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QuarkXPress versus Adobe InDesign

The Clash of the Publishing Platform Giants

By Gretchen Peck

If you had polled a random sampling of graphic designers no more than five years ago, you would have found that the vast majority were using – and for many years had been using – QuarkXPress. It was the de facto standard for content creation destined for print output. Today, Quark has competition in the form of Adobe’s InDesign CS.

When Adobe first introduced InDesign a few years ago, it prematurely was nicknamed the "Quark killer." But it wasn’t an overnight success in the graphic arts community, notorious for being somewhat resistant to change. It took time and much marketing from Adobe, and the advent of portable document format, or pdf, as a digital file standard, to alter the landscape. Today, Quark finds itself sharing the space with Adobe, as InDesign builds a strong following.

Quark now has a long-awaited version 6.1 of QuarkXPress available. The new version offers support for Mac OS X, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. The "Layout Spaces" feature enables users to work within a project, or collection of layouts, that can vary in media type, size and orientation. And new synchronized text capabilities enable users to simultaneously coordinate text among layouts. Users can edit common text in one place, and changes will be updated throughout the entire project. Quark also says that versions 6 and 6.1 offer improvements to output features for print-optimized layouts.

InDesign CS is a primary component of Adobe’s Creative Suite; in addition to InDesign, the suite – sold in either a standard or premium edition – is comprised of Photoshop CS, Illustrator CS, GoLive CS, Acrobat Professional and Version Cue, a new tool that allows users to quickly locate files that may be stored in different versions, for different output intentions.

The Right to Choose
"There are a number of factors affecting users’ decisions to switch from QuarkXPress," says Will Eisley, group product manager, layout products, Adobe Systems. "(These include) increased productivity through innovative features that reduce creation and production time; increased productivity through Adobe integration, which allows users to work with the right tool at the right time – as opposed to the ‘Swiss-Army knife" approach; (and) leadership on Mac OS X development. Adobe InDesign was OS X-native for nearly 18 months before QuarkXPress was adjusted to run on OS X."

A growing list of publishers that led the pack in digital adoption has abandoned previous methods of print production in favor of PDF-driven workflows. And this is where InDesign CS seems to excel.

"Since 1999, Adobe InDesign has had the ability to directly export to PDF without reverting to PostScript generation," Eisley says. "This produces tremendous technical advantages in the type of rich PDF that an application can generate. In addition, InDesign allows users to create industry-standard PDF/X files directly through pre-defined PDF Export styles, (which) can also be created and distributed to allow workflow consistency across an organization."

Over the summer, Hearst Magazines – the publisher of 18 U.S. magazine titles and 137 international editions – announced that it had adopted the Adobe Creative Suite as its "standard publishing solution."

Already, its top titles – Cosmopolitan, Popular Mechanics, Marie Claire, House Beautiful and Shop Etc. – are produced using the suite, with plans to have the rest of its titles on board by next year.

While the publisher formerly relied heavily on third-party prepress support, file preparation and contract proofing can now be done in-house.

"Moving to InDesign CS has made it easier for our magazines to do their own prepress," says Ellen Payne, director of editorial operations at Hearst. "We are saving significant amounts of time and money in design and production, while enhancing the quality of our magazine titles."

Preparing for Battle
But don’t count Quark out. There are many fans of QuarkXPress out there. Just ask Julia Brown, owner of JKB Design in San Leandro, Calif. "InDesign uses the Illustrator interface, which makes it user-friendly for users of Illustrator. (But) I find it easier to use Quark. … I find the color-selection process easier in Quark. … I find adding color to black-and-white TIFF images easier in Quark. … I find that the help menu in InDesign leaves a lot to be desired. I think neither of these programs is more user-friendly than the other."

Brown says she just likes Quark better. "But I liked Quark 4 and 5 better than Quark 6. When I am on deadline, I use Quark 5 in (Mac) OS 9. Many vendors don’t accept InDesign CS or Quark 6 files, anyway."

Tim Banister, the QuarkXPress associate product manager, led the team to design the application’s new features. He says independent sources have verified that Quark still holds significantly more market share than Adobe InDesign. "Market share has become a complex issue, because of how Adobe has packed the Creative Suite. Sales used to be a pretty good indicator of use of a software package, but now, with vendors packaging different applications together, it is hard to know if a sale indicates use or not. People are purchasing Adobe’s Creative Suite to get Photoshop; they also get Illustrator and InDesign, whether they use them or not.

He says some customers have considered switching and have decided to stick with Quark, some have converted to InDesign, and some are using both applications. "We welcome the competition, because it results in better products and services for our customers, which is a win-win for everyone."

Recently, Quark has demonstrated that it is listening to what users are saying, and plans to respond to their needs. In late July, for example, Quark became a member of the Networked Graphic Production initiative, comprised of leading print industry developers and vendors that have committed to delivering job definition format-compliant solutions to the marketplace.

"Quark is completely dedicated to supporting open standards – most notably PDF, JDF, XML (extensible markup language), etc.," Banister says. "We have joined organizations to ensure our products fit in with the rest of the workflow ... Quark is dedicated to PDF functionality and will continue to incorporate it into QuarkXPress."

