I remember vividly the first time I encountered Quark XPress. While attending School of Visual Arts in New York, I found a job listing for a catalog design firm with part time hours. I needed to make money since it turned out that pens, paper, oil paints and piles of new computer equipment were more than I had expected.
A design firm had a part time position open in the evening shift for a Quark XPress expert. They paid an amazing $20 an hour and had hours that fit perfectly into my schedule. The only catch: I had to be an expert in Quark — a program I hadn’t even touched yet — and I had to take a proficiency test.
For three days I poured over a copy of a Quark XPress manual, trying to learn everything I could about the design program. When the test came I did just well enough to be accepted for the job, launching a decade long love-hate relationship with Quark. I spent months working with the nitty-gritty insides of Quark as I helped build catalogs for huge clients like American Express, and some of the clothing giants.
Fast forward many years, and I find myself needing to layout a two hundred page book prototype and naturally I turned to my old friend Quark XPress, and spent a few days refreshing my memory.
This time though the “hate” was starting to outweigh the “love.” Quark’s little peculiarities were grating on my nerves, probably because I now spend so much time working with Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator. Time after time I’d hit “Command-+” to try to zoom in, or try to drag and drop files that Quark choked on.
I picked up my reviewer’s copy of InDesign 1.5 and imported my Quark document. Without even reading the manual I found the program familiar enough that I could get just about everything I needed accomplished. Even if I didn’t know where a function was in a menu, I knew where to look. Better yet though, I could use all the key combinations of Photoshop, and natively use the files. After ten years of using Quark I made the switch, and haven’t looked back. Still, InDesign had the feel of an unfinished work, a gem that was waiting for a bit of polishing. And of course InDesign 1.5 wasn’t designed for OS X.
So when Adobe announced InDesign 2.0, an enhancement to their desktop publishing program that was not only heralded as the long-prophesized “Quark Killer,” but was OS X native to boot, I began to drool. After many hours of pouring over the program I’ve come to find that it surpasses InDesign 1.5 in both feature set, and ease of use, and has entered the realm of “crucially important tool” along with Photoshop, Illustrator and the former king of the DTP hill, Quark.
First of all, Quark isn’t dead, or dying (well not quickly anyhow). Quark has so many legions of loyal followers, so much legacy content and such a developer base that people will continue to use the program for the foreseeable future. But InDesign 2.0 marks the end of the publishing monopoly (just as Quark did for the then beleaguered PageMaker) and finally gives designers an alternative tool from a company that seems dedicated to producing new versions faster than the time it takes to gain a degree from an art school.
For those unfamiliar with InDesign’s feature set, suffice it to say that the program offers very familiar feeling page layout tools in an application that takes all of its visual clues from its siblings.
The InDesign programmers have obviously spent a lot of time trying to figure out what tools could enhance the life of a designer, and crammed as many of those as possible into this update. To give an example, Photoshop 7’s New Features guide is less than half as long as that of InDesign.
Light as a Feather
Users of the program will probably first be smitten with the new transparency tools. InDesign can create transparencies on its own, as well as import graphics from Photoshop with transparency information intact. Time was that a designer had to make a graphic transparent, flatten the file, save it as a TIFF and place it in a design program. Want to change that transparency? No problem. Just open up Photoshop, modify the original image, re-flatten it, re-save it and re-import it.
With InDesign, a designer can drop in a native Photoshop file (or any other type of supported image) and adjust the opacity through a familiar Photoshop-like slider, complete with blending modes.
Blending modes can be applied to all the items in a document under the transparency, or can be set to apply only to a group of items. A page with a transparency gets a new icon in the page palette, which is really useful when a job is finished and four-color separations are being produced.
Now I’m as big of a fan of transparencies as the next guy, but what really blew me away was the ability to modify the border of an image through a new Feather command. Found under the Object menu (though more suitable for the transparency palette) the Feather command allows any image to be blended in to the background by automatically feathering the edges. Sharp, rounded or diffused corners can be selected, and a dialog box allows for pixel level control.
Any object can have a drop shadow applied as well through a new menu choice, again found under the Object menu. As a result objects can have drop shadows, feathering and transparency applied.
Once a document is ready to print a “flattener style” is selected. Simply put, transparency effects have to be translated from a screen image to something that can print under the limitations of different media. Choosing the style of the flattening is a way to select how colors interact on paper. This current method doesn’t feel like a simple solution the problem of calculating the massive amounts of data inherent in the overlapping of semi-opaque objects, but it’s a workable way to tune an image to maximize print quality.
The Tables are Turned
InDesign brings totally new table controls to the design process, a welcome addition to any design program. Tables are snap to create either from scratch, or when importing from applications like Word. To start a new table select “Insert Table” from the Table Menu, and to covert choose “Convert Text to Table.” It’s that easy. It’s also that easy to create nested tables, split tables, rotate text 90 degrees, merge cells, change formatting, change alignment and more. InDesign even uses a Quark-like feature to manage a long table through linking the frames.
Strangely though, the one thing I couldn’t figure out how to do was change the table colors from the default CMYK values in the program. It’s great that I can have a table that’s dark green and light green, but what if I want one that’s blue and pink (don’t ask). I’m sure it’s possible, but I couldn’t find the setting.
