QuarkXPress vs. InDesign

Catalog designers tend to prefer one of two layout programs: QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign. Quark loyalists praise its ease of use and ability to handle large workflows; InDesign fans admire its flexibility, such as the ability to create portable document formats (PDFs) in the file menu, its ease of managing workflows, and its cost-efficient upgrades. As for which software best meets the needs of designers — that depends largely on whether the need for complex functions is more pressing than the need for familiarity.

Josh Hansen, commercial team supervisor of Chanhassen, MN-based Banta PreMedia Services, a division of printer Banta Catalog, says that much of Quark’s success is due to its intuitiveness. “Quark’s best asset is comfort,” he says. “It’s easy to follow, and those who have used it stay with it.” While there have been seven versions of Quark released since 1995, each of the iterations is similar to the original, and Hansen says that many designers stay with it out of habit.

When InDesign launched in 1999, some dubbed it “the Quark Killer” Hansen says, but the program had some significant problems at first. “It was difficult to get PDFs and not have issues — instances where files were removed if you tried to select individual elements,” he recalls. Then again, when Quark 5.0 was released in 2002, you couldn’t place PDFs in that program at all, he adds.

InDesign advocates

Eric Graffam, associate art director for Portland, ME-based bedding and decor cataloger Cuddledown of Maine, says that InDesign’s early difficulties with PDFs are long over. In fact, he sees the program’s ability to readily create PDFs as its biggest advantage. “In Quark, creating PDFs has always been hit or miss,” says Graffam, whose creative department switched from Quark to InDesign in February 2005. “You have to save a Quark document in Adobe and then drag it into the distiller. With InDesign, you don’t have these issues, because it’s actually part of the Adobe line of software.”

While Quark 6.0, introduced in 2004, does allow designers to import PDFs easily, Graffam says that InDesign can create a high-resolution PDF immediately so that you can see what the PDF will look like as it’s going to print. Quark, he continues, often has so many subwindows that it can be difficult to see the image you’re creating.

Brent Neimuth, creative director/brand strategist for Mission, KS-based catalog consultancy J. Schmid & Associates, also prefers InDesign over Quark because of the former’s facility with PDFs. “PDFs are absolutely the way work is done now. Before you had to overnight or fax color proofs, Neimuth says. “Now with InDesign you can make a type change and e-mail the PDF back. PDF technology has changed the way we do work.” J. Schmid switched its design protocol over to InDesign in April 2005.

The ease of creating PDFs isn’t the only reason some designers favor InDesign. Hansen says many have embraced the newer software’s improved functionality.

Graffam, for instance, praises InDesign’s “eye dropper” tool, which allows you to click on a photograph, translate it into cyan/magenta/yellow/black (CMYK) colors — the mode required for the printing — and then place it in your layout. “You could never do that in Quark,” he says. “You’d have to open up a separate PhotoShop program and then go back into Quark.” InDesign also lets you manipulate images with transparencies and drop shadows, whereas with Quark you have to switch back and forth between Adobe, PhotoShop, and Illustrator to get similar results.

“If you understand how the software works,” Hansen says, “InDesign allows you to work much faster and usually does things right the first time.”

Quark loyalists

But that “if” is a major reason more designers haven’t made the switch from Quark. According to Hansen, InDesign is far more difficult to master than Quark. Indeed, even Graffam, who calls himself “a total convert,” admits, “There are things in InDesign that I haven’t even discovered yet.”

And some InDesign detractors view the program’s multitude of features as a drawback. Ed Baumgarten, a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, says that InDesign is overly complex, to the point that productivity suffers. “I wish Quark would pick up on some new things,” Baumgarten says, “but for workability and workflow, Quark is still faster than InDesign.”

Another Quark loyalist is Mark Flaherty, senior print production coordinator for Beverly, MA-based women’s apparel merchant Appleseed’s. He says that InDesign at times requires too much guesswork as to where to find specific functions and elements. “InDesign includes a separate palette for each of the program’s functions,” he says. “Sometimes the screen is simply too cluttered.”

Flaherty sees no need to switch from Quark to InDesign. “Simple terminology across both programs is different,” he says. “And it’s not always translatable.” For instance, he notes, if you don’t already have an extensive knowledge of Adobe software, your productivity can suffer. “And you must learn a whole new interface and a new set of keyboard shortcuts for InDesign.” When you’re under the gun on deadlines, you tend to rely on familiarity to keep up workflow, Flaherty notes.

But J. Schmid’s Niemuth says his company’s switch to InDesign was relatively seamless. “We were able to make the switch in two days and were up an running on the third day working on projects,” Niemuth says. He credits this in part to InDesign’s synergies with the suite of J. Schmid’s other programs — Acrobat, PhotoShop, and Illustrator.

Niemuth highly recommends hiring a trainer or at least attending a class or seminar on InDesign before making the switch. “Trying to learn the program on your own by reading manuals will simply take too long.” Companies should plan to spend about $1,000 per day to train staff, Niemuth says; a two-day training program should be enough to get the basics. But it takes about a month for most designers to be comfortable doing all projects in InDesign, he estimates.

San Diego-based running gear and apparel merchant Road Runner Sports is officially switching its creative department to InDesign from Quark this month. Creative supervisor Michael Jaramillo says the cataloger has been preparing for the switch by working on smaller projects, such as 12-page catalogs, post cards, and ads, in InDesign since February. So far, he says, the programs really aren’t that much different in terms of the learning curve. “But some of the features are a little different than you’re used to.”

A rematch for Adobe and Quark

The current battle for program supremacy is not the first time Adobe and Quark have tangled. Adobe PageMaker ruled the world of page layout software until Denver, CO-based Quark introduced QuarkXPress in 1987. Quark offered precision typography, layout, and color control to the desktop computer — at a fraction of the cost of proprietary typesetting systems.

Adobe’s InDesign 1.0, released in September 1999, performed slowly and crashed often. But QuarkXPress 4.1, released a month later, also had some problems with functionality, such as the way it managed text and graphics. InDesign 2.0, introduced in December 2002, was much improved and offered the suite that included both PhotoShop and Illustrator. As a result, the desktop publishing community began to see InDesign as a viable option to Quark; the two software makers continue to duke it out today.

Quark strikes back with 7.0

QuarkXPress has been challenged by rival InDesign in recent years, but it’s fighting back with soon-to-be-released version 7.0. At press time the newest iteration was still in beta test and had not yet been released for purchase. But publishing software experts say there’s a lot riding on Quark 7.0, which promises more bells and whistles to better compete with InDesign.

According to PrintonDemand.com, a Spring Valley, CA-based digital printing Web publication, Quark 7.0’s enhancements include greater control over transparency, new color management controls, and better creative control via Quark Job Jackets, which contain all the specifications for a print publishing job.

Russell Viers, owner/president of Kansas City, MO-based computer training service Digiversity, says version 7.0 has been highly touted as a “comeback” for Quark. Still, he says, many in the industry speculate that even if Quark 7.0 is well received, Quark’s loss of market share to InDesign in recent years may be too great to overcome. “Quark may be forced to regrow its business based on the remaining Quark 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0 customers who want to upgrade.”

Viers adds that the last three versions of Quark were somewhat limiting, with minimal changes made between versions 4.0 and 6.0 from 1997 through 2003. “If Quark 7.0 doesn’t make a splash, there may be problems,” Viers says. “There has been a major technology shift in the industry since Quark ruled the landscape during the 1990s.”

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