• Price: 779 . 279

  • Company: Quark

  • Pros: Revamped, cleaner interface; adopts many conventions from InDesign; native Illustrator support; extended language support.

  • Cons: Some overdue fixes still to be addressed; current users may find interface and usability challenging; preview version suffered from some slow performance.

Quark has tackled a number of text layout omissions from previous versions – though again InDesign users will spot similarities. QuarkXPress 8 adds container-level grids and baselines, allowing each box to sport its own baseline grid. Interestingly, grids can be saved as Grid Styles – much like character and paragraph styles – and applied to other boxes as you work.

Hanging punctuation has been added, and comprehensively to boot. You can edit a huge variety of hanging punctuation styles, setting values such as trailing punctuation rules, and again save them as styles. The result was fast and accurate in the preview build. It was also refreshing to see that Quark has embraced the need for more granular control over guides, with a double-click on a guide rule calling up a dialog box to adjust a guide's attributes.

The release adds more in the way of image control. You get the feeling that Quark is having to grapple with the fact that, with InDesign part of a creative suite including Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash, it needs to boost image and interactive handling. To a degree it does so, but the question of whether its enough will depend on your own workflow.

A bézier Pen tool certainly ticks many of the more bread-&-butter vector-path requirements that layout designers will have, and it does bring a certain Freehand-feel to the QuarkXPress. You can manipulate points with relative ease, and the right-click (ctrl-click on a Mac) contextual menu has been reworked to enhance most tools and operations. Picture Effects is present and correct, allowing a degree of control over imported images, such as adding blurs – it's just a shame that it still doesn't work with native PSD files, given the new version's extended native PSD support.

Quark hasn't given up on its interactive goals and has embedded its Interactive Designer tool into this version, so you get a decent interactive Flash environment out-of-the-box rather than having to fork out extra for it. For print designers looking to dip their toe into interactive design and reuse print assets, this offers a fairly uncomplicated entry point. It was straightforward to create an interactive project, assign objects to animation elements or animation paths, then quickly set-up trigger events and actions. Everything previewed smartly in Flash Player, though the deeper question – do interactive and Web features actually belong in a DTP package – is still unanswered. Quark seems determined to push the interactive angle, and the cynic would suggest this is a quick and easy way for Quark to have added Flash features to the package.

There's plenty more to get your teeth into, such as thumbnail page navigation actually showing a thumbnail of the pages you're scrubbing through. Quark has added Photoshop and Illustrator shortcut keys, so you can maintain shortcut key consistency when you swap between applications. You can also drag-&-drop elements between different applications, and this proved hassle-free in the preview version.