QuarkXPress 6.5 full review

The new caring, sharing Quark wants QuarkXPress 7.0 to knock our socks off. The company also realizes that we won’t wait around for our feet to be derobed forever, especially with Adobe InDesign also tugging at our heels. So to bridge the gap between the underwhelming QuarkXPress 6.0 and the promise of a wonderful version 7.0, Quark has produced a feature-packed, mid-term upgrade labelled 6.5. As well as adding value to the current release, the upgrade costs nothing – it’s a free download to registered users

Naturally, the upgrade contains a considerable number of bug-fixes and small improvements: for example, you can now group tables, buy missing fonts through a Quark portal, and save bleed preferences within Print Styles. But the main attraction is its set of three powerful new XTensions that add significant functionality to the program

The first of these is QuarkXClusive, a collection of utilities for handling variable data within page layouts. Unlike certain brain-dead, non-dynamic, mailmerge-
style variable data functions found in other programs (Adobe Illustrator, for one), QuarkXClusive is slick and surprisingly uncomplicated to use. It adds a menu and several floating palettes to QuarkXPress. After choosing a database and list of headers from external text files (tab, comma, semicolon, space or asterisk-delimited), you just assign field names to picture boxes and text selections in your conventional layout using the palettes. You can preview the changing variable attributes on-screen by cycling through the entries at any time, and build more complex rules for handling conditional data if necessary

Unfortunately, QuarkXClusive is designed only to interface with HP Indigo digital presses at the moment. However, it includes a command for generating multiple PDF documents from the variable layout, independently of output device

Since it was designed to hook QuarkXPress up to a digital press, QuarkXClusive also provides its own imposer. You can deploy this easy-to-use imposition tool for non-variable layouts. In terms of functionality, it’s streets ahead of the entry-level imposer offered with Adobe InDesign’s PageMaker Plug-in Pack

The second big XTension included in the upgrade is PSD Import XT. This adds support for Photoshop-native PSD format image files to QuarkXPress. Additionally, it gives you limited access to Photoshop layers, channels and paths. An Adobe-style floating palette presents the layers as thumbnails, each layer can be shown and hidden individually, and you can even adjust their opacity and apply transparency blending modes to them

Similarly, you can toggle individual channels on and off, and activate alpha channels as ruby overlays too for that matter, from the Channels tab in the same PSD Import palette. All channels can be browsed visually as thumbnails. The Paths tab presents thumbnails of any Photoshop clipping paths already embedded in the image. Again, you can browse through them visually, and then apply them as cut-outs or runarounds with one click for each

PSD support isn’t complete, though. You can’t alter the order of the layers, and while image and type layers are supported, shape, blend effect and adjustment layers are not. If a PSD file includes any of these, you can still place it into a picture box but only as a flattened image. Also, the opacity settings affect only other layers inside the image – they cannot interact with other page objects in your QuarkXPress layout

The third big XTension is QuarkVista XT, a built-in image adjustment and effects utility. Using either the program menus or a floating palette, it lets you apply a variety of adjustments to individual bitmap images (not vector art) in your layout. These range from fundamental Levels and Curves adjustments to Hue/Saturation, Brightness/Contrast, Selective Color, and so on. It also comes with special colour-manipulation effects such as Desaturate, Invert and Posterize, and pixel-enhancement effects including Unsharp Mask, Add Noise and Gaussian Blur. If you have used these features in Adobe Photoshop before, you will already know exactly how they work

Each image adjustment is recorded in the floating palette, letting you change the settings at any time, re-arrange the order of multiple effects, and toggle individual effects on and off. QuarkXPress memorizes these effects as part of the project file when you save it. If someone opens the file using an earlier version of QuarkXPress, they will see a warning but should still be able to access the layout, albeit with the original un-adjusted images

A better idea is to use the Save Picture command under the File menu, which then allows you to apply your adjustments back to the source image files or, better still, to new image files that are automatically linked back into the layout. This process can be conducted for images one by one or for an entire layout. It can also be done automatically as part of the Collect For Output routine

However, we found that QuarkVista XT cannot be used on Photoshop PSD images. Also, not all the upgrade features are being made available for users to download at once, QuarkXClusive and PSD Import XT following long after the main upgrade installer. Although a free upgrade as extensive as this is nothing short of fabulous, it suggests that Quark still suffers from the same lack of joined-up thinking that produced the disappointing QuarkXPress 6.0 first time round

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