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Have you ever bought a new cell phone—or a washing machine, or a power tool—and muddled through the instruction manual? The people who write the manual assume that we’ve never had a cell phone before—or a washing machine or a power tool—so they start from the beginning. Don’t forget to plug it in, they remind us, as though we thought electricity comes from the air.

Granted, there is a place for instruction manuals that start from the very beginning (a very good place to start, as Julie Andrews would tell us), but what we often need is a manual that knows what we already understand and just tells us what’s different and what’s the same. That’s what this book is all about. We know you already know how to use QuarkXPress or PageMaker. We know many of you recently added a new tool—Adobe InDesign—to your existing toolbox of desktop publishing applications. We know you want to get up and running as fast as possible. Others of you may be reading this book because you’re considering whether you should even start using InDesign.

We’ve been there; we feel your pain.

Learning a new program is no fun, especially when you’re facing a publication deadline. We want to help you learn InDesign faster and easier by leveraging your knowledge, using what you know about QuarkXPress or PageMaker as a springboard to greater efficiency with this new program.

How to Read This Book

Because each chapter of this book covers a basic task or concept—text wrap, for instance, or exporting PDF files—we don’t expect many of you will read the whole thing cover to cover. Rather, we think it makes sense to read the first few chapters, just to get up and running, and then skip around the book, gathering what you need when you need it.

Note that we have no intention of having this book cover everything you ever wanted to know about InDesign. Sure, we cover a lot of ground, and we take an in-depth look at many of the features (especially those that have no equivalent in XPress or PageMaker). But we expect that you’ll use this book in conjunction with other resources on InDesign (see “For More Information,” below).

Why Use InDesign

Before we go any further, we should probably ask an important question: If you already know how to use QuarkXPress or PageMaker, why bother with Adobe InDesign? If you’re sitting on the fence about switching, you’ve probably spent a lot of time asking yourself this recently. If you’ve already fallen head over heels for InDesign, then your boss, your printer, and your clients are likely asking you. So, let’s look at some of the reasons we find InDesign so compelling.


While InDesign, XPress, and PageMaker all have a core set of features which are similar (and sometimes identical), they each have some features that the other does not. For example, QuarkXPress has drag-and-drop text and the ability to export Web-ready HTML, including rollovers and cascading menus—InDesign does none of these things. Nevertheless, if you analyze these programs’s feature lists, InDesign is ultimately the overwhelming winner. Here are a few reasons why.

  • User Interface. InDesign has been life-changing for us because we can start trusting what we see on screen so much more than with XPress or PageMaker. InDesign incorporates a type of “Display PostScript,” so you can see what text, bitmapped images, and vector graphics really look like before you print a proof. Plus, there’s a Preview mode that hides all guides and non-printing items, an Overprint Preview mode that simulates overprinting inks on screen, and the ability to zoom in to 4,000 percent.

    Unlike XPress or PageMaker, you can place guides precisely, lock them, color them, copy-and-paste them, and even put them on a layer. You can turn on a graph-paper document grid for quick alignment. You can truly lock an object (XPress’s Lock feature is lame, letting you move and even delete locked objects). You can display your document in more than one window (for multiple views). The list goes on and on.

  • Typographic Features. If you care about type, InDesign is the program for you. InDesign makes hyphenation and justification decisions based on the look of a whole paragraph rather than one line at a time. Plus, support for hanging punctuation, automatic kerning based on the shape of the characters, and all the OpenType features (like automatic fractions and swashes) means you can get high-quality typography without having to painstakingly do it manually.

  • Graphics and Transparency. Most folks do their really cool layout work in Photoshop. InDesign’s transparency features mean that you can spend more time doing layout in your page-layout application. For example, because InDesign understands native Photoshop (.PSD) files and retains their transparency, you may never have to make a clipping path in Photoshop again; just erase the background to the checkerboard transparency and import into InDesign. Similarly, you don’t have to use an XTension or switch to Photoshop just to make a drop shadow or to feather the edges of an object because InDesign has these features built in. To all you cynics out there: Yes, this stuff really does print beautifully; it doesn’t crash RIPs or cause service bureaus to spontaneously combust (we show you how in the Printing section of the book).

  • Tables. InDesign’s table features far outshine XPress’s or PageMaker’s, letting you set automatic alternating fills or strokes, link tables across pages, and even convert Microsoft Word and Excel tables into editable InDesign tables.

