October 29, 2017

How to anchor images and tables in runaround text in QuarkXpress 2016

Until Adobe chose to lure its clients to use their subscription model for its programs, I used InDesign CC for desktop publications. Anchoring images and tables was no problem whatsoever. Anchoring objects is a way to make sure that the objects in runaround text move with the related paragraph when before that paragraph text is inserted, edited (resulting in different text length) or removed. In QuarkXpress 2016 achieving this is a different ball game. The Quark forums weren't very helpful (to say the least) to get this done properly and when looking on the Internet one finds out that many (newbie) users like myself struggle to get this problem solved.

Usually you see fuzzy answers, like cut the image after selecting it with the Item Tool, then switch to the Text Tool, place the cursor where you want to insert the image or table to be inserted and paste the object there. This does not work. I don't understand why this type of advice is given over and again, because the people providing such advice must have an unresolved problem themselves or they never use this function themselves in their documents. But if you have this issue, I'm sure you will run into many instances of flawed tips when searching for an answer on the web, until you're sick of it. At least that is what happened to me.

What is wrong with this advice? The wrap option ceases to work, doing the above when the image is narrower than the width of the text that you want to wrap around it. The text is visible though the image when it has a transparent background because the image is placed on top of the text, while an opaque image simply hides the text that runs below it as if no wrap around image was inserted. Even when the selected image, according to the Measurements Palette, has the text running around the Item, the text continues to run below the image. So, these standard 'solutions' that are abundant on the Internet, will not help you one bit to get rid of this problem, which should be a basic function of any DTP program.

What does actually work then? In the image above this paragraph, the image and table (indicated by the red arrows) are both anchored in a full page width text area that actually does runs around them. When you add, remove or edit text before them, they will automatically move with the text to which they are anchored. How is this done? The answer is quite elaborate, but it pays off to read it all. It took me a week to figure this out and I did not find the solution in the QuarkXpress forums and in Youtube. QuarkXpress should have noticed many users were unable to properly anchor images on their forum, simply because I noticed it and I'm sure many others did as well. Instead in their official Youtube channel they keep posting 8 minute challenges that do not really help anyone, because they do not address fundamental problems users are having.

How to properly anchor images and tables in runaround text
Use Callout Anchors. InDesign users may find this a strange name. In various Youtube clips I found that in demonstrations, the image was either placed outside the text area or it covered the entire width of a column. This isn't helpful if you wish to place your image inside text that fills the width of you page minus the margins, while your image is narrower than the text. I became confused with this since I initially thought that it only worked for images outside of a text area, because this is how images are continuously anchored in their 'tutorials'. None of the videos mention that it also works when placing images inside a text. I find this strange, since many QuarkXpress users have run into this problem, bearing in mind the number of (unanswered) questions with regard to this matter that I encountered. Such apathetic conduct is not going to help QuarkXpress win the willie waving contest of the DTP-programs. Or worse: it may kill the program as a result of persistent negligence. And we've all seen what Adobe does when it thinks it can exploit its monopoly position - rob their users blind.

If you wrestle with anchoring objects in text, place the image you want to use in the text where you want it to be. When you click the image and move the mouse cursor towards the Measurements Palette, below it several tabs will pop down (depending on where the palette is on your screen). Choose the Runaround tab and in the top left corner of the Measurements Palette, select Item. This causes the text to run around the Item, i.e. your image (or table). Below the image and table I placed a text box with a caption (the red type 'Fig. 001' and the 'Table 001'). Make these text boxes as wide as the image or table and select the runaround Item function for them as well. Place them near or against the image or table, so that no text slips between them. I centered these caption texts horizontally and vertically inside the text box and gave them a style. Create a new Character Style, not a Paragraph Style to do this.

Then Group the image or table and caption by selecting all images and text boxes that must be grouped, while pressing the Shift key and then pressing Control-G. I did this because I wanted the image and its caption and the table and its caption to be moved simultaneously inside the runaround text. Place the Text Tool near the image inside the text. I prefer to do it somewhere just above the image, because it makes the editing of the placing of the image easier as I will explain later. Then right click and choose Callout Anchor in the pop up and the Insert Callout Anchor in another pop up that pops out of the side of the pop up (sounds confusing, but this is how it works). A small blue square with a red frame around it appears in the spot where you clicked; this is the anchor.

