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New work environment, text handling, web repurposing, multimedia output and commercial print controls, make InDesign the professional designer's choice.

Photoshop is undoubtedly the biggest attraction, but in many ways InDesign should be the real centerpiece of the CS suite. After all it's InDesign that brings together the bitmaps from Photoshop and the vectors from Illustrator to create the finished publication. However, InDesign doesn't have Photoshop's long pedigree, as it was launched just four years ago, and it only began to make an impression on the DTP market leader, XPress, two years ago with version 2's exciting leap in design power. So will this latest release be the version that finally wins InDesign the central role it craves and, with it, the publishing crown?

To help it achieve this goal Adobe has completely overhauled the Adobe interface. To keep the working environment as clean as possible now when you drag a palette off-screen, it collapses to a side tab; click on the tab and it reopens; click again and it shuts. You can also save any arrangement of palettes as a named workspace. Two important new palettes have also been introduced. The Info palette acts like its equivalent in Illustrator and Photoshop to provide useful feedback such as the original and effective resolution of imported and resized bitmaps and the number of words (both placed and overset) in text frames. It is also used with the new Measure tool to show the distance between two points and angle to the page. The Control palette is even more important as it acts as a cross between the Paragraph, Character, Transform, Stroke and Table palettes depending on the current selection.

The InDesign CS interface sports dockable palettes workspaces, and a new central Control palette.

The extra productivity that the Control palette provides is enormous and it's clear that this has been Adobe's main focus in the new release. The most obvious boost is the general increase in InDesign CS's speed and responsivity with Adobe claiming up to 70% improvements in a whole range of functions ranging from screen redraw to PDF export. Speed is undoubtedly important, but it's only the beginning. The new emphasis on efficiency is evident right from the start of each job, with the new ability to define custom page sizes and to save layout setups that you use regularly as document presets.

Perhaps the biggest advances in productivity are in terms of text handling. Double-clicking in a text frame automatically switches to the text tool while Alt+double-clicking now opens the Text Frame Options dialog. Clicking on the edge of a frame and pausing activates dynamic text preview which means that the effect of frame resizing on text composition is updated in real-time even when you're dealing with complicated text-wrap. And, my personal favourite, if you hold down the Ctrl-key while dragging on a frame edge, the text itself is sized or distorted accordingly without having to resort to the Free Transform too.

Another major improvement when it comes to text handling is the introduction of a Story Editor. This is a separate window which lets you see and edit your text independent of its formatting and layout. To assist your editing, the Story Editor offers basic word-processing functionality (though no background spell-check or autocorrect or thesaurus), along with control over the size and font in which the text is displayed. What really makes the feature stand out is that the layout version updates as you type so that copyfitting becomes much easier. For advanced workgroup-based production environments, Adobe also offers InCopy which enables designers and authors to work on editing and designing a publication simultaneously.

The real-time preview and Story Editor help copy-fitting.

Also coming under the text heading is InDesign's improved table handling. This was already an area of strength and has been further extended. In particular you can now set up automatic running header and footer rows and InDesign CS now honours these settings in imported Word tables. Another major change when it comes to dealing with Word sounds like a backward-step. Now when you copy text from Word into InDesign, the pasted text is stripped of its formatting by default. In fact this is a much better approach as it's far better to format your text using InDesign's own much more powerful paragraph and character styles.

Especially as InDesign's formatting capabilities have again been enhanced with the new support for nested styles in which character styles are automatically applied when you apply a paragraph style. The nested styling can be based on number of words or characters - ideal for formatting a dropped cap for example - or can include all text up to a given character - ideal for formatting an inline heading. Two handy new shortcuts available from the Paragraph palette round out InDesign's new text formatting capabilities. The first enables you to force the first line of a paragraph to align to the underlying grid, and the second to automatically balance ragged left-aligned text without having to enter the line breaks yourself.

Nested styles apply paragraph and character styling at the same time.

InDesign CS's text handling is superb so what about its support for graphics? Naturally the most important formats to import are Illustrator AI, Photoshop PSD and the suite-wide PDF. InDesign's support for these was already excellent with unique features such as its ability to honour imported transparency information. Again the level of integration has been improved with the most welcome feature being the support for spot channels in imported PSD and PDF so that you no longer have to produce duotones and multitones via awkward pre-separated EPS files. You can also now open linked graphics for editing simply by Alt+double-clicking on them.

The integration with Illustrator is even tighter with the ability to copy and paste simple Illustrator artwork directly into InDesign where it can even be directly edited with the Pen tool. To help you manage pasted artwork and InDesign's own objects, there are new select commands and shortcuts, for example to select the first object above the current selection. You can also quickly align and distribute objects using the Control palette and use the new PathFinder palette to combine them to produce entirely new shapes.

