Transform Tables in QuarkXPress

Let's face it: a table full of data is not a pretty sight. Yet making tables is a reality for most designers. The challenge is making a table look nice enough that readers won't immediately turn the page but not so wild that it turns their stomachs. One trick is to add a stripe of color behind every other line of text.

A number of tools can help you make tables and alternating tints in QuarkXPress, such as Table2000, from Tableworks ($200; 425/369-8596, www.tableworks.com ), and TableMaker, from Gluon ($80; 888/458-6698, www.gluon.com ).

These extensions are well worth the price if you need to crank out lots of tables. But what if you build tables only occasionally -- and not very complex ones, at that? You can use XPress's built-in Tabs feature to design tables and then add alternating tint stripes to make the data easy to read. Some people use the Rule Above feature to make these stripes, but I find this too time-consuming. Instead, I like to use an XPress feature that most people don't associate with tables -- Dashes & Stripes to turn a dash into a series of tinted stripes behind a table. It's easy, fast, and very flexible.

DAVID BLATNER is the author of The QuarkXPress 4 Book (Peachpit Press, 1998; www.peachpit.com/blatner.)

1: Create a Custom Dash
The Dashes feature in QuarkXPress 4 is even more useful than it looks. In this example, I made a custom dash that perfectly matched the size of a table (created in two separate boxes using XPress's Tabs feature).

Original Table

Check the Formats dialog box, and note the amount of space between your table's paragraphs (the Leading value plus the Space Before or Space After value). You'll use this amount later when you configure the dash.

Next select Dashes & Stripes from the Edit menu. In the dialog box that appears, select Dash from the New pop-up menu (A); doing so opens the Edit Dash dialog box.

Begin making a simple dash by clicking on the 50% mark in the top section of the dialog box (B) or by typing 50 in the Position field (B) and clicking on the Add button (D).

The fields in the Dash Attributes portion of this dialog box are important. Select Points from the Repeats Every pop-up menu (E), and make sure the Stretch To Corners option (F) is not selected (so the dash length won't vary). Double the amount of space between your table's paragraphs and type the result in the Repeats Every field (G). For instance, if the table rows are 12 points tall, enter 24. Give your dash a name (H), and click on OK. Click on Save to exit the Dashes & Stripes dialog box.

2: Apply the Dash to Your Line
I can hear some of you wondering, "What does a custom dashed line have to do with alternating tint stripes?" The trick is making a line so thick that when you apply your new dash pattern behind the table, the dashes look like rows of color.

Select the text box that contains the table, and note how wide it is (the W field in the Measurements palette can tell you at a glance). Now draw a vertical line using one of the line tools (the Orthogonal Line tool is easiest). Make it as tall and as wide (or "thick") as your table.

Select Modify from the Item menu, choose the custom pattern you just created from the Style pop-up menu (A), and select the color you want for your alternating tint (B).When you click on OK, your line will be transformed into dashed lines (B).

3: Place the Line
Getting the alternating tints to align properly with the table is a minor hassle, but QuarkXPress has the precision tools you need to get it just right.

Use the Bring To Front command (in the Item menu) to put the text box on top of the stripe. Then make sure the background color of your text box is None (set this under the Box tab of the Modify dialog box) so you can see the stripes.

To align the box and the line precisely, select both elements, choose Space/Align from the Item menu, and set the Horizontal position to Centers (A) and the Vertical position to Top Edges (B), with 0p in the Space value for each. Click on OK.

Next select just the text box and choose Modify from the Item menu. Under the Text tab of the resulting dialog box, type the amount of space between paragraphs and then type *.75 into the First Baseline Offset field. This will move the text down to align properly with the first stripe.

Click on OK, and you have a finished table with tints in the right place. The great thing about this technique is that if your table gets longer or shorter, you can simply lengthen or shorten the line.

4: Add Effects
Why stop at simple stripes? Why not make those tints really dazzle, with blends or even a picture? Remember that QuarkXPress can convert any type of object into another type; in this example, I converted a dashed line into a Bézier box and then filled it with a blend and a picture.

First, check that the line is just the right size for your table; once the line is a box, you can't change its attributes. To convert the line, select it and choose the Bézier box shape (A) from the Item menu's Shape submenu. There's a problem in XPress that causes the resulting box to offset slightly when you do this, so you may need to realign the objects using the Space/Align feature (as in step 3).

Once you have a box instead of a line, use the Colors palette to fill it with a blend.

Or you can fill it with a picture: select Picture from the Content submenu (in the Item menu) and then put a graphic in the box.

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