Tables may require additional settings
Then right click on the image or table and select Callout Anchor again and then Associate with Callout Anchor. As a result a blue dotted line connects the anchor with your image or table. Now test if it works by inserting the cursor in the text above the image or table and hit Enter on the keyboard or remove at least one full line of text. You will notice that the image or table will now move with the changed amount of text. Long tables with many rows, by the way, can be defined to break - if they're not grouped with other objects - but you must define this before grouping them by right clicking on the table and selecting Table in the pop up menu and then Table Break... If you choose Height you can indicate of how many rows the Header and / or Footer consists, in order to prevent them to be separated on a different page from the rest of the table. If you still get ugly broken tables, fiddle around with the cell height to make the layout look good. This will cause tables to break properly if it spans more than one page.

If the image or table jumps to strange places on the page you can fine tune the exact location where you want it to be. This is done as follows: right click on the anchor that you placed in the text and choose Edit Callout Settings. You will notice that as you hover over the anchor, a white square appears; this means your cursor is in the right place and you can right click. When you clicked Edit Callout Settings the dialogue below appears:

In the upper part of this dialogue you can define the callout (your image or table) relative to the page, paragraph or anchor in the horizontal plane. Playing with the options, is my best advice - I did it to figure out how these things work. You'll get the hang of it soon enough and finding the proper procedure yourself makes you remember it better - the choices in the drop down menus do exactly what they mean. The Offset value is to be used to define how far the image or table is placed from the option you selected. For instance, if you wanted the image or table to be placed 10 mm to the right from the center of the page (if that is what you selected), fill in 10 mm. If you fill in -10 mm, it will be placed 10 mm to the left of the center of the page. Positive values will cause a box to be moved to the right, negative valuse will cause it to be moved to the left.

The values in the bottom part of the dialogue, allow you to determine the distance of the image or table, relative to the anchor you placed in the vertical plane. Again, explore the options; they explain themselves. You learn more from trial and experience than I can explain in this blog. Here you can also fill in an Offset value to fine tune the placing of you image or table below (or even above when entering negative values) from the anchor. Positive values will cause the box to be moved downward, negative values will cause it to be move upward. Should you run into trouble defining the values when the dialogue prevents you from clicking OK and you can only Cancel to close the dialogue, select the image or table by clicking on them and go to Item. Then choose Callout Styles and select Default. Then start all over again. Why this option isn't included in the Callout Settings dialogue box, riddles me. To work around this matter, open up the Callout Styles panel that you find under the Windows menu item, which allows you to set the style to default immediately.

If you have many images all of which have to be placed relative to the related paragraph in the same manner, create a new Style in the Callout Styles panel, which will allow you to copy horizontal and vertical values to each of the instances without you having to type them in over and again. Just click the bold +-sign in the top left of the panel and configure the values once and apply them often.

The definition of callout values will NOT show until after completing the definition, a left mouse button click outside of the page area is done. The callout only then will jump to the position that was defined by the values you have just entered in the dialogue box .... QuarkXpress isn't always good at refreshing the screen. I have an excellent graphic card and 16 GB RAM, which is powerful enough to work with demanding 3D programs, but QuarkXpress doesn't refresh well after editing the Callout Settings. To work around this problem, scroll the page off the screen and then back in the screen where you can see the callout - it then will be visible according to your editing.

I prefer the on-the-fly approach InDesign offers to get these things done, but the absurd amount of money Adobe asks for the use of its programs, made me accept the learning curve QuarkXpress forced me to overcome. Adobe had a 44 % increase in revenues since the introduction of the subscription model. Guess who is paying for that? You! The user. So in spite of the headaches QuarkXpress (and their lack of proper support) gives me, I will continue to explore it and save myself a bucket of money.


Other tips - Change Zoom Increments
Another major annoyance that I encountered when working with QuarkXpress, is that the Zoom Increments are ridiculously big. When turning the scroll wheel (definable in Preferences), depending on the direction in which you turn the wheel, the image on the screen immediately becomes humongous or very tiny or disappears from the screen all together. To solve this, double click on the Zoom tool in the Tool Box while pressing the Control Key, causing the dialogue as shown below to pop up.

Click on the Zoom icon, indicated by the top red arrow and then click the Modify button, indicated by the lower red arrow. An other dialogue pops up, in which you can change the increments. I set it to 2 mm, which makes the program work a whole lot better. QuarkXpress is very good at hiding functions, while not placing others in the menus, forcing users to use poorly documented short-cut keys.

