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QuarkXPress versus InDesign

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Most print designers and prepress professionals use QuarkXPress 3.X or 4.X -- not because XPress is a flawless program, but because its features, familiarity, and prevalence make it cost-effective. Although Adobe tried to break into the high-end page-layout market with InDesign 1.0 and 1.5, few users took a chance on the new program.

Then, last February (within a week of each other), Quark (800/676-4575, and Adobe (800/833-6687, shipped XPress 5.0 and InDesign 2.0, respectively. I explored the new features of each program before they were complete (see "Quark's Leap of Faith," October 2001, and "InDesign Takes Flight," January 2002). Now that I've examined the final versions, I've come to some surprising conclusions. This comparison of the programs' primary components should help you decide whether to upgrade -- or to switch.

While InDesign 1.X was clearly an immature product, version 2 offers compelling capabilities and is significantly faster than its predecessor; it can accomplish almost everything QuarkXPress 5 can (although InDesign lacks XPress's new Web-design tools, which I'll discuss later).

Of course, there are plenty of XTensions that expand XPress beyond InDesign's capacity, and there are several plug-ins that allow InDesign to perform tricks unheard of in XPress. However, this comparison focuses on each program's core capabilities.

Mac OS X Support

One of the greatest disappointments in XPress 5 is that it doesn't run natively in OS X -- and InDesign 2 does. Quark has announced that the next version will be OS X native, but there's no indication of when this version will see the light of day.

Though InDesign's features are the same whether it's running in OS 9.2 or in OS X, OS X users can take advantage of better memory management and crash protection. In addition, InDesign runs slightly faster in OS X than in OS 9. You can run XPress 5 in OS X's Classic mode, but it was slower in Classic than XPress 4.1 running in OS 9.2. (Most apps are slower in Classic than in OS 9.)

Of course, the absence of an OS X-native version of Photoshop has kept many publishers from switching to OS X, but Photoshop 7.0 should be available by the time you read this. When publishers do migrate to OS X, they'll find that InDesign is the clear winner in this operating system.

General Interface

XPress's strength -- and its weakness -- is that its interface has hardly changed in a decade. While you can learn your way around this upgrade in no time, you'll have to endure the same limitations you've learned to live with.

InDesign 2 doesn't have many of XPress's limitations. With InDesign, you can perform multiple undos, redefine style-sheet definitions based on changes you've made to a page, select a guide and then use the keyboard to position it, and merge two stories by linking their text boxes.

Of course, InDesign 2 has its own quirks. There are too many palettes to manage easily, and the keystroke that activates the Grabber Hand tool is clunky (press command-spacebar and then let go of the command key) and sometimes doesn't work in OS X. In addition, InDesign 2 can't automatically add and link pages while you type. But this version does fix the most-egregious interface issues of InDesign's first iterations -- for example, the tendency of palettes to display text attributes incorrectly after scaling text frames.


In 1990, QuarkXPress 3.0 boasted cutting-edge typographic control. Sadly, most of XPress's type tools haven't changed significantly since then. Today, it's InDesign that offers state-of-the-art typography.

There is little that you can do with type in InDesign that you can't do in XPress; however, you have to work much harder to achieve the same results in XPress.

An obvious example is InDesign's Paragraph Composer feature (called the Multiline Composer in previous versions); it adjusts hyphenation and the spacing between letters and words, in an effort to achieve an even typographic color over a whole paragraph. In contrast, XPress looks at only one line of text at a time, so a paragraph's color is often not quite even.

A subtler example of InDesign's superiority is its greater support of OpenType fonts (available from Adobe and several other foundries), which can include special characters such as fractions, swashes, foreign-language characters, and even context-sensitive ligatures. For example, say your OpenType font includes a specially drawn tt combination. InDesign 2 can automatically find and insert the tt ligature as you type the letters.

InDesign 2 has a plethora of other timesaving type features, such as hanging punctuation slightly outside the margins of justified text, and optical kerning to automatically adjust spacing between characters (based on their shapes) -- both were also available in version 1.X. XPress provides neither of these features.

Adobe has also fixed a number of problems that irked InDesign 1.X users. For example, you can now set text leading (the space between baselines) for an entire paragraph at a time, and text can now wrap accurately around EPS graphics. One problem remains: you can't select a text character and set it to a dingbats font.

