QuarkXPress vs. InDesign:

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Go Beyond the Hype with Publishing Gurus Deke McClelland and David Blatner

Desktop Publishing just hasn't been the same since the early 1990s, when Aldus PageMaker and QuarkXPress stopped duking it out and Quark began its reign supreme. Oh, the exciting feature wars we had back then. Every release brought new possibilities so fundamental that now we take them for granted: kerning, automatic hyphenation, style sheets, automatic drop caps, color separation--heck, even spelling checks .

Just in time for the year 2000, the game is afoot again. With the release of Adobe InDesign 1.0, everyone is talking about desktop publishing. And everyone has an opinion about whether QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign will win. We decided that this debate deserves more than just a review (see Reviews , December 1999, for the word on InDesign). So we invited two of Macworld's most trusted experts --QuarkXPress guru David Blatner, author of The QuarkXPress 4 Book and coauthor of Real World Photoshop 5 (both Peachpit Press, 1998), and Contributing Editor Deke McClelland, author of Adobe InDesign for Dummies and Photoshop 5 Bible , Gold Edition (both IDG Books Worldwide, 1999)--to have their say. Here they weigh in (and often disagree) about how Adobe InDesign 1.0 ($739; 800/833-6687, http://www.adobe.com ) and QuarkXPress 4.0 ($719; 800/676-4575, http://www.quark.com ) compare, and give their opinions about the claims flying around design-firm watercoolers and prepress houses everywhere.


There's no doubt that InDesign's greatest strength is in its typesetting. Features such as optical kerning (which better calculates optimal character spacing) and Multi-line Composer (which calculates line breaks across multiple lines to get better-looking justified type) are very impressive. (For in-depth information about this topic, see ""Setting Type in InDesign"," Create , in this issue). Factor in the ability to insert "hidden" characters–frequently available in fonts but not accessible through the normal Mac keyboard–and support for the new OpenType fonts, and you have an extraordinary opportunity to set great type with less effort. It's not that you can't create most of these effects by hand in XPress; it's just that InDesign makes it easy.

InDesign's text handling isn't all rosy, however. For instance, there's no way to justify text vertically inside a text frame (an easy task in QuarkXPress). What's more, InDesign's hard-core typography algorithms can require a lot of processing power, causing slower performance on older machines.


I can't vouch for the experience of others, but my personal experience with InDesign is that it runs relatively briskly – particularly with long documents–on G3 or better machines. Still, I'm the first to admit that InDesign's recommended system requirements–the list includes a G3 processor, OS 8.5 or later, and 128MB of RAM–are excessive. (Quark recommends that XPress users have 10MB of RAM.) I would be a bald-faced liar if I didn't admit that XPress fares better on slower systems.

But the topic is typesetting, not performance. (How quickly David has snared me into a tangential discussion! Clever boy, that one–I shall not underestimate him again.) And there are a couple of points we have missed so far. InDesign automatically inserts the proper ligatures and small caps when a separate small-cap font is available. It splits out all designer styles for a typeface family to a separate pop-up menu, so you can't accidentally choose a font style that doesn't exist. Its drop-cap controls are precise and easy to access. These are subtle, sometimes obscure enhancements, but they can make a big difference in the quality of your text.

See the sidebar ("Clipping Convenience")


As much as my InDesign-loving friend Deke would like you to believe this one, it unfortunately just ain't true. Even though Adobe claims that InDesign opens QuarkXPress documents, the program rarely does so without requiring significant cleanup afterward. And although InDesign does sport an XPress-like pasteboard, many other aspects will drive XPress users batty–from the creation and application of color to the fact that leading is a character attribute instead of a paragraph-wide setting. Similarly, character styles and text wrap work significantly differently in InDesign, which will trip up unsuspecting QuarkXPress users.

Perhaps more important, however, is companies' investment of so much time and energy into building their infrastructure around XPress: finding reliable consultants, buying QuarkXTensions, training staff, writing AppleScripts, building a workflow. There's nothing inherently difficult in switching to InDesign, but given all these factors, I would certainly not call the process easy .