Adding page numbers
An other hidden shortcut key combination that is often used in Master pages is the adding of page numbers. Draw a text box, place the cursor in the box and press Control-3 to insert a page number. You could also type 'Page' and a space and then use the shortcut key combination. I can't remember having this many pains in the butt when I was in the process of getting familiar with InDesign, but making laborious efforts to figure out these things in QuarkXpress anyway, also reflects how much I am disgusted by Adobe's subscription plunder model. The fact that they get away with such crooked policies in too many cases, says a thing or two about their allegedly smart user base as well. There are alternatives, but one needs to sweat to get things to work properly, because the mods on the Quark forums persistently ignore questions that scream for answers. 

Place Master page objects on a separate layer
When you're done creating Master pages, lock that layer after making sure it is all the way to the back and create a new layer in which text, images and tables etc. are placed. This prevents you from involuntarily creating inconsistent object placing in the wrong layer which can be very confusing. Changes to the Master page(s) can be made afterwards nevertheless.

Selecting objects beneath other objects
If you need to edit an object that is below an other one, click that object and then click again while pressing Control-Alt-Shift, which will select the object below the one on top. Clicking again while pressing the key combination will select objects still lower in the Z-axis. This way you can avoid moving and repositioning objects when you need to select objects below others. Quite useful.

Switching between Master pages and Layout pages
When in the process of adjusting Master pages (before you've finished editing them), switching between them is very handy. The shortcut is not shown in the Page menu, but the shortcut you can use, is Shift-F4. It can speed up your work a lot. Note: Always have Dynamic Guides under the View drop down in the menu bar turned on; when drawing text boxes or image rectangles the cursor will snap to them, signalling that you're in the right spot by displaying red lines and measurements. This is important for working consistently.

How to Create an Automatic Text Box in Existing Layouts
If you forgot to select automated linking of text boxes while creating a new document or if you discover that automatically linked text boxes may come in handy while you are busy making the lay-out for a book (because your assigner keeps adding, deleting or modifying text while you are creating the book he wants, for instance), do the following:

In the Page Layout palette, drag a page icon (facing or non-facing) into the Master Pages region of the palette. It will be named B-Master B by default.

  1. Double-click on the new B-master B Master Page to display it in the layout window
  2. Create a text box that matches the point of origin and height/width you want for the Automatic Text Box
  3. Select the Linking tool in the Tools palette
  4. Click on the Unlinked Chain icon located in the top left corner of your B-Master B master page and then click on your text box. If your Master Page is a Facing Pages Master Page do the same thing for the other facing page of the master page

Note: This procedure will work for any master page, including your existing A-Master A master page.

Switching Views
Pressing F7 toggles between a view in which the Guides are shown or hidden. Control-Alt-Shift-I (capital i) shows the Authoring View - The view in which guides and margins are visible. Control-Alt-Shift-G shows the Output View - The view of the bare product without bleed zones, margins and guides. F7 works in both Authoring View and Output View.

Fading a photo in QuarkXpress 2016
You could of course edit photos in a bitmap editor, but to some extent this is possible in QuarkXpress as well. Place a rectangle over the image and with the Colour Blends panel (to be found under the Windows drop down in the menu bar) fade the rectangle  that you have to give the background colour fading into transparency or an other colour. This looks as if the photo fades into the background colour of the page.

Fit picture in box maintaining aspect ratio
Especially when having to fit large size images in a box pressing Control-Alt-Shift-F is useful. Sometimes images are so big that they fall outside the screen reserved for a page, which means resizing the image also requires moving it to get to the handles. The shortcut does this job in a blink of the eye and the image's aspect ration is preserved.

