QuarkXPress 8 review
A modern makeover and new Flash authoring capabilities put a real spring in the step of this old timer.
Review Date: 19 Jun 2008
Reviewed By: Tom Arah
Price when reviewed: £779 (£896 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Ease of Use
QuarkXPress is one of the few truly revolutionary applications. Twenty years ago Quark took the simple hands-on approach to DTP pioneered by PageMaker, grafted on some high-end control, and reinvented the publishing industry.
For a decade QuarkXPress ruled the world of commercial print design but then threw it away and allowed Adobe InDesign to seize its publishing crown. Winning it back will demand something special - which is exactly what Quark is promising for this new release. The slogan for QuarkXPress 8 is: 'Revolutionizing Publishing. Again.'
The claimed revolution starts with a major redesign of the QuarkXPress interface. This has to be something of a balancing act as the last thing that Quark wants to do is to throw away familiarity and productivity. However there's still plenty of improvement beyond the new blue colour scheme. Particularly welcome are the new command icons at the bottom of the main document window which let you navigate between pages, toggle between master and page view, split the screen and quickly export your layout.
Quark has been braver than we expected, however, and completely restructuring the main toolbox. There are just eight tools on display here with a similar number of variations available as flyouts. Critically, the previously separate text and picture box tools have merged: you can now add your container and load in either text or images. Even better, you can simply import files directly and QuarkXPress 8 will automatically create the necessary boxes. You can even drag and drop files directly into your layout; and out again for editing in Photoshop for example.
QuarkXPress 8 is also more intelligent about how box content is handled. To begin with, double-clicking with the Item tool automatically selects the right tool for the box type (QuarkXPress 8 also now offers single key tool shortcuts to make life even simpler). Here the new Picture Content tool is a revelation. In previous versions sizing, cropping, rotating and offsetting photos was an awkward process involving multiple tools or numeric dialog box entry. Here it's handled smoothly and interactively with keyboard modifiers providing the necessary control.
The process isn't just more efficient, the creative freedom it enables will lead to more exciting use of images and better designs. The same is true of the new ability to quickly rotate boxes simply by dragging on a corner which will encourage designers to break out from predictable grid-like layouts.
Another tool that has been seriously reworked is QuarkXPress 8's Pen tool. By default this now creates Bézier paths as a sequence of control points just as the Pen tool does in Adobe Illustrator.
Other flyout tools let you add, delete and convert control points, but it seems odd at first that there are no shape tools. In fact this apparent shortcoming proves a strength as you can quickly convert any text glyph to an editable box. And now you can convert multiple lines, entire stories and even entire spreads while fully maintaining the appearance of the text during conversion.
The hands-on drawing power that QuarkXPress 8 offers is impressive and adds another dimension to design work but it can't compete with the dedicated vector handling of market-leading Adobe Illustrator. Quark's solution is to add direct support for Illustrator's native AI files. It's not up there with the Illustrator support that InDesign offers, nor with QuarkXPress' own support for Photoshop PSD files, but it certainly helps close the gap.
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