It depends on how you make the transition. If you decide to go whole hog and transfer every document in your archives from QuarkXPress to InDesign, you're in for a lot of pain and manual labor. But that's an unrealistic and unlikely approach. My advice is to change over incrementally, and primarily with new documents. InDesign does a first-rate job of opening and properly interpreting XPress templates . From there, it's just a matter of building new documents in InDesign. Not only is this the more sensible approach, but it's also the approach thousands of professionals took when transitioning from PageMaker to XPress.

Two things to keep in mind: First, when you consider that Quark doesn't share information on its native file formats, it's flat-out amazing how good a job InDesign does interpreting XPress files. Line breaks and text wraps are bound to change, but all text, graphics, and basic formatting attributes will probably remain intact. Second, you can't stick with a program simply out of inertia. Change will be hard, but it's the price you pay to make the leap to a modern desktop-publishing program.


OK, I have to admit a bias up front. Although I don't particularly like PageMaker, I've long considered it to be easier to use than QuarkXPress. It isn't so much that XPress is unintuitive (although it often is); it's more that the interface is ill suited to "liquid workflow," that dreamy experience in which you sail through an application, hardly thinking about where tools are and how to get things done.

Among my complaints, XPress's odd-size palettes block your view of the page, and you have limited means for selecting tools from the keyboard. (Is it too much to ask for command-I or the ability to simply press the I key to select the Item tool?) There are also few context-sensitive pop-up menus, and–most disgracefully–you're limited to a single undo. Meanwhile, cross-platform designers have to contend with some perplexing keyboard mismaps: on the Mac, command-L checks spelling; on the PC, control-W does. Sometimes the option key corresponds to the PC's Alt key, other times to its control key–you just never know.

If not interface perfection, InDesign is certainly an improvement. You can select tools from the keyboard, navigate by using techniques common to all Adobe applications, and rest assured that the shortcuts you learn on the Mac will transfer key-for-key when you have to do something on a PC. On a sour note, some shortcuts break down in text editing. But the ability to undo up to 300 consecutive operations makes up for that.


I have to admit that Deke makes some good points here. On the other hand, if QuarkXPress is so hard to use, why are two million people using it? There's no doubt that XPress's interface has some unintuitive aspects (such as text-box linking), but I absolutely disagree that InDesign is any easier to learn or use.

Granted, it's nice to use a program that looks and feels like it was written in the nineties (XPress still looks like software made in 1989). Yes, InDesign has multiple undos, dockable palettes, the ability to hang objects off the pasteboard, and really intuitive text chaining.

On the other hand, some interface issues baffle me–for example, having to look at three different palettes to figure out how to put a colored border around a box. And when you want to open a palette, you have to search through the menus to find it (the palettes aren't all listed in the same menu, as they are in Photoshop and XPress).

The one that really gets me is scaling text boxes. Start with 12-point text in a box, and then scale the box up to 500 percent. The Character palette still tells you that you have 12-point text in the box, even though it's obviously much larger. This is not easier to use; this is insane!

See the sidebar ("Subtle Automation")


Although InDesign 1.0 will certainly be useful for a few people, it's pretty clear to me that it will take a few revisions before it's really useful for the majority of users. QuarkXPress has spent years developing crucial production features such as long-document controls (indexing, books), object-level trapping, and text on a path.

Plus, as I noted earlier, the product itself isn't the only thing that counts anymore. How long will it take for service bureaus, printers, and third-party software (such as trapping and imposition software) to fully embrace and support InDesign? Everyone is familiar with QuarkXPress, faults and all, and that means more efficiency.


It's been a mighty long time since I worked in a service bureau–frankly, longer than I care to admit. But I can tell you, back in my day, when a hot new program like InDesign hit the market, we busted our behinds trying to add some level of support, and I imagine the same is true today. Furthermore, Adobe is a significant enough player in the electronic-publishing market to make a major play at the service bureaus and commercial print houses. If you walk in the door and ask to print an InDesign file, my guess is the guy behind the counter will respond, "How fast?" Even if he balks, you have alternatives. I laid out a 48-page Photoshop 5.5 insert for my Photoshop 5 Bible, Gold Edition in InDesign, knowing full well that my publisher had no way to print it. To make the file foolproof, I merely exported it as a PDF file. The result: 48 pages, two spot colors, no problems.


