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QuarkXPress: The Big Picture

Trying to figure out what type of program QuarkXPress is reminds me of a scene from an old Saturday Night Live episode, when a couple bickered over their new purchase. “It's a floor wax,” said one. “No, it's a dessert topping,” replied the other. The answer soon became clear: “It's a floor wax and a dessert topping.” QuarkXPress is a program with the same predicament. Some people insist it's a typesetting application. Others bet their bottom dollar that it's a Web-design tool. Still others make QuarkXPress a way of life.

The truth is that QuarkXPress is all these things, and more. However, no matter how you use it, it is never more than a tool. And a tool is never more than the person behind it.

I like to think of machetes. You can use a machete as an exotic knife to cut a block of cheese. Or, you can use it as your only means of survival while hacking through the Amazon jungles. It's all up to you.

Here in the Introduction, I talk about the big picture: the history of QuarkXPress from version 1.0 through version 5. Most importantly, I set the stage for the real thrust of this book: how to use QuarkXPress to its fullest.

The Birth of an Upgrade

If you've never watched an artist create an image with oil paints, you may not understand what all the fuss and expense is about. When you see the end result, it's easy to think that they just picked up a brush and painted the whole thing. What you'd be missing is the hours of slowly building, changing, covering, modifying, pondering, and dreaming. Half of what makes a piece of art special is the process of its creation.

Art isn't the only thing that is born out of process. Computer software is very similar. And so it's with great admiration that I can look forward to each new revision of QuarkXPress, where code has been modified, other parts ripped out and replaced with something better, and then—in fits of inspiration—whole new features are added, making the final piece (at least for this version) one step better, more usable, and simply cooler (see Figure I-1).

Figure I-1. Evolution of the species

Version 5 of QuarkXPress has, from its announcement, been met with mixed criticism. Some people rave about the dozens of new features, believing the ability to build Web pages from within a page-layout program will save them hundreds of hours a year. Others stare blankly at you if you mention the upgrade and ask why, after several years since the last major release, the Quark engineers were so thoughtless as to leave out fundamental features such as a Scaling palette, or drop shadows.

I admit to holding both opinions: I believe QuarkXPress 5 is a major step forward in page-layout, offering extraordinary new features that I would be loathe to give up. It's funny, but even some of the seemingly smallest new abilities or changes to interface are clearly a big win over previous editions. On the other hand, I keep a list on my desktop called “ThingsThatAnnoyMeAboutXPress5” in which I let myself complain about both big-ticket items—such as why doesn't XPress have a Story Editor, like PageMaker—and the small stuff, too—keystrokes that used to be fast in version 3.x but now slow you down in later versions.

The History

If you're a new user to QuarkXPress, the past probably holds little meaning for you because all you want to do is jump in and start using the product as it works today. However, many of you have probably been using XPress for a while (three years? seven years? more?) and it's worth taking a step back every now and again to look at where we've been and how far QuarkXPress has come.

I've been writing about QuarkXPress since version 3.0, but I still remember using version 1.10, back in 1987, when just getting the page to print was considered a feature. The jump to version 2.0 felt pretty big, but it wasn't earth-shaking. In fact, it wasn't until 1990's release of version 3.0 that QuarkXPress really grew into a world-class page-layout tool. Version 3.0 introduced XPress users to the pasteboard metaphor, the polygon tool (for pictures only), and a major interface-lift that turned heads and started winning converts. Still, when version 3.0 shipped, there were only a handful of service bureaus around the country that would accept XPress files; PageMaker was the dominant force in the industry and you were a rebel if you even mentioned Quark.

In version 3.1, we saw new features like automatic ligatures, color blends. In 3.2, Quark got rid of the XPress Data file which was driving service bureaus crazy, introduced EfiColor's color management system (which fell with a thud for most people), added new style sheet features, scripting, math features in the palettes, and—for some people the biggest feature of all—a Microsoft Windows version of QuarkXPress. Version 3.3 was really only a minor upgrade, but it shocked the world with its polygonal text boxes, letting you sculpt text blocks into any shape you wanted. Most importantly, throughout all these versions, the Quark engineers have kept fixing bugs that users would find, always trying for a more perfect application.

It took seven years for Quark to make the leap from version 3.0 to version 4.0, but the cool new features were worth the wait: Bézier curves, type on a curve, character-level style sheets, editable clipping paths (including the ability to make any embedded path a clipping path), custom line and dash styles, and more.

What's New In QuarkXPress 5

So what's new in QuarkXPress 5? A lot. Following is a list of what I consider to be the most important changes, though the ones that are most important to your workflow may be different than the ones that get me all excited. (I'm not going to list every little niggling feature that's different between the last version and this one; if you need that, take a look at the What's New addendum that comes with XPress.)

  • Web documents. The majority of new features in QuarkXPress 5 relate to the ability to make and export HTML Web pages, including interactive rollovers (graphics that change when the cursor is on top of them), image maps (specifying areas of a graphic that are “hot links”), and form elements (checkboxes, buttons, text entry fields, and so on). See page 803.

  • Table tool. People have been asking for a way to make tables in QuarkXPress for over ten years. Ask no further. The Table tool lets you create all kinds of cool-looking tables. You can even embed these tables into text boxes so that they flow with your stories. See page 237.

  • Layers palette. The Layers palette is another long-standing item off the wish-list. If you know how to use the Layers palette in Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia FreeHand, you'll pick this up in no time. See page 205.

