The Digital Dish: QuarkXPress vs. Adobe InDesign
It doesn't take much to figure out that the biggest battle in the electronic publishing arena in the coming months will be between QuarkXPress 5 and InDesign 2. The features will be flying as the challenger from Adobe goes up against the leader from Quark Inc.
Is there such a magic feature that makes InDesign the Quark-killer? Or what new addition will be enough reason to persuade millions of Quark users to upgrade to version 5 from Quark 4.1 or – finally -- 3.3, for those stuck in the '90s.
The problem is that when you look at the general feature lists, the two programs start to look very similar: both have tables; both have some form of layers; both have XML support. Deeper inspection reveals that XPress 5 will have much better support for HTML output. However, InDesign 2 counters with the ability to apply transparency in InDesign as well as to read transparency in native Photoshop files.
But you know, I don't have to worry about choosing between XPress or InDesign. I made that decision several months ago - not based on the whiz-bang features of what's coming next year, in versions not yet released, but what's already here today in software you can buy now. (Want to guess which one I chose? Here's a hint: I am the author of "InDesign 1.0/1.5 Visual Quickstart Guide" (Peachpit Press), but I produced that book with QuarkXPress 4.1.)
Typography is the Key
One of the very first desktop publishing assignments I ever had was to create the quarterly newsletter for a big advertising and special-events company. This company had hired a very high-priced design firm to create the design and sample pages for the newsletter. After many months, and several thousand dollars later, they had a printed sample and a QuarkXPress template. They produced the first issue on their own, and then for the next quarter's edition gave me the sample pages and template and told me to do the next issue.
In the sample pages they had specifications for all the type and text elements: headlines, sub heads, captions, body text, etc. One of the specs was hanging punctuation for all body text. I went to the creative director and asked him about the hanging punctuation. I told him that it was very difficult to do such a thing in QuarkXPress, and asked how they had accomplished it in the first issue they produced themselves. He blithely told me that they had thrown out that design spec. Hence, no hanging punctuation.
Amazing! They had paid close to $100,000 for the design, but were quite willing to throw it all away because a $700 application didn't support the look as designed.
Over my next 12 years of teaching QuarkXPress, many designers and art directors would ask me how to create hanging punctuation. Sadly, the answer always was: "With great difficulty." That's why InDesign's Optical Margin Alignment, which creates the look of hanging punctuation as well as hanging the edges of serifs, was the number one reason why I switched from XPress to InDesign 1.5.
Once I started working with InDesign, I noticed something I didn't expect to feel so strongly about -- the high-quality onscreen previews of placed images. This feature meant that for the first time I could actually see details in placed EPS images. For someone who has created five versions of a book on Macromedia FreeHand, this was a godsend. I never expected previews to be such an important thing, but they were. Suddenly I was able to align callouts to details in placed images that I had never been able to see before. The freeware Special Edition of Enhance Preview XT XTension that ships with XPress improves the preview of pixel-based images, but it does not work on EPS images. This gives InDesign a clear edge.
Tiny Little Things
My final reasons for switching from XPress to InDesign feel very small, but it's the little things that really matter:
Drag a copy. As a long-time Adobe Illustrator user, I have become very used to Opt/Alt-drag to create a copy of objects. InDesign also has the same feature. I've gotten so used to the Opt/Alt-drag that I've tried to use it on the rare occasions that I've had to demonstrate something in XPress.
And undos! I can't tell you how long it took me to remember that I could undo not just once, but many times. In fact, there were so many times in XPress that I couldn't even undo once (mostly when actions involved working with more than one page) that I had just about given up looking to undo at all.
I'd Rather Switch Than Fight
However, my love for InDesign is not blind. I am very sorry to see that with version 2 InDesign lacks the ability to create custom dashes and stripes for rules and frames that have been in XPress for quite some time. I used to have a special stripe that would allow me to automatically create a white knockout around a black rule. It's not been easy to give up that nuance in my layouts and the manual workarounds are very cumbersome and awkward to do.
If I did more work with spot colors, I might be sorely tempted to move back to XPress to take advantage of its multi-ink features which let you easily blend spot and process colors. InDesign's overprint preview is nice if I were to set spot colors to overprint, but that doesn't quite match multi-inks.
So I'll be patient and wait till InDesign 3 goes up against QuarkXPress 6. If InDesign doesn't have my stripes and multi-inks by then, I'm going back to QuarkXPress.
Read more by Sandee Cohen.