  • Printing and Exporting. A number of output providers (who have notoriously long memories) were burned by the poor printing architecture in InDesign 1.0 and 1.5. But Adobe made huge advances in version 2, and now many service providers prefer InDesign CS over XPress or PageMaker! It now features built-in preflighting, the ability to export high-quality PDF files directly to disk (without Distiller), embedding fonts in EPS files, and generating DSC-compliant device-independent PostScript (something we techno-geeks have been asking from Quark for 12 years).

  • Other Stuff. The list of features InDesign has and XPress or PageMaker do not goes on and on: It’s scriptable on Windows as well as the Macintosh. You can edit all the keyboard shortcuts. If you crash (all software crashes sooner or later), InDesign recovers your document so you don’t lose much (if any) work. You can base master pages on other master pages or turn a document page into a master page. It is Unicode compliant, so you can set multiple languages (even those with non-Roman character sets) in the same document. And more!

Granted, features aren’t everything. But features are like tools on a Swiss Army knife—the right feature at the right time can be a major life-saver! Of course, there was no one feature that convinced us that InDesign is a great tool; rather it is the broad assortment of InDesign’s features that make our work easier.

On the other hand, if you absolutely cannot live without one of the features that is only found in XPress or PageMaker, then you’re stuck (until Adobe adds that feature).


One of the better reasons to stick with XPress 4 or 5 or PageMaker 7 has been those programs’s performance on older, slower computers. InDesign’s feature set comes at a cost: It’s RAM and processor hungry—anything less than a Pentium 4 or G4 processor with 256 MB of RAM will make your InDesign experience frustrating, especially with longer documents. Generally, any machine on which you’d be happy running Photoshop will also support InDesign. (QuarkXPress 6 requires a fast processor and lots of RAM, too.)

But computing power is only half the equation when it comes to being productive in a program. In 2002 (and again in 2004), Pfeiffer Consulting conducted extensive tests exploring what happened to business productivity when companies began to use InDesign. The results were fascinating (you can read them yourself at www.pfeifferreport.com). In short, they found that what saved the most time was not the raw speed of the computer or the software, but was reducing the number of steps required to build a document.

At first, it made us crazy that InDesign imports Microsoft Word documents significantly slower than XPress or PageMaker (particularly long documents). Then we found that while we lose a little time at import, we gain a lot more time because InDesign does so much automatically (or with a single step) that we had to do manually in XPress or PageMaker (with many steps). For example, anyone who has spent the afternoon trying to get text to look just right by adding manual line breaks, discretionary hyphens, and other typographic tweaks will be astonished at how little of that is necessary because of InDesign’s paragraph composer. (That said, Adobe engineers have assured us that they’re working on making the import feature faster in future versions of InDesign.)

Similarly, InDesign saves steps by letting you make drop shadows in the page-layout program, drawing a frame for you when you import text or graphics (if you don’t already have one), converting Word and Excel tables to editable tables upon import, and even maintaining the editability of copy-and-pasted vector artwork from Illustrator or FreeHand.

The Pfeiffer Report found astonishing efficiency increases in some areas of work (like making PDF files) and found that InDesign equalled XPress in other areas. In their benchmark testing, it took designers two to three times longer to create a document in XPress than in InDesign.

What’s Your ROI?

For many people, especially at larger companies, the biggest hurdle to using InDesign is not learning the features (you’ve already got that handled by buying this book) but convincing “the suits.” After all, arguments like “It’s got more features!” and “I can go home early if I use it” don’t go over well with those folks we affectionately call the bean counters.

When approaching your boss, you need to use phrases like “return on investment” (ROI) and “increasing workflow integration for gigahertz productivity enhancements.” (The latter expression doesn’t actually mean anything, but it’s very impressive.)

Of course, measuring ROI in the publishing industry is difficult. For a small design firm, the investment is simply the cost of the new software and a couple of books or training classes to help you learn it. The return can be anything from cooler designs that help you get more clients to saving time on producing a big job.

Larger companies tend to think about the cost of retraining (both in money and hours lost from the production cycle), and the returns come in reducing headcount and expenses. Fortunately, the Pfeiffer Report also looked at ROI issues, briefly mentioning how Australia’s largest magazine publisher, ACP, cut their prepress costs in half while moving 40 magazines (including Cosmopolitan and 7 weeklies) to InDesign. Designers and the production team put one issue of a magazine to bed with QuarkXPress and the next issue was created—cover to cover—with InDesign. It was a highly successful operation, and the company reportedly saved so much money (in the relative cost of the software plus in reducing prepress expenses) that they could afford to buy new computers for everyone (we’re still waiting for ours).