  • Context-sensitive menus. I love context-sensitive menus: those menus that popup when you Control-click (Mac) or right-mouse-button-click (Windows) on something. Version 4 had one context-sensitive menu(in the StyleSheets palette). Version 5 has lots more. See page 83.

  • Visual indicators. You may see little icons in the upper-right corner of various objects; don't worry, that's just the visual indicator feature, which lets you know on which layer each object is sitting, as well as if an object is a special item like a Web form. See page 207.

  • Hyperlinks. The Hyperlinks palette lets you assign links to Web pages or to pages within your document. You can then use these hyperlinks to navigate in exported HTML or PDFfiles. See page 830.

  • Collecting fonts. QuarkXPress has long let you collect linked graphics before sending your files to a service bureau; now XPress will finally collect the fonts and color profiles that you used. See page 788.

  • Character lists. The primary limitation of the Lists feature in QuarkXPress 4 was that it only let you use paragraph styles. Now you can also use character styles. See page 511.

  • Scripts menu. If you use QuarkXPress on a Macintosh, you should be using AppleScripts, especially now that Quark has added a Scripts menu. Quark even threw in a bunch of free scripts you can use. See page 921.

  • Interface improvements. There are a number of other small improvements to the interface of QuarkXPress. For instance, the Colors palette now displays whether a color is a process or spot color (see page 696), you can search for colored text in the Find/Change palette (see page 309), and the Preferences dialog box is now easier to navigate (see page 101).

As I said, there's many more features than this. Stuff like Transparent EPS, multiple text insets, improved indexing, and print dialog box enhancements. Don't worry, I cover them all in the next 900-odd pages.


To take advantage of all these great new features in QuarkXPress, you need, at a minimum, a PowerPC G4 or a 1.5 GHz Pentium V computer with 512MB of RAM, a thirty-gigabyte hard disk drive, a 600MB magneto-optical drive, a 32-bit color drum scanner, a high-res imagesetter with a PostScript 3 RIP, a 1200-by-600-dpi laser printer, a 21-inch Barco color monitor with 24-bit video and graphics accelerator cards, and, of course, an NTSC video capture board and genlock control panel.

Just kidding! You can actually get by with some pretty limited hardware. But, as few things are more frustrating than being all psyched up to start something only to discover that you can't, for lack of an essential component, here's a résumé of the components you need to know about.

Hardware and System Software

While earlier versions of QuarkXPress for the Macintosh could run on almost any Macintosh sold in the past 12 years (with a minimum of a 68020 processor), version 5 now requires a PowerPC chip and operating system 8.6 or later. You also must have a LaserWriter driver loaded (version 7.0 or later), and a minimum of 16 MB free RAM. In order to install XPress on your hard drive, you have to have about 36 MB of free space and a CD-ROM (though this drive can be on a network).

If you use Windows, your PC had better be a Pentium or better, running almost any flavor of Windows (95, 98, NT 4, ME, 2000, or XP). You must have a CD-ROM available (though, again, the CD-ROM can be on a network) in order to install XPress, as well as a minimum of 32 MB of RAM and 40 MB of free hard disk space.

Of course, on either platform you need a mouse (or some other pointing device) and Adobe Type Manager in order to use PostScript Type 1 fonts. Plus, note that QuarkXPress 5 does print on non-PostScript printers, it is optimized to print best on a PostScript printer.


QuarkXPress is a keyboard- and mouse-intensive program. You'll be spending a lot of your time selecting items or text, dragging, or choosing menus. If you have an extended keyboard—one that has the 15 function keys, page up and down keys, and a keypad—you can save yourself hours (or days!) by using built-in shortcuts. You can also assign style sheets to keys (this is where the keypad comes in handy). And if you get a utility like CE Software's QuicKeys (for Mac or Windows), you can use the keyboard even more effectively. While I like the ergonomic nature of adjustable keyboards, I don't find them as helpful in production work because they put the function and page keys in a separate unit that's hard to position well.

Hard Disks

The Iron Law of Hard Disk Storage is that your needs expand to equal and then exceed the storage capacity available. Get the biggest hard disk you can. If you think you'll never need more than a gigabyte of storage, then get double that. You may be sorry later if you don't. Most of the new computers don't come with anything smaller than a 6 GB hard drive anyway; I think that's a pretty good minimum.

Random Access Memory

RAM is good. Put as much into your computer as you possibly can afford. If you're doing serious publishing, chances are you'll want to run QuarkXPress along with several other applications, and probably want 32 or 64 MB. If you do a lot of Photoshop work, you'll always wish you have more (I don't recommend people use Photoshop and QuarkXPress on the same system without a minimum of 128 MB, and preferably more like 256 MB). You'll want the extra RAM to move around smoothly when you have those programs open along with much-needed system extensions such as ATM. The more color work you're doing, the more RAM you should have.

QuarkXPress and You

Version 5 of QuarkXPress is clearly a pretty impressive package. But don't let it intimidate you. Remember, QuarkXPress is not only a machete, it's a Swiss Army machete. If you want to use it for writing letters home, you can do it. If you want to create glossy four-color magazines, you can do that too. The tool is powerful enough to get the job done, but sometimes—if you're trying to get through that Amazon jungle—you need to wield your machete accurately and efficiently.

Let's look at how it's done.

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