QuarkXPress 9 review

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

  • Price When Reviewed: £779 or £279 for an upgrade

  • Pros: EPUB and Blio export; Cloner and Linkster; Story Editor; ShapeMaker; Conditional Styles

  • Cons: No test or edit utility to help preview electronic publications; no live preview for ShapeMaker

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QuarkXPress 9 encompasses two strands of new features -- design-driven automation and dedicated tools for digital publishing.

A prime example of the former is Conditional Styles, a way of applying styles to paragraphs based on the content of the text. A menu-driven interface lets you build up the conditional style, selecting which style sheets to apply at which point in the paragraph. Typical trigger points could be when a specified number of characters or the end of the paragraph is reached – you can apply a style and have it format backwards from the end of a paragraph, for example. InDesign already offers similar automation with its Nested Styles, so it’s a welcome feature in QuarkXPress 9.

Another catch-up with InDesign is the Story Editor. As in the Adobe version, this opens selected text blocks in a separate window from the layout, letting you edit the copy without distraction. A time-saver is the ability to apply bullets and lists from a pop-up menu. Default number, bullet and outline styles can be set.

Callout Anchors can now be inserted to associate page elements such as boxes, images or pull quotes with a particular point in the body text. If the text is then reflowed to another page, the anchored item (the callout) is also pulled along. Again it’s a welcome feature that will save time.

Such automation also works at the document level. The Cloner feature, for example, can duplicate pages or selections on those pages. It offers a very quick way of transferring pages and elements in an open or closed document to pages in the same document or a completely new layout. It’s an efficient tool that also makes it possible to split a multi-page layout into multiple single-page layouts. Linkster lets you unlink text boxes to work on the content without causing reflow, while a dialog box offers options to create new stories from the newly isolated text.

QuarkXPress 9 can automatically create a grid of images from a folder of pictures, resize and caption them all, then add effects like drop shadows to each one. The Image Grid utility lets you specify the shape of the picture boxes and how the content fits the pictures into each box. The results are impressive: a folder containing eight large Tiff files was imported as a stylised grid almost instantaneously.

ShapeMaker is another graphics utility, one that can produce shape objects within QuarkXPress. Menus and slider controls let you create shapes based on waves, polygons, spirals and rectangles. The most powerful aspect of ShapeMaker is its ability to update the shape of an existing box in your layout instead of creating a new item.

QuarkXPress 9 lets you export layouts to a variety of digital formats, including the Blio and EPUB ebook formats. The procedure for the two formats is straightforward, involving designers restructuring the layout to create eBook-friendly content.

Several features of this release will benefit time-poor designers, but the eBook tools need polishing.

With new palettes and menu commands, you can select text and page components and assemble them in new ‘reflowed’ articles that are more suited to an eBook reader. A table of contents can be added for better navigation, and interactivity can be embedded in the layout in the form of slideshows, movies and URLs; XML tags are added automatically. Though it does lack a tester utility as part of the application for previewing such publications.

Quark recently announced an App Studio feature for its Quark Publishing System. Quite simply, App Studio lets you turn a document designed in QuarkXPress into an app destined for the Apple App Store, thereby letting publishers take advantage of this new marketplace without the cost of bespoke app development. Quark also recognised that this would be a pretty useful feature for the desktop version of QuarkXPress. It’s being developed for QuarkXPress 9, but it won’t be ready until later this summer as part of a free v9.1 upgrade. In the meantime, Quark is offering an iPad Publishing Service that anyone with QuarkXPress 8.5 can use. The service comes in two halves: first, you design the layout; then you send it to Quark where a team of developers will convert it into an app. 

The cost of a one-off publication is £312. For multiple issues there’s the start-off fee of £312, plus a further £312 for each subsequent issue (all prices ex VAT). So, for example, if you wanted to create one title and publish five issues the price would be £312 x 5 or £1,560. 

he iPad Publishing Service will be wound up once the App Studio has shipped for QuarkXPress 9. For now, it only supports Apple’s App Store but Quark is planning to add support for Google’s Android Market later in the year. Using the App Studio XTension does feel a little idiosyncratic, some of the options are limited and it’s frustrating not to be able to see the effects as you work on the project. But there’s a good chance that most of these issues will be dealt with when the App Studio for QuarkXPress 9 comes out.  For now, this service does make it feasible for smaller publishers to develop their own apps, thus tapping into a potentially lucrative market without the overhead of having to develop a bespoke solution. As such, it’s a good short-term solution until the App Studio itself comes to QuarkXPress 9.1.

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