Table of Contents with dotted Fill character
When you're done creating your document, books in particular, you may want to create a Table of Contents. First create a list. Go to Edit and then to Lists....  You will then see this dialogue pop up:

Click on New to create a List indicated by the red arrow. After clicking the following dialogue will pop up:

First give it a name as indicated by the red arrow with the number 1, in this case called TOC. In this document all Header 1 Styles will appear in the TOC. Then select a Style from the list by clicking on it, indicated by the red arrow with the number 2. Once you have selected the Style click on the big black arrow in the dialogue, indicated by the red arrow with number 3, to add the Style to the Styles in List part of the dialogue. Next click on the downward pointing arrow to the right of the Numbering header after which a pop down will show, indicated by the red arrow with number 4. Select the Text ...Page# option by clicking on it. Leave the Alphabetical box unchecked if you want the TOC to reflect the order as in the sequence of the book. Finally click on the OK button. After doing this go to the Windows in the menu bar at the top of the screen. Then to Lists which will make the Lists panel open, which looks like the image shown below, but before generating the TOC, place your cursor in the document where you want the TOC to appear:

Then find the List in the List Name drop down list. Then click on the Build button. In the place in the document where you placed your cursor the TOC will appear. Press Control-A to select the entire TOC listing. Then go to the Measurements Palette and click on Tabs tab, indicated by the red arrow with number 1. The tabs indication bar will now appear right above the TOC list as shown in the image below:

Then type in the fill character in the Fill field, indicated by the red arrow with the number 2, which usually is a dot. Finally drag the Right tab onto the tab indicator bar above the newly generated TOC in the document. The Tab indicator bar looks like this:

If you exactly followed the steps described above, a TOC will be generated that looks similar to this in your document:

You really have to drag the tab into the tab indicator bar above the text of the TOC, or the fill characters will NOT appear. I first thought I could cause the fill characters to be shown afterwards by filling in the dot and then hit Enter, but this does not work. I also noticed other users were confused by this and that no issue related support was provided by QuarkXpress' helpdesk moderators or by fellow users for that matter. This also may be a sign that many have given up on finding answers in the forums, which would really be a bad thing.

Another remark that may be important for the lay-out of books in particular, is that the TOC text box was not linked to other text boxes other then text boxes necessary to accommodate your entire TOC (i.e. if you have more than one page of items in the TOC). It does not mess up the TOC's indication of your page numbering, but you may have to click the Update and Build buttons in the Lists panel if you created the TOC after completing the entire lay-out of your book and you placed the TOC before the actual contents of the book.

TOC hyperlinks
A final word to make sure the links in the TOC work. When exporting the Lay-out to pdf, make sure you click the Options button in near the bottom of the dialogue, indicated by the red arrow with the number 1. Then an other dialogue window will pop up, as indicated with the red arrow with the number 2. Select the Hyperlinks in the left column of that box and select and select all instances under the Include Hyperlinks option as indicated by the red arrow with the number 3. Click the OK button and proceed the exporting process. Also make sure you selected Include Blank Pages, if that is what you want, because by default does not export blank pages to pdf.

Crashing of QuarkXpress and Auto-Save
I've noticed crashing of QuarkXpress twice when copying text and an anchored image to a different place in the document and while inserting and configuring callout nodes. The program goes in to Not Responding mode and never comes out of it, while your machines CPU fan goes berserk, indicating the machine is confused and working hard. DTP-ers should be aware of this and probably set the Auto-Save to a reasonably small period of time. I set it to 5 minutes and configured the Auto-Save to place data in a specific folder so that I can always find it, in case QuarkXpress doesn't. Auto-saving doesn't take much time, so it's wise to configure and apply this function. If QuarkXpress crashes it will save data up to the point of the last Auto-Save and make this known in a dialogue that pops up immediately after restarting. The Auto-Save works properly, but be aware of the copying and callout-nodes editing that can crash the program. This is a serious problem that QuarkXpress should urgently address.

The export function works well, but the fact that it does not allow to export a range of pages instead of the entire document, is annoying. One would think a program that has been present in the DTP-market for such a long time, would offer this functionality, but QuarkXpress 2016 doesn't.

Download samples
To see this simple test document in which all functions described above were applied, you can click the link below to see and / or download it:

Best viewed in Adobe Acrobat Reader
with pages side-by-side selected
to get an impression of a book

These are the shortcuts and functions I have found to be useful so far, while trying to compose a nice looking and properly editable document. If I run into more things that are useful, I will update this blog entry.