Adobe's Portable Document Format is to multipage documents what EPS is to single-page illustrations–it's a means for trading printable files with anyone on the planet, without the need for the originating application. Sadly, XPress does not directly export to PDF. Instead, you have to shell out some extra cash ($249) for Adobe Acrobat, which can distill an XPress document printed to disk as a PostScript file.

Contrary to early publicity, PDF is not InDesign's native file format. However, InDesign does permit you to export a file to PDF. The downside is that InDesign supports PDF 1.3 only, which requires Acrobat Reader 4 or later (the reader is a free download, so it's not hard to get). Regardless, InDesign's PDF support is way the heck preferable to XPress's no support at all.


Although I think InDesign's ability to export PDFs directly to disk without using Acrobat Distiller is great, I believe that QuarkXPress still has a leg up on the PDF front. Where InDesign's PDFs can be read only by Acrobat 4 Reader, a PDF made with XPress and Distiller can be read by the vast majority of Acrobat Reader versions out there (not all of us have time to go get every new version of a program, even if it is a free download). More important, according to Quark, XPress 4.1 (which should be available by the time you read this) will automatically build hyperlinks for tables of contents and indexes. InDesign has no hyperlink functionality.

See the sidebar ("Uneven Web Features")


It's not that InDesign makes HTML easier; it's simply that InDesign has some more-powerful HTML features. Sure, InDesign exports pages as fully rendered HTML files, with columns, cascading style sheets, and linked graphics neatly organized in a folder. By itself, QuarkXPress 4.0 has no HTML export features. Although you can download the free Quark HTML Text Export XTension ( http://www.quark.com/files ), which lets you export text only from a single story. QuarkXPress 4.1 should also let you import simple HTML text, which InDesign doesn't currently do. Personally, I wish that each of these companies would leave this sort of thing to third-party plug-ins–such as the $300 Extensis BeyondPress (800/796-9798, http://www.extensis.com )–and focus energy on getting the rest of its program beefed up.


Although David's brains are soft and watery, I find myself inexplicably compelled to agree with him–if only this once. InDesign does have some nice HTML features. Sadly, however, the program is incapable of doing some very basic things, such as–most critically–creating hyperlinks beyond simple Next and Previous links that take you to other pages. So although you might find InDesign helpful if you need to repurpose a flier or another simple document as a Web page, be prepared to spend some time in BBEdit or an equivalent HTML-editing tool. Otherwise, you're probably better off rendering the page as a PDF file so you can post the document with all formatting intact (minus hyperlinks, of course).

Oh, and just joking about David's brains. Despite prolonged exposure to QuarkXPress, his skull remains firm and fully packed.

See the sidebar ("Color Contrasts")


My brains might be a bit slippery, but I'm still cognizant enough to know that when it comes to color, neither InDesign nor XPress wins.

InDesign has excellent color tools . . . with a lousy user interface. For example, you can choose from a plethora of color libraries (Pantone, Trumatch, Web, and so on), but you can't access them from within the New Color Swatch dialog box–rather, you have to open another dang palette and then choose from the list on a pop-up menu. Adobe also left out the ability to mix spot colors (as you can with QuarkXPress's Multi-Ink feature), which is very useful when building two- or three-color documents. Be that as it may, when it comes to color management, building gradients, and the inclusion of a "Paper" color, InDesign's color features stand up to or exceed those in XPress.


I also don't think either program's color features are anything to write home about–unless you're in the mood to write something nasty. InDesign lacks an eyedropper for copying colors between objects, and you can't drag and drop colors between palettes. Creating spot-color gradients is a pain in the neck: you have to separate palettes from their default locations in order to get much work done, and the Overprint options are squirreled away by themselves in a palette labeled Attributes–as if attributes were somehow synonymous with stuff that doesn't go anywhere else .

But lest you think XPress is a model citizen, think again. You have to create and name colors in a modal dialog box–there's no provision for mixing a quick color on the fly via a palette. You can drag and drop a color, but if you do, you can't undo. And gradients are limited to two colors. XPress beats InDesign in trapping, but InDesign wins points for its image-by-image control over color management. In other words, where color is concerned, I'd say these two programs are in a dead heat.


