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Adobe InDesign CS5 Review


Adobe InDesign CS5 represents a major step forward in usability and adds substantial new features for creating and exporting interactive documents and eBooks.

If you’re a longtime InDesign user, you’ll appreciate Adobe’s focus on making this version more efficient for common tasks. For example, you can now use the Selection tool to make common adjustments to page objects such as aligning, distributing, rotating, resizing, repositioning, cropping, and scaling frames and frame content. Previously, these tasks required switching tools. It’s now easier to select objects within groups, apply rounded corners to frames and adjust their radius, and so on. And at last, a new Auto-Fit feature keeps the relationship between an object and its frame consistent as you resize the frame.

Beginners, or even seasoned users who are new to using a specific tool, will appreciate the new Tool Hints panel, which tells you the basic function of each tool and how the tool’s behavior will change if you hold down modifier keys.

As you might expect, Adobe also added completely new features—features that may change the way you work. For example, when laying out pages you can now have multiple page sizes in one document. Not only is this more convenient than keeping several document files for one project but it also makes it much easier to maintain consistency across those documents (in spelling, styles, colors, etc.).

The Layers panel has been completely redesigned, now functioning much like the ones in Photoshop and Illustrator—you can create Layer groups, select all the objects on a layer, move objects from one layer to another, and so on.

Producing text-heavy documents is much easier in InDesign CS5. Paragraphs may now span multiple columns in a text frame, a terrific help for headlines and subheads. InDesign can now automatically balance columns of text for you and keep them balanced as you edit the text. And InDesign now tracks changes to text, by user, and lets you use the Story Editor to accept or reject changes. (This feature also integrates with Adobe InCopy!)

There are also new tricks for laying out pages: You can drag out a grid of picture frames or threaded text frames and adjust the number of rows and columns on the fly. The new Gap tool lets you drag the white space between multiple objects to adjust their spacing and size. And InDesign can now create and format captions for graphic frames, based on the metadata in the graphic file.

Adobe Bridge, which is included with InDesign, has also been enhanced. It now lets you preview individual pages within an InDesign document, browse its assets, convert InDesign pages to JPEG, output to PDF with watermarks, and rename files in batches. And the new Mini Bridge panel lets you work with Bridge assets directly within InDesign.

Output providers, or anyone who receives files from others, will be thrilled that InDesign CS5 now automatically activates the fonts it finds inside the Document Fonts folder—the same folder that InDesign creates during the File>Package process. This one feature will save a ton of time and headaches for many users. Another timesaver: You can continue to work on a document while a PDF is being generated from it.

Following the success of the Flash tools in QuarkXPress—leapfrogging them, in fact—InDesign CS5 now lets you include complex interactivity, animation, FLV video, and MP3 audio files within InDesign documents. When you import a movie, you can now scrub through it to find a good “poster” frame to display when the movie isn’t playing. InDesign CS5 includes the same motion presets used in Flash Professional, to make it easier to animate objects on the page. You can also create multistate buttons to control interactivity and build a slide show within a single object on a page. A new Preview panel shows the result of your interactive elements without having to export the file to SWF—a valuable timesaver.

If you do need to hand your project off to a developer using Flash Professional, more of your InDesign work is maintained, including layers, typography, threaded text frames, multistate objects, and placed video and audio files. But if all you need is one animation from your page, InDesign can export that animation to SWF for use anywhere that supports the Adobe Flash Player. (Which wouldn’t include any of Apple’s mobile devices.)

Electronic publications are quickly rising in popularity, and InDesign CS5 has enhanced support for letting you export in the popular EPUB format to create eBooks. When creating eBooks, you can assign a reading order based on document structure, use prebuilt CSS to format it, add chapter breaks for a better electronic reading experience, and subset fonts to be included with the book. If you know your book is going to be read by someone using Adobe Digital Editions (an application for Macs and PCs) you can also include all the interactivity, animation, sound, and video that you added to your InDesign document.

Dreamweaver support is mildly improved: When exporting to Dreamweaver, you can now control the order in which page content is placed on the webpage, and InDesign now generates CSS definitions that more closely match the text in InDesign.

InDesign CS5 also integrates with Adobe CS Review, a new online service that lets you share documents for online review within InDesign, and lets you import or export text to Adobe Buzzword, Adobe’s online word processing tool. (Adobe CS Review is free for a limited time when you register your CS5 product, and then will only be available as a subscription service.)

Overall, this is a substantial upgrade for users of any previous version of InDesign. CS4 users will appreciate the more fluid behavior of tools, the new page layout and text-handling tools, and its more complete integration with Bridge. The new Flash authoring tools should excite any professional user, as it opens up vast new opportunities to provide new services to clients, and it also potentially reduces the frustration inherent in handing off your designs to a Flash developer.—Jay Nelson

Company: Adobe Systems Incorporated
Price: $699 (Upgrade: $199)
Rating: 4.5

Hot: Multiple page sizes; Flash and EPUB authoring; efficiency
Not: Dreamweaver integration; for-pay review service


  • Ralph F says:

    Does InDesign CS5 support Spotlight yet? (or, is there a Spotlight plugin available for it yet?)

  • David says:

    Wow… I hate to rain on your parade but as a one-time champion for Adobe and inDesign I am incredibly disappointed in this program’s progress and CS5 might push me off the edge away from Adobe. The program feels incredibly sluggish and clunky on a modern mac system and is a shadow of it’s once great self. It works terribly with an Apple Magic Mouse and it’s UI feels dreadful, making simple tasks such as color selection a complete chore. Just something simple as the placement of palates is awful. If I hit a keyboard shortcut for a particular palate and it’s behind another palate, logic would say the keyboard shortcut should pop the palate to the foreground. Nada, how simple but not thought about by Adobe.

    As someone who has switched dozens from Quark to inDesign I am contemplating giving the old girl Quark a fresh look…

  • hazbin says:

    Boy, do I agree with Ralph and David. InDesign is becoming like bad versions of Office – feature creep with no real end-user elegance. And why oh why can’t adobe do a spotlight plugin after all these years????

  • mike says:

    well it flies on my PC

  • Mark says:

    Flies, really? I’m on a PC too and spent a half hour trying to adjust a path in InDesign CS5. You really need a fast video card before making the upgrade from CS3. This is a major misstep for Adobe.

  • Sadly it is an awful version upgrade, what is happening with Adobe? CS4 was great so was CS3 but as a professional designer working day long with this software I can confidentially say it is a terrible product!

    I have been a designer now art director for the past 11 years and have extensive experience in publishing, adverting and broadcast design.

  • Arlene Conley says:

    I too side with the CS5 indd detractors. The effect of element outlines appearing simply because I pass my mouse over a page full of elements makes me CRAZY — a relentless short-circuiting of my thought processes, a giant negative for both productivity and creativity. Using the select tool to grab an image only to discover the behavior is different when you click in the center of the image than when you select nearer to the edge further drives me toward the edge of self destruction. All well and good for someone who handles docs with only a few images, but many of my docs have dozens, sometimes hundreds of images, and my clients WORK the design process (translation: many edit rounds, lots of design shuffling — classic corporate/deep pocket behavior). Why can’t we turn these features off?

    Have reverted all my indd docs in current production to CS4.

    We’ll see who comes along next with the best page layout program. If it’s not Adobe, I’ll be among the first to jump. Right now my only alternative is stepping back into the much calmer and more efficient CS4.

  • Macauley says:

    Seems to work okay on my 2009 Mac.