Why bother to write all this?
When hesitantly entering the DTP area I started out with QuarkXpress. Sentimental reasons? Sure. Back then (the beginning of the 90's of the previous century) it lead the pack. But already then, failing to understand the market demand, allowed InDesign to catch up and overtake. The QuarkXpress lead vanished into thin air within a few years and people started to switch to InDesign in increasing numbers. I feel this could have been prevented, had the QuarkXpress leadership had an understanding of the market and a vision of how to use that understanding to at least keep up with the big bad Adobe wolf. The loyalty of users is the foundation on which the existence of programs depends; if companies neglect that, they are basically putting their head in a noose. User loyalty is gained by a sound development (upgrade) strategy, but also on effective service, which mainly relies on well moderated forums and empathic support staff (which pays itself back!). I really regret to see that QuarkXpress seems to underestimate these aspects, while other contenders dash towards a greater user base and profits and leave the once undisputed boss of the DTP-market behind. I guess such things happen all the time, but at least put up a proper fight, QuarkXpress.

Update March 16 2021
I have recently joined a Facebook group for QuarkXpress users and I am astonished by the number of complaints of users. They have to do with bugs, imposed updates that often cause more problems than they resolve, while forcing users to pay for them and - I find the following to be most worrying - the poor support from the people at Quark (the few who actually do try to help their users excluded). It is really sad to see how a program that has shown much potential for decades, to be mismanaged in a way that risks plunging it into oblivion. I can't imagine how the Quark leadership allows such a thing to happen and would lament it if yet an other (once) serious contender of InDesign would drop out of the race. In the Facebook group I see many users pulling out their hair in frustration about the program's dysfunctionality, unreasonable charging of additional fees and lack of adequate support, which are symptoms a good company should always try to avoid at all cost. If angry long time users begin to recommend other programs, such as the flourishing Affinity Publisher (which is what I currently use), then you know something is terribly wrong and it will not take a lot for Quark's fate to take a turn for the worst.

October 10, 2017

Is QuarkXpress a serious contender to InDesign?

It is quite noticeable on the Internet that the dislike of Adobe's subscription policy (some even call it prisonware) is increasing. In spite of the comprehensiveness of the collaborating programs in Adobe's suit, many DTP-ers are looking for alternatives to continue their work. At first glance it seems there aren't many serious competitors to InDesign, at least not ones that are similarly feature rich. But for users to be driven to consider a switch to an other program, because they feel plundered, in spite of the magnificent features of InDesign, indicates that something is wrong with the capacity to make proper decisions in Adobe's management (although the bloke that persuaded them to do it, most likely reached his target with a rousing fanfare - Subscriptions to Adobe’s popular Creative Cloud software have powered a 44 percent increase in revenue since 2013...). Users have to overcome a steep learning curve in order to be able to work with an alternative program and have to convert a number of their documents that they created in InDesign. But the time, effort and money that it costs, does not seem to stop many from looking for alternatives nevertheless. That should ring some bells at Adobe, but I assume they think that their industry leader position prevents them from losing too many users, which they believe will be more than compensated by the revenues resulting from their grippingly expensive subscription policy.

An other flaw that InDesign has, is that it is incapable of integrating SQL data, which would be a very useful function for a lot of companies (that must print labels or other printed docs that often recur, requiring change). There are rather expensive and not 100% properly working third party plug-ins to solve this problem (somewhat), but on top of Adobe's already expensive program this would put off many users that would have potential use for it. A simple program like Microsoft Word handles SQL data without a plug-in a lot better than InDesign.

In the past Aldus PageMaker was a program that re-invented the art of Desktop Publishing. It became available for Macintosh computers in 1985 and for Windows machines in 1987. No contending program was able to match its features. In 1994 PageMaker was bought by Adobe. Its latest release was version 7.0 that was launched in 2001.

Before that time an other DTP-program, named QuarkXpress had conquered the DTP market, because it had many more functions than PageMaker. QuarkXpress 4.0 made that company grow so fast that Quark intended to buy Adobe. The latter averted the take over and developed InDesign that was based on Shuksan or K2 that Aldus had already began to develop in the time it was bought by Adobe. That eventually resulted in Adobe issuing InDesign. This program rapidly gained Adobe a leading position in the DTP realm, which it has been able to expand over time.

But Adobe's subscription model forces users to pay indefinitely for the right to use its programs. Its monopoly on the market probably prompted the company to make such a choice, thinking that professional users in Desktop Publishing would have no choice but to use InDesign. I am not on some type of crusade against Adobe, but I just feel it is exploiting its market position. Their suit is excellent and its programs work together in a great way. However, expecting users to endlessly pay for programs instead of buying a license and allowing users to decide to upgrade when they feel it is necessary, is not good business conduct.