Not surprisingly, the maker of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator has packed some amazing graphics-handling features into its new program InDesign. You can preview TIFF images and EPS illustrations at unlimited resolutions, essential when you want to precisely align an imported graphic with a line of type or another page element. By comparison, the low-resolution previews in XPress and PageMaker are a cruel and inaccurate joke. InDesign also sports a first-rate Links palette for managing and embedding placed graphics. You can jump right to an image in your document just by option-double-clicking on it in the palette. Finally, if you place a native Photoshop or Illustrator file, InDesign will interpret all the layers inside the file and even let you edit the graphic in the originating application.

InDesign lets you apply gradients to live type–heck, you can even stroke type with a gradient. And finally, you can edit the clipping paths assigned to an imported graphic. Unlike in XPress 4.0, you never run the risk of clipping an image with a random path that was never intended to be a clipping path in the first place. (Thankfully, this problem should be fixed in XPress 4.1.) On the downside, InDesign's path-editing tools are pretty rough. For example, you can't select more than one point at a time, making it difficult to move straight edges or other segments involving aligned clusters of points.


InDesign is good at handling graphics, but QuarkXPress is better. For instance, XPress lets you choose a clipping path from among multiple embedded paths in a TIFF image. InDesign can read a single embedded path, but you have to convert the path into a picture box upon importing it.

I agree with Deke that the ability to open native Photoshop and Illustrator files is nifty (even though I prefer Macromedia FreeHand), but I don't think this is necessarily a good thing to do in a real-world workflow. Call me old-fashioned, but I still much prefer to rely on TIFFs and EPS files.


Never were truer words plunked down upon a page! Current publishing programs have been notoriously slow to respond to market conditions. Product managers seek guidance from users; receive bucketloads of suggestions; and then sequester themselves in their offices, only to emerge 18 months or a few years later with a program that is, in many respects, obsolete on arrival. Yesterday's needs are met, but today's are not.

By contrast, InDesign's expandable architecture permits speedier reaction to users' needs. This spring, Adobe plans to ship InCopy, a separate program that works closely in conjunction with InDesign and permits editors to tweak and copyfit text while seeing the results of their efforts on a laid-out page. Meanwhile, rumor has it that Adobe is already working on the next version of InDesign, which should answer the concerns of many current users. I won't say XPress can't keep up–if it can, all the better for us–but Quark has its work cut out for it.


Sorry, Deke, I've got to disagree with you here. Sure, InDesign was written from the ground up to be highly extensible and modular, and yes, this is pretty cool. But when it comes to what this means in the real world, I'm not that excited.

There are over 350 XTensions available for QuarkXPress today, and still only a small percentage of people use them (although they should!). I don't see companies suddenly thinking, "Gosh, now that InDesign is out, we will start buying plug-ins."

Similarly, even though InDesign's modular nature means that Adobe can update the software more easily and frequently, this doesn't necessarily make users' lives any easier–it may mean more upgrades to manage and pay for, more stuff to learn, more chance of problems in workgroups, and so on.

Also see the table ("The FeatureS War: QuarkXPress 4.0 versus Adobe InDesign 1.0")


This is like asking, Which is better, TIFF or EPS? The answer: neither is inherently better; you should choose the one that offers the features you need. I know I'm going to be able to get my work done today with QuarkXPress. I know that InDesign is going to be a rockin' program sometime next year when the next revision comes out. I also know that Quark gets inspired by competition (which it hasn't really had for several years). I think I'd have to go with QuarkXPress.


There's no doubt that InDesign is the best news for XPress users in the last ten years. The worst-case scenario is that it will give Quark the incentive it needs in order to get off its duff and improve the quality of its program. Best-case, it provides you with an alternative. Although even I won't go so far as to pronounce InDesign the definitive publishing application, I urge anyone who's even considered abandoning QuarkXPress to give it a try. InDesign does enough things better than XPress to warrant a test drive. And who knows? If you and InDesign hit it off, you may find yourself entering a long-term relationship with the program–just like me.

