QuarkXPress 2016 is due for imminent release. It has a lot of new features. One of them — based on my pre-test of the Final Release candidate — will change my workflow for ever.
It’s this: QuarkXPress now pastes graphics from other applications, and converts them into native Quark objects. It will do the same thing (if asked) with EPS files, PDFs and others.
Sound like something everything else already does? Well, not really.
Illustrator and InDesign already happily cross copy into each other. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that they are part of the same Adobe Creative Suite. The problem comes when you try pasting from Excel into either of them. People supplying files for design love Excel. They can quickly make graphs that look so good. The problem is, when you paste them into Illustrator, the text turns to garbage. It’s generally quicker to remake graph in Illustrator rather than to correct all the garbage. InDesign just pastes an unusable low-resolution image of the chart.
It’s not just Excel. InDesign gives up when trying to import and convert even a relatively simple map, derived from GIS software. Illustrator will do it, but it retains so much extraneous stuff that the files are huge and cumbersome. The same is true trying to open general document PDFs in Illustrator. There are so many unnecessary bits and pieces that it takes up to twenty minutes to extract a simple chart.
Until now, QuarkXPress resolutely refused to convert anything except text. It was a Desk Top Publishing package, and you imported graphics print-ready, and used them like that.
From version 2016, that changes.
QuarkXPress will now take most kinds of graphics — including the nightmare Excel graphs — and convert them into a group of useable objects straight off. It’s pretty intelligent about text. Some applications still try to send stuff across as images, but QuarkXPress will convert even them if you save as PDF. Files derived from Illustrator or InDesign, which are much better behaved, work without incident either pasted or imported and converted. Files from Magic Maps — even ones which Illustrator gets sniffy about — convert as well. With PDF files, you can limit conversion to just the section of the page that you are interested in, resulting in clean stuff that you can use straight away.
But why, you may ask. Why not just use Excel graphics? Why convert anything? Surely vector graphics, like PDFs and EPS files, are fully scalable anyway. Why not just use them as they are?
The answer comes down to brand and document consistency. It is possible to persuade Excel to use brand compliant RGB colours, but it is tedious, especially if someone has sent you the file using whatever colour scheme came out of the box. Getting it to use Pantone colours is much more difficult. Then there’s fonts. Excel (and quite a few other applications) really don’t like having huge numbers of fonts, and quite often refuse to recognise some of them. You can (and should) use a font manager such as FontExplorer Pro to keep things under control, but given the hundreds of unrequired fonts that new bits of software insist on installing, it’s a bit of a chore. So, sometimes the brand-compliant font you want to use just doesn’t appear in Excel.
If working in Illustrator, you should certainly be able to get the colours and the fonts right, but what about the font size? On revision number six of a complex business document, you suddenly need to resize the graphic on page 14 to 43% of the original size. No problem for an EPS file, an AI or a PDF, except that the fonts are now the wrong size. If you’ve worked (as you should) hard to have a rigorously consistent design grid with harmonious type sizes, suddenly having things appear in 6.37 point or 9.22 is going to make everything messy. Often, with graphics created for a PowerPoint presentation and supplied as PDF, the size won’t even be that, it will be 2.33 point: absolutely illegible in print, and not even resolvable with a magnifying glass if printed on an office printer-copier, inkjet or laser.
It’s embarrassing to see how often illegible text appears even in printed books by major business publishing houses.
And then there’s proof-corrections. You’re working on a document and the proof-reader helpfully spots that there are misspellings in the graphics. Fine, you go back to the Illustrator originals. This is ok, if cumbersome, until you go to a graphic from an earlier version of Illustrator, and the dialog box appears saying ‘to preserve appearance, some of your text has been outlined’. At that point, you’re stuck with having to retype it anyway. In QuarkXPress 2016, you can manage all the corrections as you go.
Is this really such a big deal?
When I was first told that this would be an upcoming feature, I thought ‘fine, Quark is catching up’. It wasn’t until I started working with it that I discovered just how deep Quark has gone with it. My go-to workhorse for transmuting graphics of all origins has always been Illustrator. It’s not until I worked with Quark’s implementation that I realised what a smooth, seamless workflow would really do. Although Illustrator is pretty good at converting things, it can end up with dozens of layers of nested groups, and, in many cases, text converted into thousands of individual letters—and that’s not counting the Excel, Word and PowerPoint text which comes across as rubbish.
QuarkXPress 2016 just does it. True, it isn’t 100% with everything: there are so many odd applications out there with their own view of what should go onto the clipboard, and QuarkXPress can only convert what it is sent. Still, for almost all of those applications, you can export as PDF and QXP will have a really good go at converting them. I’m still playing around with it, as the Final Master preview has only been available for a few days. So far, Quark keeps up with Illustrator for all but the most complex map files, and the results — most especially from Microsoft applications — are dramatically cleaner and more useful.
This isn’t just graphics. QuarkXPress 2016 will import an entire PDF page and convert it into a layout that you can immediately use. Suddenly, every PDF you ever produced, including the ones from Corel Ventura, can be the basis of a new document. You can copy an entire page from InDesign and start working immediately with that. In all cases, all the brand colours will be brought into your colour palette.