XPress 5 has no new typography tools, though it lets you specify a color in the Find/Change dialog box and check the spelling of a selection. InDesign also has these features.

World Languages Typesetting in languages other than American English is increasingly important in today's international business culture, and InDesign shines in this area, too. It ships with dictionaries for 12 languages, so if you can type it, InDesign can hyphenate it properly and check its spelling. InDesign is also Unicode compliant, so you can open Japanese documents in the English version of the program. XPress, on the other hand, can manage only one language at a time; to do multilingual publishing, you need QuarkPassport, which looks and feels like XPress but costs almost twice as much.

Graphic Support

In any language, pictures are as important as type, and here, too, the scales tip in InDesign's favor. Both programs handle TIFF, JPEG, EPS, and other popular file formats. However, InDesign also supports native Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop files, which can be helpful in some workflows. More importantly, InDesign offers significantly better screen previews of your graphics -- even of EPS files, which have traditionally been almost impossible to view properly on screen.

XPress 5 provides better-looking screen previews of TIFF images than XPress 4.X, but while InDesign lets you zoom in to see the true resolution, XPress is still limited to a 72-dpi screen preview. In addition, a five-page document with two large images per page creates a 50MB file in XPress 5 but only a 10MB file in InDesign 2.

There are a few graphics features unique to XPress, including the ability to edit the contrast curve of imported JPEG and TIFF images, and the option of allowing images to break past the borders of their picture boxes. (Both of these were also in version 4.X.)


InDesign 2 has slightly better color control than version 1.X; it allows you to drag and drop color swatches. However, XPress still has more features, especially when it comes to spot colors. InDesign can't create multi-inks for blends of spot colors, for example.

Managing Color Everyone wants more-consistent color from scan to screen to ink-jet printer to printing press, but few people enjoy getting their hands dirty with arcane color-management technologies. Fortunately, both Quark and Adobe have tried to make managing color as accessible as possible.

XPress 5 sports a new, more intuitive color-management dialog box and can specify rendering intents (or how the program should handle out-of-gamut colors). InDesign 2 has only a few new color-management tools (such as the Overprint Preview option), but its color-management system is still significantly better than XPress's. InDesign not only displays TIFF and JPEG images better but also shares its underlying display technology with Illustrator and Photoshop, so you can get more-accurate color from one program to the next. And InDesign's Overprint Preview feature makes some basic color management possible even when color management is turned off.

XPress does offer one color-management possibility that InDesign doesn't: hexachrome printing. But only a small number of people take advantage of this specialized ink choice.

Page Layout

Page-layout programs have to balance ease of use with powerful tools that allow designers to turn their wildest ideas into reality. XPress has long had several page-layout options that InDesign 2 doesn't offer, such as customizable dashes and stripes for lines and borders, and boxes that you can merge to create complex shapes.

Layers The more complex your layout, the more important a layers palette is. InDesign 1.X had a layers palette, but XPress has not had one until now. The two are similar in function and form, though only XPress can turn off text runaround for hidden layers. If you have two pictures, each on a different layer, InDesign wraps around both of them -- even if one layer is hidden, and that can drive you crazy.

Transparency The flashiest addition to InDesign 2 is the ability to make objects transparent and display transparency in native Photoshop and Illustrator files. InDesign also lets you apply drop shadows to any object, even when the drop shadows fall over other objects or images in the background.

InDesign's transparency tools offer designers an astonishing array of cool effects, but they have an important effect on productivity, too. You may not need to create clipping paths anymore; instead, you can erase an image's pixels in Photoshop -- often much easier than making a clipping path. (I say may because some people like the effect of sharp-edged clipping paths.)

XPress has almost no transparency options other than importing images with clipping paths. This is particularly frustrating because several years ago Quark's ill-fated QuarkImmedia product was capable of both drop shadows and object transparency.

Long Documents InDesign 1.X had almost no long-document features, such as table-of-contents and index tools or a book palette, all of which are in both XPress 4.X and 5. Adobe has added those features to InDesign 2, but other than the nicely designed Book palette, these features have a surprisingly clunky interface. On the other hand, InDesign lets you print a whole book to disk as a PDF file (which you can't do in XPress).

