QuarkXPress 2016 Updated for Print and HTML5 Output

When it comes to layout and publishing software it's a two-horse race between Adobe's InDesign and Quark's XPress. While Quark led the field for many years, InDesign has slowly but steadily increased its market share to the point where XPress is now a distant second, forced with each release to try to catch up with the capabilities of the latest version of InDesign

With XPress 9, released in 2011, Quark finally provided the ability to export to ePub format, and with 9.1 added App Studio, designed to move XPress content to the iPad while including interactive elements. It continued in this direction with the release of 9.2, which added new ePub features, ePub 3 audio and video support, as well as more options for App Studio. Version 9.5.1 further enhanced app creation with App Studio. Clearly, Quark was trying to keep XPress in the ePub and app ballpark.

XPress 10, released in 2013, was something of a return to fundamentals. XPress finally became a native Cocoa application, important for fully taking advantage of OS X. To provide a sense of the magnitude of the undertaking, we're told that the dev team had to update half a million lines of code and add 350,000 more. And then the addition of Retina display support required the creation of 1,300 icons. This release also saw the introduction of a new Xenon graphics engine, which was said to dramatically increase the display quality of both bitmap and vector images within documents. The release also included an overhaul to the interface, including changes to palette control, as well as the ability to display the design environment full screen, the addition of a page navigator for scanning thumbnails and an increased emphasis on the measurements palette. Other notable improvements included a QR code generator, support for East Asian typography in all editions, layer enhancements, Bézier tool improvements, the ability to highlight missing fonts, better PDF handling, and beefed up Microsoft Word import.

Version 10.1 was released in March of 2014, with Quark making a point of saying that XPress is "available as a perpetual license and customers can rely on ongoing value from their investment," in contrast with the subscription model of InDesign. Creative Cloud was the best thing that ever happened to Quark, since it made it possible to finally position XPress as a real alternative to InDesign, for those refusing to go the Adobe subscription route. And 10.1 seemed promising, by adding such functionality as a rather over-the-top 8000% zoom capability, allowing admittedly precise object positioning. Then there were dynamic guides, which automatically appear when items that are created, moved or resized subsequently align with other items on the page. They also show up when items have the same width and height as other elements on the page or when several items have the same distance to other items to help evenly distribute elements.

It was also possible to create HTML5 animations, employing them as slide-ins from the side, or element fade or grow. The book feature was said to now work "seamlessly" with projects and layouts, enabling users to specify one or more layouts for inclusion in a single book, with the ability to sync indexes, table of contents and other design elements, such as colors and stylesheets, and be exported to one or multiple PDFs. Other new functionality included the ability to export boxes, partial pages or whole pages as static pixel-based images; the ability to create custom user interface color settings in the Preferences menu (Mac only); and several tweaks to QR code creation. Sure, none of that was earth shattering but it did make one see XPress as a contender. And after all, do we really want Adobe to have a monopoly on page layout with InDesign? I think not.

But soon after the release of 10.1 it because apparent that Quark had completely dropped the ball by releasing a version that was both unstable and, in some cases, painfully slow. So four months later saw another free update of which Matthias Guenther, Director of the Desktop Business Unit for Quark Software said, “During the development phase, QuarkXPress 10.2 was tested extensively by pre-release testers around the world who reported significant performance improvements relative to previous versions of QuarkXPress.” Of course, in this context the word "significant" is... well, significant.

To ease the pain, 10.2 also included some new functionality. It was now possible to track changes within documents via redlining, which was handy. But the spell checker still didn''t employ red and green underlines for spell and grammar checking. Yes, it was possible to add "sticky notes" within documents, to be used as reminders and comments. Nice but more importantly, why did XPress still provide no footnote functionality, was it really that difficult? Version 10.1 seemed to make a wide range of output unreliable, which 10.2 seemed to fix. Control over hyphenation exceptions was also improved. Other such updates followed, up to 10.5.

QuarkXPress 2015 moved to a 64-bit architecture, as well adding multi-threading to its text engine. New functionality included support for PDF/X-4 output; the ability to create fixed layout ePub documents with interactive elements, such as scrollable areas, page flips and animations; automatic footnotes and endnotes; a faster, alternative table tool; and content variables for automatically populating reoccurring fields.

So what's new in QuarkXPress 2016, you ask? One promising initiative is that of making it easier to integrate files created with a wide variety of other applications. For example, we're told that "QuarkXPress is the first layout application to import PDF, Illustrator and EPS files and convert them to native objects." It's not entirely clear whether converting imported documents is always the best approach, as opposed to performing round-trip editing, especially since Quark adds a discrete asterisk and the words "Restrictions apply." But if it works perfectly, importing PDF ads into layouts and being able to edit them, for example, would be very handy indeed. Related is the ability to copy items from other applications such as PowerPoint, Illustrator or even InDesign and paste them into a QuarkXPress layout as "Native QuarkXPress Objects." That sounds quite valuable, although again "Restrictions apply."

Another significant advance is the possibility to create fixed-layout HTML5 versions of XPress documents, with Quark stating that XPress is "Quite possibly the easiest way to share your final magazine, newspaper, comics, reports, ads and more." Comics? But beyond that the words "quite possibly" are quite pesky. What does Quark mean? Is XPress or isn't it the easiest tool for this? More conviction would inspire confidence. XPress also now delivers multi-color gradients that are claimed to be "best in class." Here Quark refers to InDesign obliquely by stating that "Unlike other layout software, you can even set different opacity levels for each color stop."

There are a number of other minor feature additions and improvements (with the new color picker being a standout) but those are the high points. Don't misunderstand, here at Graphics.com we're far from being Adobe fanboys. Quite the contrary, we like nothing better than compelling alternatives to the Creative Cloud offerings. Overall this is a more ambitious update than 2015's offering but one of the main attractions of XPress remains the absence of a subscription model, coupled with an upgrade policy that includes the antique version 3. As with InDesign, XPress can be installed on two machines, whether Mac or Windows. QuarkXPress 2016 is available for purchase on the Quark site for $849, with upgrades priced at $349. A trial version is available for download.