An other contender, Microsoft's Publisher, is not taken seriously by professionals due to its lack of advanced features, while FrameMaker - suited to create large, structured documents - purchased from Frame by Adobe in 1995, used mainly in big business environments where less fancy lay-out features are required. FrameMaker is commonly used for database publishing, which is a specialized trade. It reads ODBC / SQL / XML objects and links them in documents automatically, so whenever the information in the database is changed, they are applied in the document instantly. It is a tool particularly useful for companies that continuously need to process large amounts of data, to which DTP-specialists have to do few or no editing at all. Airliners for example, quarterly receive approximately 150,000 pages that update the manual for a specific large type of aircraft. These include legacy data (bitmaps) and editable data. FrameMaker is therefore almost never used as a single program production platform; many other programs are involved in the update process - database shells, programs for vectorizing bitmaps (rasters), OCR etc.

Open source Lyx that is a shell based on Latex typesetting that does not follow the WYSIWYG principle that has become the standard in the DTP world. It is predominantly used in academic circles and is perfectly capable of creating and integrating (editable) complex mathematical formulae in documents, but it does not attract many users outside of its niche and does not seem to attempt to do so. It is not created to do general publishing, but is very good at composing large, structured documents.

A great DTP program that once adorned the business of lay-out enhancing artists is Ventura that was bought by Corel in 1993. Ventura had been around from the pre-Windows era, running on DOS. Its transition to Windows was excellent. Renown for the way it handled styles and its magnificent interface, it slowly dissolved into oblivion after Corel didn't bother to give it some TLC. It might have earned them tons of money, but apparently the Corel company had other priorities. Some of its functionality found its way into their flagship CorelDRAW, but that is not a specialist DTP program. A missed opportunity I think.

Finally Scribus is also an open source DTP program which interface resembles word processing applications at first glance. I've tried to use it, but I find it difficult to find the features that would allow it to properly function as a professional DTP program. My biggest objection against Scribus is the fact that it can not properly anchor images in text fields; this is a major requirement in professional DTP-programs and this flaw should urgently be addressed before it can considered to be a serious contender in the publishing realm. Another problem is the fact that native tables can't be configured and edited properly, which especially is a shortcoming for people that have specialized in making technical and commercial documentation. Perhaps it's just me having no feeling with Scribus User Interface, because it excels at hiding key functions very well. I think it is an admirable project and have a lot of respect for programmers that work on open source projects, but key features must be added to this program, before professionals will consider to use it. But for the time being, I am trying to familiarize myself with QuarkXpress to create DTP documents.

So, is QuarkXpress a good alternative to InDesign? It probably is, but its UI is entirely different and it requires a lot of effort for users accustomed to InDesign to create documents of similar complexity and appearance. While in the process of learning QuarkXpress I intensively explored the program's user forum and Youtube to find out where the functions are and how they work. InDesign users may find QuarkXpress' UI not logical in a number of respects. Some functions, like anchoring an image inside a text box, require cut and paste instead of being available as a dedicated function that is easy to find in the menus or by right clicking. In addition anchoring images requires a specific sequence of actions for it to work properly - create an image box, cut and paste it where the image should be anchored inside the text and lastly import the image in the pasted box. After that fiddling with inserts and tabs is necessary to position the runaround text. The image box consequently starts to behave as text..., eventhough some (but not all) of the image properties remain editable.

I'm not saying InDesign's anchoring function is flawless, but it is more intuitive, is less difficult to find (because it is in a logical position in the menus), faster to accomplish and edit, while significantly less tedious and more flexible for users to work with. And what is more: it bloody works! I mention this feature specifically, because it is a crucial function for those creating and editing long documents, especially if items or pages have to be inserted in the beginning of a document. Note: No one seems to dig deep in to core of this fundamental DTP-function in the QuarkXpress forum and Youtube, I suspect because it is a shortcoming so far not addressed. Five paragraphs below this one I refer to problems with legacy functions that developers must deal with in order to maintain UI logic and accessibility of functions, without confusing existing users of a program. It may be the root of this problem in QuarkXpress.