Why I use QuarkXPress
I’ve owned Adobe InDesign right from the very first edition, and have it on my system as part of my Adobe CC subscription. And yet I always use QuarkXPress, unless a client absolutely requires me to work with InDesign. When I was running graphics departments, I always specified QuarkXPress as the Desk Top Publishing platform. During the same period, many design houses moved over to InDesign, largely ‘because it was free’ — Adobe’s price structuring meant that you paid the same price to own a whole suite of stuff as to just own Photoshop and Illustrator. More on that in a minute.
It mainly used to be about speed. QuarkXPress runs faster than pretty much every edition of InDesign (I’m on a Mac, and can’t speak for Windows PCs). That isn’t so much an issue these days. Computers are now so fast, and have so much memory, that things don’t grind to a halt like they used to do. Certainly, though, Quark has always been more productive for me.
InDesign does offer a lot of features, such as DataMerge, which are available in Quark only as additional extensions. The flip side of this is that Quark offers some nifty features of its own, such as Super Step and Repeat, ShapeMaker and advanced grids which InDesign doesn’t. The ‘obvious’ reason for using InDesign, aside from cost, which I’ll come back to, was that it was supposed to work like Photoshop and Illustrator, so there would be less to learn. The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t. Some features superficially resemble Illustrator, but, deep down, you can see it’s a different beast.
Quark’s big advantage, which becomes more important the more that you try to create consistent brands and rapid, error-proof workflows, is consistency. InDesign does allow you to use style sheets, of course, and Quark does allow you to format every single bit of text from the measurements panel. However, consistency is baked into Quark, whereas it always seems a bit like the icing in InDesign. The biggest example of this is Quark’s Job Jacket functionality. Casual users will find this strange, even alien, but if you are supervising not just a print job but an entire rebrand, Job Jackets enable you to create consistency across a complete portfolio, and then to make changes across every document, just by changing the job jacket. You can also use it to impose rules about minimum font sizes, what fonts are permitted, what colours, and so on — all the things which are so hard to evaluate prior to print, but so crucial to consistent branding. InDesign can pre-flight as well, but it pre-flights according to technical rules for reproduction. Quark’s pre-flighting does that, and more.
The big draw for InDesign was cost. You really can’t say fairer than ‘free’. Or can you? When ID was introduced, it was a genuinely zero cost add-on to Creative Suite, which was itself cheaper than buying the upgrade for both Illustrator and Photoshop, neither of which had realistic competitors. It’s still as cheap to get the whole CC bundle as to own Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat Pro separately, but the costs have started to spiral. An annual subscription, excluding VAT, comes in the region of £456 for Adobe Creative Cloud. You no longer have the option of buying the software outright and keeping it. Adobe would argue that you get access to lots more things with it, and you do, but many of them are things already covered by other software, or things you would never actually use. True, you get all the upgrades and updates but, since CS3, there have been no upgrades to Photoshop or Illustrator that are actually useful to me, except compatibility with the latest operating system. Every update breaks plugins that I rely on.
QuarkXPress has a more traditional model. You buy the software, it’s yours to keep. The initial entry price is steep, but the upgrade price is low. You can upgrade from any version of Quark to 2016 for the same price, except if you’re upgrading from 2015 it’s half the upgrade price. Ring them up and haggle, and you might get it for even less. If you want to skip an upgrade, that’s up to you.
By my reckoning, keeping up with Quark on an annual basis costs about £150 a year — if you choose to upgrade every time. Version 9 still runs on the latest version of OS X. Quark doesn’t officially support older versions on newer operating systems, but it does release patches, and has done, so that versions 9, 10 and 2015 run on El Capitan. That means that, without actually promising it, Quark will have four versions of its software, spanning five years, running on the latest Macs. If the features of QuarkXPress 2016 are compelling enough for you, you can go straight from version 9 to 2016 for about £300 — effectively a cost of £60 a year.
If you work for a not-for-profit (not just registered charities), or are in education, the full version comes at more or less the upgrade price.
Other stuff in QuarkXPress 2016
The new version doesn’t just come with conversion into native objects. It now fully supports Open Type stylistic sets and multi-colour Open Type transformations, has multi-coloured gradients which can also be applied through item styles, improves its footnoting, introduces better cross-referencing, fits boxes to text, brings back the Eye Dropper—previously an Xtension— introduces dynamic guides, improves content variables, and, perhaps biggest of all, entirely revamps its digital publishing so that you can directly export HTML5 web apps or web pages, as well as better Kindle documents and ePubs. Importantly, all the previous Xtensins are compatible with the new version without having to wait for upgrades. These are all great features. The one that changes my workflow totally, though, is the ability to bring the graphics into the document and manage them consistently from there. Things will never be the same again.
Disclaimer—this is based on the pre-release version of QuarkXPress. I have paid for my upgrade to 2016 and will not be receiving a free copy.