QuarkXPress 4 BookTotal Photoshop

January 2000 page: 78

Quark knows how important clipping paths are to graphic designers, and XPress's Clipping dialog box shows it (left). The ability to select from among multiple embedded paths, display the number of points on the Bézier path, and break the image out from the boundaries of the picture box enables designers to really make the most of this technology. InDesign's clipping-path feature (right) is, by contrast, anemic.

Because QuarkXPress hyphenates just one line of type at a time, the word spacing in the top example becomes progressively looser as you read down the column. InDesign's Multi-line Composer feature, on the other hand, continuously looks several lines ahead, ensuring more-consistent spacing. Add to this InDesign's other type features, including optical kerning, hanging punctuation, and automatic ligature replacement–all evident in the bottom example (results circled) –and you get an evenly balanced block of text.

InDesign lets you take a laid-out page (left) and export it as a fully built HTML document (right). The downside? You can't create hyperlinks in InDesign–no small drawback. By contrast, QuarkXPress permits you to export HTML as text only. If you're willing to spend some extra cash, however, QuarkXTensions, such as Extensis BeyondPress, can help.

Overall, QuarkXPress and InDesign both do a mediocre job with color, but in some areas, XPress has the advantage. For example, both InDesign and QuarkXPress let you include Pantone, Trumatch, and other swatch-book colors in your documents, but InDesign makes it difficult. You must open a separate palette for each swatch book (left), you cannot drag and drop colors, and you cannot access these colors from within the New Color Swatch or Edit Color Swatch dialog boxes (you can't even change one PMS color into another one easily). QuarkXPress's Edit Color dialog box (right) is not much to look at, but it's much more versatile.

Comparing a brand-new product with one that's ten years old is rarely a pretty sight. But although Adobe acknowledges that its new program isn't going to win a features war right off the bat, InDesign fares better than you might expect. This list covers primarily features that exist in one program but not the other. However, in some cases, neither product includes the feature yet. Yes, we're fully aware that many of these functions can be performed in QuarkXPress and InDesign if you buy commercial or shareware XTensions, plug-ins, or AppleScripts, but for the sake of this comparison, we're ignoring them.–DAVID BLATNER

The New iMacs
  QuarkXPress 4.0 InDesign 1.0
Character styles
Automatic ligatures
Hanging punctuation
Optical kerning
Multiline hyphenation and justification (H&J)
Vertical justification of text
Multiple-language support A
Ability to apply strokes and blends to text
Text on a path
Unicode support
Customizable tracking and kerning tables
Custom lines B
Display PostScript
Layers palette
Objects can extend past pasteboard
Master pages based on other master pages
Proxy tool in Measurements palette
Guides can be treated as objects
Document-page-to-master-page conversion
Assign specific space between objects
Duplicate objects as you transform
Suppress printout of objects
Create PDFs without Adobe Distiller
Preflight feature
HTML export C
In-software trapping D
Collects fonts with files for output
Printer's spreads E
High-resolution screen previews F
Clipping paths in TIFFs G
Path operations (merge, union, and so on)
Edit imported vector art
Tonal correction for TIFFs
Convert text to outlines
Import PDFs as graphics
Select two or more points on a path
Text wrap around graphics H
Create books (multiple documents as one)
Tables of contents
Opens other page-layout-program formats
Different-size pages in document
Editable keystrokes
Scriptable I
Tabbed palettes ("dockable")
Support for Mac OS 7 and 8 J
Customizable tool preferences
Multiple undo's
Scale tool
Navigation palette
Multiple views of document
Ability to mix spot colors
Gradient swatches
Tint swatches
Drag-and-drop color
"Paper" color

= yes; = no.   A Requires $1,595 QuarkPassport.   B InDesign has few line options and is more labor-intensive; you can specify only dash and space settings for individual lines.   C Text only, with free HTML Text Export Xtension.   D XPress's trapping feature isn't great. InDesign requires PostScript 3 printer with the In-RIP trapping option.   E Will work if you install Adobe PostScript driver 8.6 (included on installation CD).   F Can preview TIFFs and JPEGs with Enhance Preview XT-SE, included with XPress 4.1 install.   G Minimal support; requires conversion of path to frame shape.   H Awkward; wraps only around frame shape.   I Only on the Macintosh.   J Requires Mac OS 8.5 or later.

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