QuarkXPress 8.1 review

QuarkXPress 8 was a fairly thorough restructuring of the venerable DTP application. This update, free to registered users of version 8, is mainly concerned with addressing bugs and sorting out the workflow. However, there are some new capabilities, especially in terms of PDF creation.

QuarkXPress 8 allows you to apply opacity separately to text, boxes, contents, and frames, but this wasn’t fully supported when exporting to PDF. A new native transparency mode has now been added as an option to the existing Flattened Transparency mode (see box). Transparency in general is still a bit clunky, however – it could do with having a real-time preview to make things more interactive.

PDF handling is further enhanced by support for the creation of PDF layers. This lets you apply controls and settings on a layer-by-layer basis. Each layer can be quickly turned on and off independently for output. Applications that support preflight controls, like Acrobat, can access these layers within PDFs, so you can send one PDF that contains multiple variants of content. This is ideal for an article or document in multiple languages, for example, where otherwise you’d have to send a PDF for each language variant of the document.

Also on the PDF front, there’s a new keyboard shortcut to learn. C-alt-P is now the Export as PDF command. Another new keyboard command and Edit menu option allows you to paste text into QuarkXPress with or without formatting.

A standalone palette for spell checking offers improved text handling. This allows you to keep working on your layout, adjusting text during the checking process. Another new palette allows precise scaling of anything from a single item to an entire layout, so aiding productivity. The Scale palette offers a choice of numerical or percentage-based scaling, while a large set of preferences means you can fully customise the effect.

Working harder

There were big changes in the content tool workflow in version 8 of QuarkXPress – you can now draw boxes with the context-sensitive Text and Picture Content tools. This means you can place content by just drawing a box with either tool and let it change to Text or Picture mode to suit the content you import. It’s a real time-saver.

However, users could also accidentally create unwanted boxes with the tool, by dragging, instead of just clicking on the pasteboard. To remedy this version 8.1 adds some drag tolerance so you have to drag your mouse that little bit more to make a box.

It’s also possible with the new workflow to drag and drop images and other content from the Finder or Adobe Bridge into the content boxes. However, this too could cause problems when there was already content on the page, leading to the new content erasing the old. From version 8.1 you now have to hold down the alt key when dragging if you want to place such content into an occupied box. A new tool preference specifies if drag-and-dropping can create a new box or not.

The long-awaited XML import feature is finally here. Previously available as an Xtension for version 7, it enables users to place and update content from XML files in a QuarkXPress layout for print, web, or PDF output. It’s especially useful for creating Flash with variable content in interactive layouts.

Other enhancements have been made in Item Styles and Item Find/Change, including full integration for drop shadows. And a new Faux Font Warning in both the Measurements palette and the Usage dialog indicates if QuarkXPress is applying a faux bold or italic styling.

Quark admits that there are still some outstanding issues with QuarkXPress 8.1 and a list of bugs is displayed on the Quark website, along with workarounds in many cases. But many workflow bugs have been resolved. For example, you can now drag and drop glyphs to the Favorite Glyphs area of the Glyphs palette, while full support is now given for character-style sheets embedded in imported Word documents.

OUR VERDICT

The workflow tweaks and fixes in this release are evidence that software engineers really do pay attention to requests sent by users. As a result QuarkXPress 8.1 is an essential upgrade for users of version 8. Small, but significant, touches like XML Import may also prompt new users to invest in the old publishing warhorse.

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