• Price When Reviewed: £169.39 plus VAT; upgrade £67 plus VAT

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Quark users have always relied on a variety of XTensions – add-on software modules – to extend the capability of QuarkXPress or customize it to their specific needs. Quark’s achingly slow development of its flagship tool and lacklustre adoption of new features has seen third-party developers quick to plug the gaps with their own products. As a result, hundreds of XTensions are available, from free one-trick ponies to commercial ones that cost as much as XPress itself. Extensis’ QX-Tools collection of XTensions has long been a popular choice for designers who want to enhance their productivity. QX-Tools Pro is the latest incarnation, featuring 12 tools that work with QuarkXPress 4.11 and 5.0. By the power of three Three new XTensions make their debut in this version. One of these, QX-Import, allows you to import charts and graphs created in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations directly into your QuarkXPress layout. As these appear as EPS pictures, you do need both applications to import from along with Adobe Illustrator should you need to edit the files. The import procedure is a little clumsy and not particularly faster than exporting an EPS from the application in the first place. However, QX-Import keeps track of imported files and their associated master files, alerting you to any changes to the master. This means if you’re handling a large number of charts and graphs that are being continually updated, QX-Import will certainly make your life a whole lot easier. QX-Collect&Send lets you collect all the fonts and images used in your document, set up a job ticket, compress the collection, and send to an FTP. You can even inspect a job using Extensis’ Preflight Online service, which carries out a basic preflight and flags common output errors – although more detailed professional preflighting involves an extra cost. QX-Shortcuts is another useful addition for both novices and long-standing QuarkXPress users. Organizing all of XPress’ 350 shortcuts into searchable categories with the ability to create custom sets, it means you no longer have to struggle to remember a brilliant keyboard shortcut someone once told you about but you’ve since forgotten. The collection includes nine other XTensions. Several, which Extensis dubs “fine-tune tools” allow you to alter character, paragraph, object and rule attributes from a floating palette with the ability to see results as you make changes. QX-ItemStyles goes one better than Quark’s own style sheets as it works not only text but with lines, picture boxes, and text boxes. You can create styles based on a selected item or on up to 50 attributes, and import and export them as with XPress style sheets. Creating a long document with QX-ItemStyles means making last minute changes much easier: client wants the keyline of every picture box changed to another colour in a larger size? No problem, simply alter the style and hey presto – every instance is changed. QX-FindChange extends XPress’s search-&-replace functions to include all types of items such as picture boxes, lines, and colours. Easier navigation of your document is possible with QX-Viewer and QX-Scaler provides more options for scaling objects. Last but not least, QX-Layers gives QuarkXPress 4.0 users the ability to work with layers – XPress 5.0 has added layer capability to its standard features. Save some dosh Version 5.0 users may also find the Collect&Send XTension redundant, too, as XPress has finally added fuller Collect For Ouput functions including screen and printer fonts, colour profiles, linked and embedded images – although there are plenty of other tools in QX-Tools Pro that make it worthwhile. QuarkXPress 4.0 users, on the other hand, get a cost-effective way to enjoy two of XPress 5.0’s headline new features – and Quark’s lacklustre release doesn’t offer many more – without handing over £328 plus VAT to upgrade. We didn’t encounter many problems with QX-Tools Pro. The inability to undo or reset the attributes in the QX-Character, OX-Paragraph and QX-Objects tools jarred slightly and switching between ItemStyles was at times unresponsive. Overall, there’s something for everyone in this collection of XTensions. From fine-tune tools to essential utilities, QX-Tools Pro will make light work of the tedious chores of layout and save you precious hours that can be spent more creatively.