Quark also has decided to relax some of its licensing rules. As of July, QuarkXPress 6 users can install and activate the application on a second workstation, at no additional charge. "Quark is completely committed to improving our customer service," asserts Monique Wirz-Grutter, Quark’s vice president of operations, in the press release announcing the new policy. "This is one of the many ways that we’re actively responding to our customer requests and trying to help our customers be more efficient."

The InDesign Perspective
The Hearst case study is just one of the stories from publishers and designers adopting InDesign as its page layout application of choice.

"I think what ‘killed’ Quark was the delay in getting Quark 6 out," said Matt Beals, director of production and manufacturing for Paizo Publishing LLC. "Once it was here, many people looked at it and said, ‘What the heck is this?’ The 6.1 update seemed to fix some things. … Features like transparency, superior typographical controls, PDF export, stricter adherence to specification, scripting, plug-ins and XML support are what really set InDesign apart. But the biggest factor, I think, was who was on OS X first. And that was Adobe."

Naomi Murphy is a senior designer at Seattle-based Belyea Marketing Communication Design, a marketing and design firm. About 75 percent of Murphy’s design work at Belyea is bound for print output. "We create content for premium printing and online communication."

Murphy says that InDesign offers several key benefits to her workflow, including an intuitive and user-friendly interface. For her, the learning curve was minimal, because she was already well versed in other Adobe applications, such as Illustrator. "InDesign is more aesthetically pleasing than QuarkXPress. The palettes are better organized and more efficient."

Beyond aesthetics, Murphy says she simply prefers the efficiency offered by InDesign. "(It) makes it easier as a designer, not having to switch back and forth between programs. … The Adobe applications work great together. The interfaces and tools are similar, making it easy for designers to work in all applications on one job. InDesign has the capabilities of creating PDF documents much more efficiently than QuarkXPress. PDFs can be created from InDesign with fewer steps. … I welcome anything makes creating PDF documents easier."

Scott Citron, owner of Scott Citron Design in New York City, concurs with Murphy’s opinion that InDesign tends to be a bit more intuitive than the alternative. His firm designs mostly books and advertising collateral, and on occasion, work destined for the Web. A longtime user of QuarkXPress, Citron now prefers to work in InDesign on a daily basis, and has since become an Adobe Certified Expert. "InDesign is far more intuitive. Things tend to work the way you’d expect them to work. The learning curve is not too steep, especially for users familiar with other Adobe products.

"InDesign has support for transparency, OpenType and rich media," he added. "Quark has none of these."

Despite his affinity for InDesign, Citron doesn’t want to think of it as the "Quark killer. ... I hope Quark hangs in there. Competition is a good thing."

The Quark Perspective
C.D. Vann, owner of Soho Graphics & Design in Milwaukee, first got her hands on a copy of InDesign by purchasing Adobe’s Creative Suite. While she was more interested in the upgrades to other Adobe applications in the suite, like Photoshop and Acrobat, she has spent a couple of years "playing with" InDesign. But she remains loyal to QuarkXPress, which she’s been using since version 3.0 to create designs for print and the Web.

She agrees that there may be some benefit to being able to work simultaneously in image-management software like Photoshop and a layout application like InDesign, but "that little bit of a feature is not a strong enough incentive to give up Quark," she says. "For me, it’s not so much a matter of whether one application is better than the other. It’s a matter of my level of comfort with the Quark interface. And choosing to leave Quark and all I know and feel comfortable with – for, what I like to call, ‘a second of laziness,’ when I click out of Quark and go into Photoshop for an image edit – well, it’s just not something I’m willing to do."

Vann uses QuarkXPress 6.0, and says that creating PDFs in this version is just as simple as it is in InDesign: "You can make a PDF from Quark, too. They started that with Quark 4.0. … It’s just a matter of making sure your distiller options are set correctly. In version 5, it was even easier, and now, in 6.0, it’s just a matter of hitting ‘File,’ ‘Export to PDF.’ It’s no big deal, and pretty much exactly like making a PDF in InDesign. I never have to leave Quark to change or set my output settings."

Spence Guerin, art director for Just Cause Media, based in Melbourne, Fla., is another who prefers Quark. "Quark is our publication layout software of choice. We upgraded from PageMaker about three and a half years ago, and wished we had done it sooner." At Just Cause Media, Guerin is responsible for producing a wide range of print products, including annual directories, booklets, newsletters, brochures, business forms and mailing pieces.

While Guerin has attended seminars introducing InDesign, he says that he can’t fathom making the switch. "Quark is absolutely user-friendly, intuitive, reliable, proven and extremely capable. When I learned QuarkXPress by tutorials, I was most impressed with the thoroughness of logical, sequential explanation. I have come to expect this complete attention to detail from all processes in QuarkXPress. There is a reason for Quark’s extreme popularity among the graphic arts and publication industries."

While Guerin occasionally is asked to produce final-content PDF files for printers, he estimates that the majority still wants native QuarkXPress files. "Quark’s improved ‘collect-for-output’ features make press-ready deliveries to printers problem-free. … With every upgrade, QuarkXPress improves in unforeseen ways. I hope, and expect, that will continue."      

Sept2004, Digital Output

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