One of my longest running grievances with older publishing apps was a lack of a way to look at a layout on the screen without all the rule lines, frames, and other design tools that make it difficult to precisely judge what an image will look like. InDesign has a new Preview Mode that removes all the design guides from the screen. Of course with OS X this can also be accomplished with a print preview, but it’s nice to be able to save a step. It would be nicer though if this preview could display a full screen preview in the same fashion as Photoshop (where all the programs’ menus and toolbars are hidden).
InDesign and Fonts
Remember the good old days where a font was a PostScript Type 1 font? And then remember when TrueType fonts cropped up, making things more confusing for designers everywhere?
Welcome OpenType fonts, a (useful) collaboration between Adobe and Microsoft, a format that can contain vastly larger amounts of information than PostScript or TrueType fonts. OpenType fonts can contain a huge amount of “glyphs” or non-standard characters. OpenType also supports Unicode data so that one font could contain the characters for multiple languages.
The downside is that there aren’t a lot of OpenType fonts, though Adobe is presumably hard at work. Each part of a font family runs about $35.00 on Adobe’s site. (For example Myriad Pro Light Semicondensed is $35.00, and the whole family is $229.00) A few sample fonts ship on the Adobe InDesign CD (look in the GoodiesAdobe Open Type Fonts folder).
If you’ve ever tried to figure out exactly which part of a large image to crop inside of a small image frame, you’ll be familiar with the act of dragging the image back and forth, trying to get the perfect match.
Instantly aligning an image inside a frame in InDesign is a simple chore with the new Dynamic Graphics Preview feature. Take any cropped image and click-hold on it with the Direct Selection Tool. The “hand” icon changes to a pointer, and the non-cropped area appears grayed out. When the image is dragged at this point, the cropping remains fixed, but the picture slides around behind the frame. Line the image up, and release the cursor. It’s really that easy.
Take everything you know about print drivers, and throw it out. InDesign has completely revamped the print dialog box, with some surprisingly good changes, and a few oddities. First of all, InDesign no longer requires Laserwriter 8 to print, which means that 0S 9 users should now be dancing up and down with joy.
In a very iPhoto-ish movie, InDesign now takes over a printer’s driver, allowing for configuration of most printer-specific options directly through it’s well thought out dialog boxes. Those printing to non-PostScript devices such as inkjets run into a strange situation where the InDesign driver doesn’t provide controls for image output quality. The solution is simple, InDesign provides access to the native print driver, but warns that one should “…Please set all pint options in InDesign rather than in the operating system dialog box.”
The InDesign print controls do, however maintain settings between each print job, making it easier to ensure that each job meets the same output criteria. Anyone who has ever used an inkjet and forgotten to change the settings from the default resolution to a higher one will be overjoyed to find that InDesign maintains those as well as a host of other options.
InDesign also sports the best graphical interface I’ve seen for depicting exactly how a page will be laid out of any program. The visual feedback for page layout is intuitive and results in fewer blown print jobs.
Adobe touts the cross-platform similarities in the dialog boxes, and while I wasn’t provided with a Windows copy of the application, screenshots indicate that both versions look remarkably similar at this stage.
New offset printing controls include trapping using Adobe’s RIP, and also sports controls to manage ink usage. Master pages can now be printed, as can layout guides, non-pintables and thumbnails for each page. Users can also control how bleeds are handled across different sides of each page.
InDesign provides three tools for managing creation of long book projects; TOC generation, index creation and the book palette.
TOCs are generated through application of paragraph styles and a clever dialog box that creates a new page with a completely generated Table of Contents. Making a TOC from a project only took a few minutes, and was relatively straightforward.
Indices however scare me. I’ve never had to deal with them, and the settings dialog box is overwhelming. Suffice it to say that if you create Indices for a living, you’ll probably be able to find anything you need in InDesign.
Pulling all of these elements together is the Book Palette, a tabbed interface for managing multiple documents inside one larger project. (Excel has used this metaphor for years.) Dragging documents around the Book Palette rearranges their order, and changes their numbering, position in the TOC, and their Index.
XML for Everyone
InDesign now sports so many XML features it’s as if a second XML design program had been built inside the first one. The Xmedia plug-in (included on a second CD with InDesign) opens up a whole world of XML with a simple paragraph-style-like interface.
But That’s Not All
InDesign also packs a few dozen new improvements in the upgrade. Some of the highlights: multiple undo and redo, WebDAV support, Photoshop like layers, masterpage creation based on other masterpages, conversion of Quark XPress 3.3- 4.x files more smoothly than InDesign 1.5, optical kerning, zoomable navigation from 5 percent to 4000 percent, custom page sizes from 1 pica to 1296 square pica (that’s 18 feet), text on path with 3D effects, eyedropper tool that samples formatting, preflighting tools, keyboard shortcut editor, and editable gradients.
Wrap It Up
For many people, the fact that InDesign is OS X native while Quark languishes in Classic is reason enough to rush out and purchase the program. Adobe has recently sweetened the pot by offering a $300 rebate to any Quark XPress owner.
I’m hard pressed to find a reason for the small design shop to stick with Quark, except to work on legacy files. Larger houses with an investment in Xtensions and Quark’s workflow management will be more reticent to make a switch, however. While some have mixed feelings about Adobe products, it can’t be denied that the company puts a lot of effort into revamping their core applications on a regular basis.
InDesign seems to be a major part of Adobe’s campaign to dominate the design and publishing industry, and as such it’s likely that the product will be upgraded and improved with a frequency that Quark can’t — or more likely won’t — match.
For many InDesign will be the long-awaited “Quark Killer” while for others the program will set off a debate that can only mean long-term benefits for the design industry.