An other example, for call-out creation and editing, Quark placed that function in the Item menu, while related functions are in the EditStyle and Window menus. Why not combine them all in one place or make them accessible in one dialogue box? It all works when properly applied, but users shouldn't have to do exhaustive digging in the menu structure to get the job done. It feels more like a workaround instead of a dedicated function. I'm aware of the fact that veteran QuarkXpress users may shrug their shoulders over my remarks, but if QuarkXpress aims to expand its audience, then something should be done about these things, because they are oddities that all new users (that aim to switch from InDesign for example) run into.

InDesign has a wealth of filters that allow images to be transparent with a number of properties, including fading transparency that can be applied instantly. These are not available as dedicated functions in QuarkXpress and require more clicks after users have figured out where to find the functions and how they work. Editing in photo / bitmap editing programs can sometimes not be avoided, because it can't be done in QuarkXpress; editing of fading transparency of images or boxes at an angle of choice for example. Also creating interactive documents in QuarkXpress forces users to look for functions that are not user friendly or simply non-existing. In view of this, I think the QuarkXpress forum is lacking in proper assistance and there aren't many video clips on Youtube that shed an efficient light on complex DTP matters either. That means that users that want to make the switch from InDesign to QuarkXpress have to figure out these things by themselves. That is a shame really, since many DTP-ers simply do not have the time to discover these functionalities. It is a situation that the people at QuarkXpress have to seriously consider, especially now that there is a lot of annoyance among DTP-ers with regard to Adobe's subscription policies, urging them to find usable alternatives. QuarkXpress puts a lot of emphasis on persuading users to opt for their less expensive licensing policy, but neglects making a greater effort of improving their program's UI and functionality, while leaving their support section with a lack of support.

Meanwhile, rumours have it that Serif, that also developed Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, is in the process of creating a DTP program as well - Affinity Publisher. Date of issue has been delayed several times, but in view of Affinity Photo's and Affinity Designer's most outstanding capabilities, expecting that their future DTP program may have similarly magnificent features is probably not far off the mark. The current situation in the DTP market should force Adobe and QuarkXpress to reconsider their chosen paths; Adobe might rethink if its subscription policy may have been an unfortunate decision, capable of harming Adobe's market share in the long run and QuarkXpress should probably do some work on its UI and extend its user support.

It isn't a disgraceful thing for QuarkXpress to mimic the useful parts of Adobe's UI - the Corel suit allows users to chose between several interfaces, which means it is feasible for programmers to achieve such a feat. Most importantly: it makes switching from Adobe to QuarkXpress much easier. If Adobe and QuarkXpress miss the boat in the departments indicated, Serif may pass them both in the near future, especially since the combination of Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher would make their suit quite complete. Perhaps adding a webdesign program would be the cherry on the cake.

Affinity's advantage over both InDesign and QuarkXpress, is that Serif has no need to consider legacy functionality - it can do things right from scratch and it has no legacy tool functions to take into account (unless it is going to transform its Serif Plus DTP-program into Affinity Publisher...). A lack of legacy functions to consider, tends to make programs easier, faster and cheaper to develop, resulting in a more user friendly UI that requires less clicks and endless plunging into menus. Serif has shown to be well capable of doing exactly that with Affinity Photo and Designer. This observation may have the ability to cause Adobe and QuarkXpress to worry, because they're basically stuck with modifying legacy functionaly.

In addition Affinity's low price policy may tempt users, companies and print shops to (re)calculate their (long term) operational costs, which may not lead to conclusions that are favorable for Adobe and QuarkXpress, provided that Serif will be able to manage its programs' pre-press compatibility with existing hardware in a way that will not force print shops to make investments necessary to make proper prints that require much time to complete. I will most certainly keep an eye on Serif's progress with regard to the development of Affinity Publisher and write about it once they have issued the program.

Update February 2019

Since a couple of months ago Serif issued a number of the beta versions of Affinity Publisher and although it is not a finished product yet, it looks very promising. What jumps out is the interface that is very intuitive and is already prepared (but not yet functioning) to integrate with Affinity Photo and Designer. Bearing in mind that Serif has the necessary experience with DTP (the excellent PagePlus program) I don't doubt that they will be able to bring Publisher up to speed within a reasonable amount of time. They have stated that they will not use the unaltered code of PagePlus, but build Publisher from the ground up, making it meet the most modern requirements and prevent their team of developers from having to work-around / work with legacy code, which generally tends to make programs slow and / or bloated (and / or even buggy).

