How does the new QuarkXPress compare to Adobe InDesign CS2?

Product Box First, let me say I’m very impressed with QuarkXPress 7’s new features. While many of the new features are playing catch-up to InDesign CS2, which has been out for more than a year (I’ll mention some of those features later), they could be enough to stop current QuarkXPress users from thinking about switching. Plus, version 7 has a couple of very interesting, unique features not found in the current InDesign. If Quark keeps the updates/upgrades coming on a regular schedule, it may even regain some of the market share lost to InDesign. Some areas still need improvement (I’ll discuss these areas later) and Quark will have to overcome the momentum of the Creative Suite pricing, but this version is a good start.

Because this is a magazine about Adobe software, most users will have some familiarity with InDesign’s features, so the focus will be on the new QuarkXPress features. There could be some readers using Quark who get the magazine for the other Adobe content, so I’ll compare the features to InDesign’s when appropriate. Of course, space and time doesn’t allow this review to be an all-inclusive comparison.

Unique QuarkXPress features
Composition Zones, simply put, can allow multiple QuarkXPress users to work on the same document, or to import the same shared content into multiple documents. You can share parts of a layout or the entire layout itself. The process is surprisingly simple: select the objects and create a new Composition Zone under the Item menu. The shared content can be saved inside the file/project or exported as an external file. When an external zone is updated, all “links” to the zone are updated, too. Of course, you can break the link if desired. This will likely be a big feature, especially with newspapers and magazines that have many different articles in the same layout.

Product Box Job Jackets are based on the XML-based JDF (Job Definition Format) and allow the user to check the QuarkXPress project against a predetermined set of construction rules that can check items such as page size, improperly bolded or italicized fonts, style sheet use, and many other settings. Generally, the printer or production manager will supply the Job Jacket specs to designers. In addition, new projects can be started from an existing Job Jacket.

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Another interesting feature is the support of PPML (Personalized Print Markup Language), an XML-based industry standard to allow the creation of customized output when printing to digital devices. I didn’t have time to test this feature, but it certainly appears promising. Other older unique features include direct HTML conversion, Tracking Edit, Kerning Edit, Font Mapping, and better TOC/Lists support.

“Catch-up” features and overall improvements
QuarkXPress has added or improved features that are similar to InDesign CS2. In some places it has jumped ahead; in other places, it still lags behind. One of the major areas of improvements is with graphics, which now include opacity support (sometimes called transparency), Photoshop import (introduced in QuarkXPress 6), Picture Effects (also from version 6), and the ever-popular drop shadows.

Opacity support differs from InDesign’s in that each part of an item/object can be set to a different opacity. For example, if you want a text box with the text, stroke, and fill each set to a different opacity, you’d have to create three different objects in InDesign. Only one object need be created in QuarkXPress 7. This is due to the application of opacity through color and content, rather than object. InDesign can apply different opacity to an object and then to an image, but not to the same level that QuarkXPress can. Because QuarkXPress uses color-based opacity, it’s possible to create a blend that fades from a solid color to transparency, but blends are still limited to two colors.

Product BoxQuarkXPress now allows a group of items to have a separate (compounded) opacity setting from the individual group items. It also has a transparency flattener resolution setting when printing or exporting the file, but it’s not as full-featured as InDesign’s flattener settings (but it’s certainly less complicated).

Both QuarkXPress and InDesign import Photoshop files with layer control and transparency support. QuarkXPress also offers channel control, but doesn’t offer Layer Comp support; InDesign supports layer comps, but not the same degree of channel control. QuarkXPress supports alpha channels for TIFFs for use with transparency; InDesign requires a Photoshop file to use the channel for transparency. If using spot colors in Photoshop, QuarkXPress still needs EPS files for duotones and DCS2 files for spot color, while InDesign can also use native Photoshop files. Unlike InDesign, QuarkXPress doesn’t import native Illustrator files or offer layer control for PDF files.

Product Box An increasingly useful feature in QuarkXPress is Picture Effects (aka QuarkVista), which allows Photoshop-like adjustments and effects directly to images in the program without altering the original. It currently has no comparable feature in InDesign, but it’s rumored to be in the works for CS3. QuarkVista was reviewed about 11/2 years ago in this magazine’s previous life (Mac Design Magazine, Nov/Dec 2004, p. 88), and the major problem I had with it was the quality of the onscreen preview. In QuarkXPress 7, the preview quality is very close to InDesign’s when both are set to high resolution and improved onscreen color preview is activated. This will make Picture Effects a much more useful part of the workflow; however, Picture Effects can only be used on raster-based file formats (not native Photoshop files).

