QuarkXPress 6.5 review

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Just five years ago, QuarkXPress lorded it over the world of professional DTP in the same way that Photoshop currently dominates professional photo-editing. Today though, the publishing landscape has changed completely. Adobe’s all-new InDesign provides more design power and better workflow integration, making QuarkXPress look like a dinosaur from a bygone age. QuarkXPress isn’t quite ready for extinction yet, however, and has released a new version – 6.5. The good news for existing version 6 users – and a shock based on past practice – is that the upgrade is free.

QuarkXPress 6.5 review

To begin with, there’s a hefty 150MB download. Before you click OK, make sure you’re downloading the right version for your setup (depending on whether you bought 6.1 or updated to it). That’s typical of a needlessly complicated installation and a reminder of just how behind-the-times Quark seems these days. While you’re on the site, you should also acquaint yourself with the long list of known issues with the release (and those already solved). Sadly, we can add another, as installing the Full-Resolution Preview XTension led to the program freezing whenever we tried to use 6.5’s main new feature. It all makes you wonder how robust the core code can be – and how Quark could think of letting it out of the door in this state.

So what improvements does version 6.5 offer over 6.1? The first new feature is improved table handling. But don’t get too excited; this isn’t like InDesign’s fully integrated flowing tables. Instead, you can now group tables with other items such as text and picture boxes, which is handy for resizing. And if you group multiple tables together you can use the Modify command’s Grid tab to change their line formatting globally. Guide handling has also been enhanced, so that spread guides on master pages are now visible on spread pages, and intelligently handled when dealing with facing pages. There’s also a new tab in the Edit Print Style dialog that lets you control bleed settings. And when you open a layout created on another system, a new option lets you buy and download any missing fonts from the LinoType library via the Quark Fontstore (you can also download a set of free OpenType fonts once you’ve registered version 6.5).

That’s about it in terms of tweaks to existing features, so what about all-new power? When you’ve unzipped the update you’ll find two new subdirectories – the first includes two small scripts that enable QuarkXPress to be run off a Citrix server rather than locally. The second contains a grab-bag of extras, such as a set of five sample layouts from StockLayouts, discounts on training and certification programs, and free tokens for Creo.com’s file-sharing-via-email system. Slightly more useful are two small XTensions – Custom Slug, which lets you include the project and layout name on your output plates, and PDFBoxer, which automatically includes TrimBox, CropBox and BleedBox information in your exported PDFs.

At this stage you’d be forgiven for thinking that as a response to the threat from InDesign, QuarkXPress 6.5 borders on the pitiable. But don’t give up just yet – there’s one new feature that manages to slightly swing the balance. The QuarkVista XTension appears as a floating Picture Effects palette that you can use to apply effects to imported TIFF, JPEG, PNG, SCT, BMP and GIF bitmap images. We weren’t expecting much from this – just the common ability to lighten, darken and change contrast. But QuarkVista offers a range of the most common image adjustments – Levels, Curves, Brightness/Contrast, Colour Balance, Hue/Saturation, Gamma Correction, Invert, Threshold, Posterize and even Selective Colour. In each case, the power is impressive; the Levels dialog, for example, offers Shadow, Midtone and Highlight sliders, Before and After histograms and a live preview.

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