Add a Tool, Don’t Replace It

Our publisher keeps calling this a “switcher book,” for people who want to switch to InDesign. Our response is: No, it’s for people who want to add InDesign to their repertoire. We expect that there are very few people who will be in the position to completely drop QuarkXPress or PageMaker, even though we have no intention of creating any new documents with those programs. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, it’s likely that you’ll need to know how to use two layout programs (or at least keep someone on staff who does).

But doesn’t InDesign open XPress and PageMaker documents? Sure it does, but not necessarily perfectly. In Appendixes A and B, we explain what does and doesn’t translate and how you should best use this feature.

Our colleague Sandee Cohen notes that people who start using InDesign often try to fit it into the same workflow they’re accustomed to. Sure, you can replace XPress with InDesign and keep doing everything else the same, but you’re going to miss out on a lot InDesign has to offer. Using InDesign is all about finding new and better ways of working—integrating all your tools together for maximum efficiency.

For More Information

As we said earlier, as deep as we can go in the next 400 pages, we don’t expect to answer every question you ever have about InDesign. For example, we don’t cover how to script InDesign or import/export XML. Fortunately, there are other resources out there. Here’s a few places you can go for more information.

  • Real World Adobe InDesign CS. While we are a bit biased (this book was written by David Blatner and long-time industry expert Olav Martin Kvern), this is also the book recommended by members of the InDesign development team at Adobe.

  • Adobe InDesign CS Visual QuickStart Guide. Sandee Cohen offers a wonderful step-by-step introduction to InDesign. We tend to like this better than the Adobe InDesign Classroom in a Book, though that one is good, too.

  • Adobe InDesign Web Site. Most corporate Web sites are filled with marketing materials. You’ll find plenty of that at Adobe, but it’s alongside excellent useful information, too. It’s definitely worth a trip to www.adobe.com/products/indesign. Also, the answers to many of your most puzzling InDesign questions can be answered by the knowledgeable and helpful volunteers in the InDesign User to User Forums at www.adobe.com/support/forums/main.html

  • InDesign Magazine. Creativepro.com, in conjunction with our own David Blatner, launched InDesign Magazine in July, 2004. The PDF-based magazine is packed with in-depth features, reviews, and tutorials. You can find more information at www.indesignmag.com

  • InDesign Users Groups. At the time of this writing, there are InDesign Users Groups in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Portland, Reno, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Boston, Washington, DC, New York City, and Melbourne, Australia; we expect more to appear soon (see www.indesignusergroup.com). If you’ve got one near you, check it out.


We’d like to give special thanks to a few of the people who helped us turn a crazy idea into the book you’re now holding. First, many thanks to the folks at Adobe who gave us a great product and have helped support this book, including Will Eisley, Michael Wallen, Tim Cole, Mark Neimann-Ross, Thomas Phinney, Lonn Lorenz, and Olav Martin “Ole” Kvern.

Thanks to our Peachpit editors, Nancy Davis and Serena Herr, for their extraordinary patience and (usually) gentle nudges to get it done. To Lisa Brazieal for her help in riding this wild Ducati all the way to the printer. To Conrad Chavez, for his excellent technical editing and to Jeff Tolbert for his great (and fast) production on the first edition. And to Caroline Parks, whose eagle eye produced a terrific index.

Our sincere appreciation for a wealth of good information goes to Sandee “Vector Babe” Cohen, Deke “The Man” McClelland, Scott Citron, the InDesign beta testers, and participants in the BlueWorld InDesign list and the InDesign User to User Forums.

Steve: “Thanks to Bent Kjolby and the staff at Rapid Lasergraphics for giving me the freedom to develop and teach my classes. Thanks to my students, who have taught me so much. Thanks to Astrid Wasserman of MediaLive and Thad McIlroy for encouraging me to teach at Seybold Seminars. And finally thanks to Harry and all our friends who have provided me with the support I needed during the months it took to write this book.”

Christopher: “My sincerest gratitude to my own Creative Sweet: Jennifer Smith, author, creative genius, loving mother and perfect wife. Thanks also to extraordinary AGI instructor Greg Heald for generously sharing his PageMaker knowledge. And to my colleagues David and Steve, it is an absolute pleasure working with you both!”

David: “My deepest appreciation goes to my beloved wife, Debbie, and our delightful sons, Gabriel and Daniel, who are such blessings in my life. I couldn’t have finished this book without the help of Don and Snookie, as well as a friendly boost from the FlipSide coffeehouse. Thanks, too, to a host of generous friends and family who remind me that as much as I like digital, analog is even better.”

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