QuarkXpress 8.1

QuarkXPress 8 was a fairly thorough restructuring of the venerable DTP application.

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Quark QuarkXpress 8.1

Pros

  • DF 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.

Bottom Line

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.

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QuarkXPress 8 was a fairly thorough restructuring of the venerable DTP application. This update, free to registered users of version 8, is mainly concerned with addressing bugs and sorting out the workflow. However there are some new capabilities, especially in terms of PDF creation.

QuarkXPress now allows you to apply opacity separately to text, boxes, contents, and frames, but this wasn’t fully supported when exporting to PDF. A new native transparency mode has now been added as an option to the existing Flattened Transparency mode (see right). Transparency in general is still a bit clunky however- it could do with having a real time preview to make things more interactive.

PDF handling is further enhanced by support for the creation of PDF layers. This is to be found in the PDF Export Options box and lets you apply controls and settings on a layer-by-layer basis. Each layer can be quickly turned on and off independently for output. Applications that support preflight controls, like Acrobat, can access these layers within PDFs so in a boost to productivity you can send one PDF that contains multiple variants of content. This is ideal for an article or document in multiple languages for example, where otherwise you would have to send a PDF for each language variant of the document.

Also on the PDF front, there’s a new keyboard shortcut to learn. Command/Ctrl-Option-P is now the Export as PDF command. Another new keyboard command and Edit menu option allows you to now paste text into QuarkXPress with or without formatting.

A new standalone palette for spell checking has also improved text handling. This allows you to keep working on your layout, adjusting text during the checking process.

Another new palette allows precise scaling of anything from a single item to an entire layout, so aiding productivity. The Scale palette offers a choice of numerical or percentage-based scaling, while a large offering of preferences means you can fully customise the effect.

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.

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