First Look: QuarkXPress 8

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from Macworld UK. Visit Macworld U.K.’s blog page for the latest Mac news from across the Atlantic.

Quark used to be the last word in desktop print publishing, but Mac OS X support gave Adobe’s InDesign a competitive advantage at a crucial time. With QuarkXPress 8, Quark is attempting to gain back market share it has lost to Adobe, with an acknowledgement of just who its key markets are. It’s also reaching out to new customers, by offering new tools and language support that will be of interest to interactive designers, typographers and print professionals alike.

Simplification and suitability are the key messages in version 8. “We looked across the board at how page designers were creating their layouts in various applications,” says Dan Logan, QuarkXPress Product Manager. “We found they were being frustrated by the number of tools required to do even basic tasks like placing and fitting their images. Our approach was to make the tools better fit the tasks.”

Quark’s research also involves being aware of the creative workflow most designers follow, with the refreshing addition of native Illustrator and Photoshop file support. There are improvements to existing tools and while the main keyboard shortcuts are still in place, the new version introduces intelligent tools that adjust to user demands for placing and manipulating content. So does this spell a new life for the venerable DTP tool?

The all-new QuarkXPress 8

QuarkXpress 8 has been designed to follow an intuitive workflow. You use the Item Tool when it’s time to set up a page, the Bézier Point Pen Tool when you need to draw and when you want to work with content, double-clicking on an image or text will bring up the new Text Content or Picture Content Tool respectively.

The Picture Content Tool is one of the standout new features in version 8, bringing the ability to grab, rotate and scale images without typing in numbers or switching from tool to tool. It enables direct picture rotation and scaling along with previewing and cropping.

The picture box itself has been redesigned, offering a semi-opaque overlay and handles so that you can interact directly with the content and place it on the page with greater precision. Modifier keys are also supported, such as using the Option key to duplicate when dragging or constraining the interactive rotation by holding down Shift. The existing Item Tool and new Text Content Tool both exhibit similar smart behavior, which Quark says will lead to less switching between tools, even for rotation or dealing with multiple items. For example, when you want to resize multiple objects you can just select them and do so—there’s no need for a separate ‘group’ command.

The Picture Content Tool offers an interactive approach to picture cropping.

Content is king

The new content tools also allow designers to create templates with preset content type or modifier keys to set the generic boxes to be either text or pictures. In keeping with tradition, keyboard shortcuts abound in QuarkXPress 8, such as if you press R when using the circle tool, you’ll be presented with a circular picture box, or if you hold down B when selecting a box, you can cycle through the tools options. Such shortcuts add to the existing library of key commands that are preserved in version 8.

Actually getting content into QuarkXPress has been made simpler too, including the ability to drag and drop from the desktop or Adobe Bridge, iPhoto or Extensis Portfolio. The opposite is also true—you can drag content from layout boxes to applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Microsoft Word or the desktop, to allow editing of the content in an external application. Double clicking on an image will also bring up an ‘edit original’ dialog for a similar purpose.

It doesn’t stop at pictures—any kind of content can be imported into any type of box, or even imported where no box exists. Such streamlining abounds, such as when you want to create rounded rectangles, you simply draw a box as usual then select the rounded corners icon on the status bar.

Item Styles let you modify similar items throughout a project and can be exported.

Another powerful new command is Item Styles. As well as enabling the formatting of multiple items to be applied simultaneously, the new item style command can sample attributes of an item into the dialog box using an acquire command, picking up attributes of any item selected. An edit dialog box is on hand to allow users to turn on or off or adjust these properties, before saving the attributes as a new style—this is offered as a keyboard shortcut too. The related Item FindChange command allows you to filter by type and shape and then modify the appearance of multiple existing items.

Item Find/Change automates the task of applying the same modification throughout layouts.

The Measurements Palette also gets a boost. Features include interactive drop shadows, which allows designers to directly manipulate the direction of the effect and vertical guides appear when tab settings are adjusted. Meanwhile if you rescale an image, the effective resolution will display a live update on the measurements palette.

Legacy users

Quark obviously wants to get the sizable base of legacy users up to speed. In terms of backwards compatibility, you can open QuarkXPress documents back to version 3, but you can only save documents back to version 7. The company also intends QuarkXPress to be part of a creative workflow—version 8 ships with Job Jackets and Output Styles suited for the prepress industry standard Ghent Workgroup (GWG) workflows. QuarkXPress also now supports import of PDF files up to version 1.7.

Quark’s Dan Logan says that the intention with version 8 is to make moving between Adobe Creative Suite applications and QuarkXPress more intuitive. So in addition to the ability to place native Illustrator .ai files in QuarkXPress layouts, the Pen tool has been given an Illustrator-style makeover and the whole Bézier toolset works much like Illustrator does. The single letter key command to activate Tools in the tool palette will be familiar to Adobe users, as will the newly standardized keyboard shortcuts for scaling, duplicating and restraining.

The ‘Text-to-box’ conversion feature now supports multiple lines, entire stories or even multiple boxes up to an entire spread and supports the appearance of text, including color, opacity and most other text transformations.

The PDF enhancements include the aforementioned Job Jackets and Output Styles, as well as an improvement to registration mark placement that now fits international norms.

Creative Suite

“We’ve added several features to really make QuarkXPress work well with the Creative Suite,” says Logan. “They let you take everything you learned there and move it to your page layout. With the new pen tools and Illustrator import, QuarkXPress makes it easier to work with Illustrator—and easier to work without it.” It’s also possible to export QuarkXPress files in Flash (SWF) format, which is part of the new interactive integration in version 8.

Quark Interactive Designer was an optional upgrade for QuarkXPress 7,” says Logan. “However the feedback we got from users was so positive that we have fully integrated it into QuarkXPress 8.” Designers will thus be able to use their QuarkXPress document as a basis for a website, using the built-in Flash authoring tools to convert page elements into Web assets. These tools fully support the new typographical feature set, including all of the international and East Asian features. “We talked to a lot of creatives about typography,” says Logan. “What we heard back was that they appreciated features that made type design faster but they got frustrated when they weren’t able to control the settings of those features to fit their design needs. So the typographical features in QuarkXPress 8 ship with presets that cover the common situations, but also let creatives get in and easily take control of the settings when they need to.”

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