XPress 5 has a few small but helpful new long-document abilities, such as automatically reversing names when they're added to an index (InDesign also does this) and allowing the addition of character styles to a table-of-contents definition (InDesign does not do this). On the whole, XPress still offers better long-document features.


Quark announced XPress 5's table-making tools with great fanfare, so the fact that InDesign 2's table tools trounce XPress's is all the more noteworthy. InDesign 2 can import Microsoft Word and Excel tables, apply alternating tint stripes that update as a table changes, and flow tables across pages or columns. XPress can't do any of this. (The program ships with an AppleScript that creates alternating tint stripes, but you have to invoke the script manually after adding or deleting rows.) More glaringly, XPress can't make a table, or even a gridline in a table, transparent. On the other hand, XPress does let you draw a table with a Table tool, while InDesign forces you to draw a text frame first and then insert a table into it.

Compared with InDesign's elegant solution, the table features in XPress are merely functional. Unfortunately, neither program includes table styles, so you can't use a style to apply the same formatting to multiple tables.

Printing and PDF

Many service bureaus and printers avoided InDesign documents because version 1.X caused hassles for them: it required a particular printer driver, the Print dialog box was difficult to navigate, and InDesign documents often wouldn't print correctly (or at all) because of PostScript errors. Fortunately, Adobe reworked InDesign's Print dialog box, which now lets you choose any driver. And writing a PostScript file to disk in InDesign is significantly easier than it is in QuarkXPress. All of these changes mean that printing in InDesign 2 is much improved.

But correctly printing files with transparency is still a process of trial and error for imaging centers. Printing transparent type on the Scitex Brisque RIP also causes a significant problem: the type pixelates.

XPress has a few minor new print features, including an improved proxy preview (which, sadly, is still visible only when you select the Preview tab) and an option that scales documents when printing to non-PostScript printers.

PDF Files PDF is quickly becoming the format of choice for sending files to printers and service bureaus. Some magazines even refuse to accept ads in any other format, so it's increasingly important that your page-layout program handle PDF files well. While XPress 5 requires that you own the $249 Adobe Acrobat package to build PDF files, InDesign can simply write them to disk. And in my testing, XPress took more than twice as long as InDesign did to make a PDF file.

The difference between the programs' handling of PDF files is even starker. In my tests, file sizes of XPress documents with imported PDF graphics were more than ten times the size of identical InDesign files, and printing the XPress files took significantly longer.

InDesign lets you include security options, such as password protection, in your PDF files; XPress doesn't. XPress's one advantage is that it lets you print color separations to disk as a PDF file -- InDesign lets you save only composite CMYK or RGB PDF files, so you must separate the composites in Acrobat or another application.

Both programs can automatically create hyperlinks and bookmarks, though an XPress 5 bug breaks hyperlinks when they cross two or more lines of text.

The Web

Designers generate documents that are destined for both print and the Web, but too often they simply create Xpress documents and then print them out and hand them off to an online department, where they are re-created in a Web-authoring program. Quark wants to simplify this process, so the majority of new features in XPress 5 are meant to help you make Web documents. For instance, you can build rollovers, image maps, and even form items (text-entry fields, pop-up menus, radio buttons, and so on).

However, to export an XPress page as HTML, you must first create a separate Web document and then drag and drop text and graphics from your print file to that document. While InDesign doesn't have interactive Web elements like XPress's, it does let you export basic HTML pages directly from any document, and that translates into time saved.

The two programs use different techniques to lay out Web pages, but both write relatively clean HTML code. InDesign relies on CSS absolute positioning, or layers; Xpress uses invisible tables, which work better on older browsers. Both XPress and InDesign can also convert your TIFF images to GIF or JPEG files on-the-fly when you export them, but only Xpress lets you specify export formats on an image-by-image basis.

XPress has better tools for the export of HTML than InDesign, but they're far from perfect. For example, you can't export all your text and graphics to HTML without page geometry -- something that InDesign does with no trouble.

Because InDesign's and XPress's Web-feature sets are still relatively limited, the HTML from either program is likely to be just a first step in building Web pages that will be finalized in a Web-publishing program such as Dreamweaver or GoLive. If you're simply trying to export your content, and you rely on Web-heads to format it into HTML, InDesign may be the better choice. I just hope that future versions are more closely integrated with Adobe GoLive and LiveMotion.