October 4, 2017

Affinity - alternative to the Adobe and Corel suits?

After continuous crashes forced me to look for alternatives to the bug ridden Corel PhotoPaint I ran across Affinity Photo some time ago. While experimenting with open source GIMP, I remained on the look out for other programs to create bitmap art, mainly because GIMP has an entirely different approach and many features are still being developed. Photoshop licences used to be immensely expensive, which got even worse since Adobe switched to a horrendous subscription policy. It has definitively made me forget about using software from that company. All functionality and integration of the programs in the Adobe suit are far outweighed by their deceptively overpriced subscription scam.

Affinity has a wealth of functions that almost make it match Adobe's usability and quality and its pricing is no less than spectacular. The desktop versions of Affinity Photo (for pixel pushers) and Designer - for vector drawers - both sell for 55 Euro. The iPad versions cost just under 20 Euro! This means you buy a license and are not forced to endlessly pay for the use of Adobe's programs and work in their cloud! Affinity's pricing is a humongous financial advantage over that of the Adobe programs. I haven't yet bought the Affinity programs, but watched many tutorials on Youtube, which kindled my enthusiasm. Affinity's programs were selected Apple's editor's choice for very good reasons in 2014 and have improved their functionality ever since. Today there are Mac and Windows versions of the programs, which makes exchange of files a piece of cake.

Affinity exports to psd-files with conservation of all layer information, allowing Photoshop license holders and subscription victims to flawlessly edit them (and send them back to Affinity users if needed). To learn more about Affinity Photo's dazzling feature list, please visit this page. And here you find the Designer feature roadmap. Affinity's managers have even acknowledged it will be possible to import CorelDRAW files some time in the future. This would potentially lower the threshold for quite a few CorelDRAW users to make the switch to Affinity. I remain very curious to their software development progress. The time to ditch the established players on the market that abuse their monopoly position, is nearing rapidly. It was only a matter of time before less expensive but very usable alternatives would emerge. They have become available now and work most excellently.

Update October 6 2017:
I've tried Affinity Photo and was positively surprised by some functions. In Particular the the Pen-tool (comparable with the Path-tool in Photoshop) that actually is parametric, which means you can apply changes to it afterwards, because it actually is a vector shape inside a pixel program. In addition the Pen shape can be turned into a selection that can be blurred... The same parametric property goes for the Prefabricated Shape-tool (of which there are many available) and the Text-tool. The fully customizable Transparency-tool can also be changed afterwards. These are magnificent features for artists and designers. More over, the entire history of applied tools can be viewed and edited, which is something no other bitmap editing program allows to do. I must say I am thoroughly impressed by Serif's programming, Serif being the company that has built Affinity Photo.

I am totally convinced that Affinity Photo is going to gain a market share rapidly, once its presence / availability is going to be noticed by a growing audience. I feel I can safely recommend both the Photo and Designer programs Affinity has created. They're a breath of fresh air in a market that looked like it was being choked by Adobe and Corel. The open source programs GIMP and Inkscape are going to have to step up their development pace if they intend to keep up with Affinity, especially since the company has put a more than friendly price tag to their programs and made them work on Windows, Mac and iPad platforms. Affinity has the potential to change the landscape of graphic design, which is a huge compliment.

Update February 21 2023:
Somewhere in November 2022 Affinity released its 2.0 version of its suit after quite a long time of not upgrading anything significant function wise. Although even after such an extended period of basically not noticeably upgrading the tools of its suit, there were problems mainly by installing the programs because Serif went with the Microsoft store installation method that I described in an other post. However since the 2.0.4 upgrade everything seems to work properly. May functions were added, while existing ones were improved. There still are functions missing - like the blend  and array option for instance - that its competition (e.a. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop) included in their programs, but those are minor things that affect productivity. In addition it has other functions, like the magnificent blur option and effect tools, that by far outperforms those of the Adobe programs, so in the field of functional versatility of its programs things are pretty much balanced between the two. Best of all the Affinity programs do not cost an arm and a leg and are not offered through a subscription model, which is nothing less than plundering users in my and many other peoples' humble opinion. Especially for new users in the graphic market that do not have a six figure bank account and a huge number of legacy files, that could be needing updates or alterations long after the original was created, the Affinity suit is the perfect solution. Give their trial programs a try and you'll find out why I wrote this update.