• Price When Reviewed: 779 . free upgrade

  • Pros: PDF enhancements including layer export options and native transparency support, Scaling and Spelling enhancements, improved content tools, XML import, free upgrade.

  • Cons: Some bugs still evident (acknowledged by Quark), real-time previews and more interactive tools would be welcome. Full price version relatively expensive.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

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There were big changes in the content tool workflow in version 8 of QuarkXPress – you can now draw boxes with the context-sensitive Text and Picture Content tools. This means that you can place content by just drawing a box with either tool and let it change to Text or Picture mode to suit the content you import. It’s a real timesaver.

However users could also accidentally create unwanted boxes with the tool, primarily by dragging their cursor without holding down the command key. Little boxes could be created by accidentally dragging, instead of just clicking on the pasteboard. To remedy this version 8.1 adds some drag tolerance so you have to drag your mouse that little bit more to make a box.

It’s also possible with the new workflow to drag and drop images and other content from the Finder or Adobe Bridge into the content boxes. However this too could cause problems when there was already content on the page, leading to the new content erasing the old. From version 8.1 you now have to hold down the alt/option key when dragging if you want to place such content into an occupied box. Meanwhile a new tool preference specifies if drag-and-dropping can create a new box or not.

The long awaited XML import feature finally makes it into this update. Previously available as an Xtension for version 7, this enables users to place and update content from XML files in a QuarkXPress layout for a print, Web page, or PDF output. Especially useful for creating Flash with variable content in interactive layouts, it can be accessed in the Placeholders palette.

Other enhancements have been made in Item Styles and Item Find/Change, including full integration for drop shadows. You can also now update Item Styles with one click on the new Update Item Styles palette button to reflect changes you make in the layout. There’s also a new Faux Font Warning in both the Measurements palette and in the Usage dialog that indicates if QuarkXPress is applying a faux bold or italic styling.

Quark admits that there are still some outstanding issues with QuarkXPress 8.1 and a list of such bugs is displayed on the Quark website, along with workarounds in many cases. Many workflow bugs have been resolved however. In version 8.1 for example, you can now drag and drop glyphs to the Favorite Glyphs area of the Glyphs palette while full support is now given for character-style sheets embedded in imported Word documents.

The workflow tweaks and fixes in this release are evidence that software engineers really do pay attention to requests sent by users. As a result QuarkXPress 8.1 is an essential upgrade for users of version 8. Small, but significant, touches like XML Import may also prompt new users to invest in the old publishing warhorse.

PDF Native Transparency mode

The new Native Transparency mode allows objects to which transparency has been applied within QuarkXPress to remain unflattened in the final PDF output. As well as offering an enhancement to the export process for files that include transparency, this is aimed at allowing print shops the maximum flexibility in colour management and to address other processes that need to modified in the PDF before final output. It’s not a direct replacement for the Flattened Transparency mode as workflows with older printers might not be able to fully support the capabilities of newer PDF formats.

The new Transparency mode is found under the Options dialog in Export>Layout as PDF. Choosing the ‘Export Transparency Natively’ option gives you a PDF that preserves complex transparency areas, and which don’t get rasterised until the RIP stage of the output process. The facility is automatically disabled if you choose the PDF/X -1a or PDF/X-3 options under the Verification sub-menu however.