QuarkXpress 7 full review

For several years, Adobe InDesign has been stealing the spotlight from long-time page-layout champ QuarkXPress. So the design community has been looking forward to the release of QuarkXPress 7 to see if Quark’s flagship software could make a big comeback.

QuarkXPress 7’s most heralded new feature is job jackets. These enable you to specify a large group of permissible attributes for your document: from allowable colours based on the ultimate output device, and acceptable image formats, through to correct text styles. This in effect adds a preflighting feature to QuarkXPress, preventing you from PDFing documents with incorrect elements. This is all very useful, but sadly the feature is – in our opinion – too difficult for the average designer to learn and use.

We can see the potential value of the job-jackets concept, though, and it may well be that this is an element larger organisations with repro departments will find invaluable. They can help production staff preflight a document before output, and provide a template file for the designers with more information than a standard QuarkXPress template – but the difficulty of creating job tickets makes them less viable for rank and file designers and small production teams.

Enter the composition zone
The other major unique new feature in QuarkXPress 7 is the composition zone, which enables you to specify an area of a layout that you can use in multiple documents, or that another user can work on simultaneously. Think of it as a frame stored in a separate file that an external user can access and manipulate. Thus several people can work on the same document. For example, one person can be creating editorial, the other creating the adverts – without fear of touching or overwriting each other’s work. This feature reduces the need to move large page files around, but it restricts what each user can do to the separate area.

Workgroups in which multiple users edit the same document typically need to track changes, which the composition zone feature does not do. You’ll have to track them manually or use a tool such as QPS (Quark Publishing System). Quark has not announced when it will offer a QPS version that’s compatible with XPress 7.

The Table tool from version 5 is still awkwardly implemented as a series of linked boxes, which makes formatting time-consuming. However, version 7 does introduce several table enhancements. You can now create header rows that repeat on subsequent pages; you can break a table at a specified column or row, making it easy to flow it across multiple boxes or pages; and table cells can be set to expand automatically in depth as you add text. (You must first enable this feature, which is buried in the Modify dialog box – or you may stumble across its icon in the Measurements palette.)

Feature comforts
QuarkXPress 7 has also introduced several other features that users will appreciate. The synchronisation introduced in version 6.0 now manages graphics and shapes, not just text, across a project, so changes to one instance are reflected in all. And XPress 7 now lets you decide whether to synchronise just the content, just the box attributes, or both. This approximates InDesign CS2’s object styles, which allow consistent formatting of objects.

If characters are missing from the current font, the new Font Fallback feature substitutes the same characters in a different font on screen. This allows you to see the text, though you’ll still need the missing font to print it correctly. (InDesign just puts a coloured rectangle in the place of the missing character.) And you can now align objects relative to the page’s boundaries, not just to the selected items’ boundaries.

XPress 7 can also apply effects filters to alpha channels, so you can adjust an imported image’s transparency in all kinds of ways. This feature augments the Photoshop effects capability introduced in version 6.5’s Vista plug-in. (However, XPress 7 did mess up the transparency in a few imported Photoshop files tested for this review.)

Catching up to InDesign
Most of the QuarkXPress 7 additions duplicate capabilities pioneered by its rival, Adobe InDesign. However, in some cases, XPress actually improves upon Adobe’s effort.

For example, the central Measurements palette, which provides quick access to a selected object’s attributes, now offers more controls than in previous versions. As you start working with an object, the palette displays only the controls appropriate to the current selection. This contextual approach lets you avoid using dialog boxes for most of your work – a real time-saver. One nice touch unique to QuarkXPress is the ability to switch modes in the Measurements palette—for instance, from text formatting to frame formatting – without having to change tools first. And the redesigned palette now offers easy access to functions such as drop shadow and tab controls.

Other InDesign-inspired interface enhancements include: colour outlines to indicate an object’s layer; the ability to open several windows for the same document (or to split one window into multiple views); a lock function that lets you lock the attributes and position of objects independently; control over whether picture attributes such as rotation and scaling are maintained when you substitute a new picture (finally!); the addition of a colour-proof preview mode; dockable palettes; and palette sets (analogous to InDesign’s workspaces) for saving different interface configurations.

XPress 7 also rectifies some longstanding output omissions: it can now create PDF/X-compliant files, save PDF and other output settings as reusable styles, and embed fonts in EPS files. It also supports Unicode format for symbol consistency as documents traverse platforms and languages.

In the shade
QuarkXPress now matches two ooh-and-aah InDesign features: transparency and drop shadows. Unfortunately, Quark hasn’t provided a preview option in the dialog box so you can view your settings as you experiment; instead, you must click on the Apply button each time you want to see your settings in action. But if you use the Measurements palette to set drop-shadow attributes, QuarkXPress 7 applies the changes live.

In the case of transparency (which Quark calls opacity), the XPress version is better in many key respects. You can set transparency based on the colour swatch applied, so you can have different transparency settings for, say, the fill and outline of a box. Similarly, you can change the transparency of individual words in a text box. By contrast, InDesign applies the same transparency setting to the entire object. We do wish Quark had taken the next step, though: it would be nice to be able to include transparency as part of a colour swatch setting, so you could apply and change it globally. And we wish QuarkXPress had included blending modes with its transparency feature, à la InDesign and Photoshop.

Typographically, QuarkXPress 7 has come up to speed in terms of several key InDesign innovations. XPress now boasts a palette for easy access to special characters, support for OpenType font attributes, a menu option for inserting special spaces, and options to manage ligatures in each paragraph style rather than just globally. But in this area, Quark has missed an opportunity to surpass InDesign: it would have been nice to have the option to update fonts in style sheets – instead, as in InDesign, you still have to go through all your style sheets manually to replace any missing fonts you no longer want to use. And QuarkXPress 7 still can’t convert consecutive hyphens to em dashes.

But QuarkXPress still lags behind InDesign in several key areas, including paragraph-based composition, shade styles, based-on master pages (master pages based on other master pages), undo levels, guide management, and optical margin alignment (hanging punctuation).

However, there are many people who attest to QuarkXPress general usability. In general, our experience is that designers prefer InDesign while editorial teams prefer QuarkXPress – citing the ease with which non-designers can move around documents, proof text and make basic changes.

While InDesign has made great in-roads with the design community, many larger organisations with repro houses and dedicated editorial teams seem to prefer to stick with Quark. And when this is taken into account, Quark’s new Job Jackets and Composition Zones features do start to make a lot of sense.

Reaching the limit
For all its new features though, it’s disappointing that Quark has not taken this opportunity to really push the program forward. For example, the multiple-layout capability introduced in QuarkXPress 6 still can’t flow text from one layout to another within a project file, nor can it share hyphenation exceptions or layers across layouts. So the feature is really just a way to ensure that multiple documents share the same styles and swatches by putting them in one file.

QuarkXPress 7 is also disappointingly slow compared with the previous version when we tested it both on Intel and PowerPC Macs. On average, XPress 7 ran about half as fast as version 6.5, and in some tests, the difference was even more dramatic. For example, it took 16 seconds to reflow a 27-page document in XPress 7, compared with 4 seconds in XPress 6.5 on a dual-core Mac mini. On an older G4 Power Mac, those numbers were 20 and 4 seconds, respectively. For reference, the same operation in InDesign CS2 took 4 seconds on both test systems. Quark attributes the slowdown to a new graphics engine. However, all that could change when Quark releaes a Universal version as a free download this summer. This could be the turning point for many designers with Adobe still seemingly unable to get an Intel version of InDesign out until next year.

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