this opens selected text blocks in a separate window from the layout, letting you edit the copy without distraction.

A  real time-saver is the ability to choose from a pop-up menu in the measurements palette to insert bullets and numbered lists. Default number, bullet and outline styles can be set, so you don’t have to manually format paragraphs. Enhancements have also been made to Tables, while the Style Sheets palette menu and the context menu for style sheets have been updated with several new options.

Go with the reflow
Callout Anchors can now be inserted to associate page elements such as boxes, images or pull quotes with a particular point in the body text. If the text is then reflowed to another page, the anchored item (the callout) is also pulled along. You can specify Callout Styles to align the callout relative to the page or paragraph and also to allow manual positioning of the item. Again it’s a welcome feature that will definitely save time.

In QuarkXPress 9 you can automatically style content based on powerful styling rules and use markers in the text to activate them

Such automation also works at the document level. The Cloner feature, for example, can duplicate pages or selections on those pages. It offers a very quick way of transferring pages and elements in an open or closed document to pages in the same document or a completely new layout. It’s an efficient tool that also makes it possible to split a multi-page layout into multiple single-page layouts. Linkster lets you unlink text boxes to work on the content without causing reflow, while a dialog box offers options to create new stories from the newly isolated text.

That’s the shape and size of it
QuarkXPress 9 can automatically create a grid of images from a folder of pictures, resize and caption them all, then add effects like drop shadows to each one. The Image Grid utility lets you specify the shape of the picture boxes and how the content fits the pictures into each box. The results are impressive: a folder containing eight large Tiff files was imported as a stylised image grid almost instantaneously. Each image and caption in the grid is a separate element, so if you don’t like the look of the results it’s quicker to hit c-Z and adjust the controls again rather than tweak each element individually.

ShapeMaker is another graphics utility, one that can produce shape objects within QuarkXPress. Menus and slider controls let you create shapes based on waves, polygons, spirals and rectangles. You would previously create such objects in Illustrator and import them, so there’s an obvious time saving here, but the most powerful aspect of ShapeMaker is its ability to update the shape of an existing box in your layout instead of creating a new item.  

OUR VERDICT

Several features of this release will benefit time-poor designers, while features like Conditional Styles and the Story Editor address some strengths of the competition. The ebook tools need polishing, but they dovetail with the print workflow and offer a path from QuarkXPress to the rapidly expanding digital publishing market.

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