XML Because XML separates your document's content from the form it takes, it's the key to publishing across multiple media. Both XPress 5 and InDesign 2 offer new tools for importing and exporting XML documents, though Adobe shipped InDesign's cross-media tools in beta form. For a more in-depth look at each application, see " Recycle with XML."

Missing in Action

Programs can always be improved, and this is particularly true for these two programs. Neither offers a built-in text editor, such as Adobe PageMaker's venerable Story Editor, or running page headers that change depending on page content, such as those offered by Ventura Publisher more than a decade ago.

And both programs should be able to handle different page sizes in a document, create printer spreads (for saddle-stitched booklets), make noncontinuous text selections, run text around a drop cap (for example, flowing diagonally down the side of a V), set text indents in em units, specify page footnotes, and automatically identify orphans (single or partial words on the last line of a paragraph).


One of the greatest challenges now facing Adobe is how to build an infrastructure to support InDesign. Today, just about every publishing consultant, trainer, and temporary worker is well-versed in XPress, and hardly any of them know their way around InDesign.

InDesign has powerful scripting tools for both Mac OS and Windows, but if you depend on AppleScripts that control XPress, be warned: they don't work in InDesign. Similarly, many users rely

on XTensions; unfortunately, many (perhaps most) XTensions that worked with XPress 4.X don't work in version 5. While some of these tools are also available as InDesign plug-ins, many developers are taking a wait-and-see approach until enough users demand software that works with InDesign.

Processing Power Many companies are also concerned about InDesign's hefty requirements: you can use this program on a G3 computer, but you probably won't be happy unless you have a G4 stocked with at least 128MB of RAM (256MB if you're running OS X). XPress 5 requires a faster machine and more RAM than version 4.X did, but a G3 processor is plenty, and XPress itself takes up only about 30MB or 40MB of RAM.

The Price Is Right On the other hand, InDesign has an attractive price: in the United States, you can expect to pay about $699 for InDesign; XPress costs about $200 more. An upgrade from XPress 3.X to version 5 costs $399; from 4.X to 5, $299. Upgrading from InDesign 1.X to 2 costs $99 before April 10 and $149 thereafter. Adobe is also offering a $300 rebate to registered XPress owners. Outside the United States, the price difference is even more significant. For the cost of XPress, Europeans and Australians can buy InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, and a new 17-inch monitor. Quark's customer base is largely international; it will be interesting to see whether the company adjusts prices.

The Last Word

Both QuarkXPress 5.0 and Adobe InDesign 2.0 offer major improvements on previous versions -- particularly impressive are XPress 5's Web tools and InDesign 2's better performance and transparency features. Overall, InDesign poses fewer limitations and offers more control than XPress, and many people will be tempted to make the switch, especially those upgrading to OS X.

However, any move -- whether to InDesign or to a new version of XPress -- may be slow in coming, given the many companies that still make do with XPress 3.3. Nevertheless, if Quark is going to keep customers from defecting in the future, it must soon prove that XPress can be as innovative and cost-effective as InDesign.

Contributing Editor DAVID BLATNER is the author of Real World QuarkXPress 5 (formerly The QuarkXPress 4 Book ; Peachpit Press, 2002) and a coauthor of the upcoming Real World InDesign 2 (Peachpit Press, 2002). You can find him at

Who Wins the Feature Race?

Features shouldn't be the only reason you choose one program over another, but feature comparisons are important decision-making tools. (This list doesn't include features that are very similar in both programs.)

1. OpenType capabilities include automatic creation of fractions and swash characters, replacing old-style numerals, and extended character sets.

2. The programs find different things: InDesign can highlight missing fonts, H&J violations, and other type problems, while XPress's free TypeTricks XTension can find overset text boxes, widows, and orphans.

3. InDesign lets you set stop points and have more than two colors in a gradient.

4. Maximum magnification in XPress is 800 percent.

5. Guides are clunky in XPress. InDesign lets you select guides for careful placement.

6. XPress has an Export PDF feature, but it requires Adobe Distiller.

7. XPress can export only one document at a time to PDF or PostScript, not an entire book palette.

8. InDesign lets you export the page geometry with CSS tags; QuarkXPress saves page geometry with either CSS or the more common HTML table structure.

9. InDesign can save almost all your work up to the moment you crashed, while XPress saves files only if you turn on Auto Save.

At a Glance
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