Adobe InDesign CS3 review

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By combining photos from Photoshop and drawings from Illustrator with its own text, layout, formatting and output strengths, InDesign CS3 stands out as the central app in Adobe’s vision of the modern publishing workflow. It’s also the only one of the three main CS3 design apps that faces any serious competition.

To win the high-end publishing crown from QuarkXPress, InDesign must tackle head-on the one area where Quark has always excelled – productivity. The working environment is crucial, and the latest InDesign benefits from the new CS3 shared interface – customisable workspaces built on floatable palettes stacked neatly in collapsible docker windows to either side of the screen. For the other CS3 apps, this revolutionises working life, but as InDesign CS2 already boasted a similar system the benefits are less radical.

However, there are plenty of other enhancements that boost productivity: more control is now available via the main context-sensitive Control bar; the Pages palette now shows thumbnails of all pages, and you can drag within it to scroll and right-click to call up context-sensitive commands; double-clicking on an image frame automatically shifts from the Select to Direct Select tool so you can edit its content; frame fitting can now be set up in advance and as part of an object style; and the Quick Apply dialog now lists scripts as well as commands and offers filtering shortcuts.

The most impressive efficiency boost is completely new. You can now load multiple files for placing by dragging and dropping from the bundled version of Bridge CS3. Each file is represented at the cursor by a preview thumbnail, which you can quickly cycle through to place in the order you want. Multiple import naturally proves most useful when working with images, but it also works with text files and InDesign’s own INDD files. This new support for embedding native files means multiple users can collaborate on a single layout. However, unlike QuarkXPress 7’s composition zones, such collaboration is limited to single-page, rectangular areas.

As a professional publishing package, InDesign needs to be able to deal with any project that’s thrown at it, and one of the main focuses of this release is better handling of more advanced publications. A good example is the ability to create automatically bulleted and numbered list sequences with support for prefixes, style-based hierarchies and non-contiguous control. There’s also support for text variables that proves most valuable when linked to styles, making it possible to set up running headers and footers that pick out text from the current page.

InDesign CS3 also supports automatic formatting of tables based on styles. The level of control is exceptional, with the ability to specify advanced features such as alternating, and custom, column and row patterns. You can also set up separate cell-based styles and these can be incorporated into the table style. The result is you can import tables from Excel or Word and consistently format them, complete with styled headers, footers and first and last column, and all with a single click.

Perhaps the most powerful feature in InDesign CS3 is its radically enhanced Find/Change command. This lets you search across multiple documents, specify whether features such as locked and hidden layers should be included, and lets you save queries for reuse. More importantly, the dialog is now tabbed, so you’re no longer limited to traditional text searches, but can also search for particular glyphs or use regular expression-based GREP searches to find patterns and process the results (think wildcard searches on steroids). Most powerful of all is the new ability to find and change object properties. You can specify and change basic attributes from style, stroke and fill through to anchor position and frame fitting. You can also search and replace based on a new feature of InDesign CS3 – object effects.

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