What would a layout program be in today’s market without drop shadows? QuarkXPress now has them and they work very similarly to InDesign’s in that they can be applied to text and imported graphics. A couple of major differences are QuarkXPress’s ability to make text wrap/runaround go around the shadow (and not just the object) and the ability to synchronize the shadow angle (à la Photoshop).

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QuarkXPress 7 now supports Unicode fonts, aka OpenType fonts. Because OpenType fonts support many more characters than can be inserted from the keyboard, QuarkXPress included a Glyphs palette similar to InDesign’s—even down to the ability to save favorite glyphs for easy access. In addition to the Glyphs palette, there’s an Insert Character menu for entering common characters such as auto-page numbers and white spaces.

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Product BoxTables have been improved but they still don’t match InDesign’s table features. QuarkXPress can now split a table across multiple pages, but it’s not as easy as flowing tables in InDesign. Running headers and footers are also supported, and the selecting/coloring of every other row or column is automated, but it’s not as easy or efficient as with InDesign. One of the best things QuarkXPress’s tables have going for them is the ability to link to an Excel file but maintain the QuarkXPress formatting when updated; InDesign can link to an Excel file but will lose any InDesign formatting when updated. Unfortunately, QuarkXPress still doesn’t import Microsoft Word tables—not as useful as InDesign’s Word table import.

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The Measurements palette is greatly improved, adding access to many other settings. The new palette reminds me of Badia’s Full Measure XTension in that it uses tabs to access almost every setting necessary without going to multiple dialogs. In some ways it’s more versatile than InDesign’s Control palette. Product Box

It may be my imagination, but I think the Pen tool works better in QuarkXPress 7: I never cared for it in earlier versions. Although it still works differently from the Adobe Pen tool in InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop, it now seems smoother onscreen.

Palette locations can be saved like InDesign. Multiple windows can be opened, too, but unlike InDesign, a window can be split horizontally or vertically for multiple views of the same document.

Multiple export settings for both EPS and PDF formats can now be saved. A couple of major improvements are that EPS files can now embed fonts and PDF/X is an option.

The same-old, same-old
Master pages appear to be unchanged. I wish they’d copy the based-on master pages concept from InDesign (this was a feature request I sent to Quark back around 1992). Also, the page size is still limited to 48″, or 24″ for facing pages (InDesign’s page size can reach 18′ and can support up to 10-page spreads).

Guide use appears unchanged too: column guides are immovable; guides have to be placed manually on the master pages (but bleed guides can be placed on the master pages); and the Guide Manager still doesn’t work on master pages. InDesign allows movable column guides, automates the bleed guides, and can create guide grids on master pages.

Other than OpenType support, text formatting is generally unchanged, although there are a number of default Hyphenation and Justification settings and the Standard H&J style has much better settings than previous versions. While not matching InDesign’s paragraph composer, the new settings should improve overall typography. Font size limitations are the same (2–720 pt.) but should be enough of a range for most users (InDesign does 0.1–1296 pt.). Text can still be artificially styled as bold or italic, and although this can be flagged with a Job Jacket, I prefer the Adobe approach of requiring the actual font to be selected. Text cannot be outlined in QuarkXPress (and maintain editing ability), nor can it be colored with a gradient.

Undos are still limited to 30 (unlike InDesign’s unlimited-based-on-RAM approach) but that should be enough for most work. Onscreen zoom is still limited to 800% (InDesign’s limit is 4000%) but, like undos, that should be enough for most work.

According to Quark, they’ll still be marketing separate versions of single-language QuarkXPress and multilanguage QuarkXPress Passport. Compared with InDesign’s out-of-the-box support for multilanguages, I have to question this marketing approach. I think it’s high time for a single QuarkXPress program that supports multilanguages.

Some of my favorite typesetting features in InDesign are still missing in QuarkXPress 7. There’s still no preview (or Apply button) when creating paragraph and character styles—this makes creating complex based-on styles much harder. Character styles still require all settings to be filled in (you can’t create a single character style to change only the text color that can be used on different fonts and sizes), and character styles still create an override to the paragraph style so it’s impossible to tell if the override is from the style or from manual formats.

Only the beginning
As mentioned earlier, the new features in version 7 should keep many diehard Quarkers from switching to InDesign. However, for the average designer, InDesign still has the edge in typographic quality and transparency support, especially from Illustrator and PDF files. As long as Quark keeps the updates coming on a regular basis, QuarkXPress and InDesign can play feature leapfrog with each other. For the user, this is always a good thing.—David Creamer

PRICE $749
FROM Quark, Inc.
PHONE 800-676-4575
FOR Mac and Windows

HOT Transparency and OpenType support; Composition Zones
NOT Same old typography formatting; multilanguage support