QuarkXPress 10 review
Price: £799 plus VAT
Pros: New user interface. Improved image displays. New tools. Cocoa code-base.
Cons: Pricey. Loss of some familiar menus
Despite clocking up a quarter century last year years old, Quark hasn’t run out of ideas for its venerable design and layout program. The finally-here QuarkXPress 10 – or Quark 10 as you're probably referring to it – is a major upgrade with a lot of new code and some 50 new or modified features. It concentrates on improving usability and productivity rather than adding many new tools.
Code-wise, the Mac version of Quark 10 is now entirely Cocoa-native, meaning it’s fully integrated into OS X at last (previously it used Carbon, originally devised to ease the transition from OS 9 more than a decade ago).
Using Cocoa lets Quark 10 tap directly into modern OS X functions, such as full screen previewing, recent file lists, and awareness of Font Book activations/deactivations. It’s ready to run with Apple’s forthcoming Mavericks OS too. If your Mac has a Retina screen, QuarkXpress will switch to a higher-resolution display. Windows users get full compliance with Windows 8.x, but not the fancy stuff that OS X provides.
Quark 10's new interface
When you fire it up the first thing you notice is a new user interface. The colour scheme is shades of neutral grey. The default palettes are grouped together and docked to the right edge of the screen, which QuarkXPress 9 can’t do. You can choose to split them up or add more to the group, or to dock them to the left edge.
Experienced users will soon find that the Modify and Format menus that used to control frame and text behaviours have gone, to be replaced by an expanded Measurement palette that’s always on-screen. You can dock this at the top or bottom now. The old menus were more suited to keyboard shortcut working, but doubtless the new way gets easier with time.
The menu structure has been rethought, with alphabetical order for some lists, and the ability to enlarge some floating dialogues to reduce scrolling through long lists. The New Colour dialogue can be enlarged all the way up to full screen, which helps a lot with choosing from the colour picker, and also shows usefully larger Pantone swatch sets. The latest Pantone +336 set is included.
Picture and print processing are accelerated by Quark’s new Xenon graphics engine. This greatly improves the quality and resolution of on-screen images, including much better rendering of type and vectors in placed EPS and PDF files.
A new Advanced Image Control palette displays any layers in imported TIFF or PSD images and you can switch their visibility on and off for any combination. Other tabs display and control the colour and alpha channels and paths.
Another clever graphics refinement is that transparency within imported PDFs now still works within XPress and interacts with native transparent objects. This is “passed-through” correctly if the combination is output as a new PDF. Unfortunately the version that Quark is currently shipping (10.0.0.2) has a bug in the Xenon engine that stops the transparent colours rendering correctly on-screen or printing directly, though they work fine if you export the QXP10 document as a PDF.
The bug affects both Mac and Windows versions. Quark says it’s working on a fix and will release it by the end of October.
Quark 10's new tools
New tool functions are a bit sparse. You can now join the end points of separate Bézier lines by creating a bridging section, where before you had to drag the points together. There’s also a built-in QR code generator menu.
On the other hand, QXP 10 has dropped the HTML4 web layout capability and the SWF Flash export of earlier versions. When you create a new document, you’re presented with the options to format for print, eBook or the separately sold App Studio for tablet apps. You can specify HTML5 buttons, videos, slideshows, audio and other interactive items for App Studio within Quark 10.
Quark says it’s gearing up to allow the creation of web apps as a new output option within its online App Studio service, which will allow designers to use QuarkXPress to create HTML5 based publications for display on desktop browsers, duplicating the look and feel of the tablet apps they create.
Quark 10 vs InDesign
Dropping the web output may not be a great loss, as it seems very few people used this much. However, it reduces Quark’s main argument for the high price of QXP compared to Adobe InDesign, which was that you only needed to buy and learn one design program to do all sorts of cross media design, compared with learning lots of separate programs in the Adobe Creative Suite/Cloud. Quark 10 is now primarily a design-for-print program that can integrate with digital publication creation.
You can still buy QXP 10 outright and only upgrade when you want to, by contrast with InDesign’s new status as a part of the subscription-only Creative Cloud. Some people may prefer that.
In conclusion, the new user interface and graphics handling really are an improvement and well worth the upgrade money.
Update 11/10/13: Web app output options clarified.