When it comes to formatting your objects and text, InDesign CS offers a number of new features. It's now easier to add multiple colours to the Swatches palette and you can drag these onto your gradients to automatically add colour stops. You can also drag on the Paper swatch to create fades. Taking a leaf out of Quark's book is the new support for mixed inks. If you've set up spot colours in your publication you can use the New Mixed Ink Swatch command to specify a new colour combination based on them. Alternatively, you can have InDesign automatically generate multiple swatches based on different percentage combinations. This is a great way of extending your colour palette when producing two-colour or three-colour rather than four-colour process print and, if you change your spot colours, InDesign CS automatically updates the mixes.

InDesign doesn't just improve its colour handling, it also completely revamps its support for stroke formatting (again an area where Quark previously held a slight lead). Using the new Stroke Style Editor you can create a huge range of dashed, dotted and striped lines. You can even create hashed and wavy lines, apply a tint or colour to the gaps in a stroke and control whether the stroke is centred or positioned on the inside or the outside of the line. Crucially, these stroke styles aren't restricted to formatting drawn objects or frames; you can also use them within tables and even as part of paragraph and character styles.

Stroke styles can be defined and used throughout a publication.

So much for InDesign's new design power, what about its output capabilities? These days it's recognized that if you're going to the trouble of producing a print publication, you're also likely to want to produce a web version. Quark's solution to this is to graft on basic HTML-based web design functionality directly within QuarkXPress. Adobe's solution is very different and very ingenious. Using the new Package for GoLive command it creates a PDF-based version of the print publication complete with linked files that can be opened directly in GoLive. You can then drag elements off the print publication to interactively create the Web version. Plus of course you have all the power of GoLive's web authoring power at your disposal (see page ). It's a brilliant piece of lateral thinking and highlights just how underpowered and ill-thought through the Quark web functionality is.

Integration with GoLive allows InDesign to rethink web repurposing.

The manual integration with GoLive is useful for standalone designers wanting to republish to the Web, but of course such a hands-on process isn't suited for large scale industrial publishing. This is where InDesign's XML support comes in allowing tagged text to be flowed into publication templates, edited in situ and then exported again to be reprocessed for re-use on the Web. InDesign CS offers a number of new features such as support for DTDs (Document Type Definitions) and validation, and the ability to map tags to character styles and even nested styles and vice versa to make this XML-based workflow smoother and more robust.

Alongside its Web output, InDesign offers another important form of electronic publishing thanks to its ability to export publications to PDF which can then be viewed in the freely available Acrobat Reader. The support for PDF in this latest version is richer than ever with the inclusion of a new Bookmark palette which lets you set up a customized navigational hierarchy for your document. Bookmarks can be saved right back to PDF 1.3 format files for maximum compatibility, but most of InDesign's new functionality, such as 128-bit encryption and permission-based restrictions, is reserved for the latest 1.5 format Acrobat 6 files. In particular it's possible to save layered information, such as comments on the layout, which can then be hidden or displayed in the latest Acrobat 6 Professional.

Potentially the most exciting features of the new PDF 1.5 format are its radically improved interactivity and multimedia capabilities. InDesign CS takes advantage of these with a new Button tool that lets you create rollover effects and apply basic actions: goto page, bookmark, URL and so on. You can also now place audio, video and even SWF animations in your layout which can either be linked to the PDF or directly embedded. You can also specify a poster image to display when the media isn't playing, set playback options and so on. In other words InDesign CS begins to move from traditional static publishing into dynamic publishing.

InDesign CS moves into multimedia territory.

Ultimately the output by which InDesign CS will primarily be judged is its ability to produce high quality commercial print. PDF export plays a crucial role here too and the new ability to output to the PDF/X-1A and PDF/X-3 ISO standards for CMYK and colour-managed exchange and separated output is especially important. Also welcome is the new ability to set up customisable bleed and slug areas around the printable page, on which you can add project-based details such as printing instructions, and to control whether these are displayed in InDesign's preview mode and exported to PDF. Crucially you can also use the new Flattener Preview palette to see exactly how InDesign will handle its most advanced design features, such as transparency and object feathering, when it comes to outputting as print or PDF.

The Flattener Preview palette is invaluable as, by highlighting undesirable features such as text rasterization, it can help ensure that you won't have any nasty surprises when the print run is finally delivered. Even more important on this front is InDesign's new Separations Preview palette. This acts much like the Channels palette in Photoshop to enable you to see the individual spot or process inks, or any combination of these inks, as they will appear on the final colour-separated plates. This means that you can proof your separations onscreen spotting potentially expensive mistakes such as incorrect overprint or knockout settings. Best of all, this power isn't made available in a separate dialog but directly within the InDesign environment so that you can immediately fix any problems that you uncover.

You can now proof your publication's colour separations onscreen.

It's incredible power and typical of InDesign CS. So what about the million-dollar question - how does InDesign CS compare to QuarkXPress 6? It's not a foregone conclusion as institutional publishers will be reluctant to give up their existing investment in Quark-based workflows and InDesign's design-intensive approach certainly won't suit everyone. And if it ain't broke why fix it? However for the vast majority of users there's really no question: InDesign CS is in a different league when it comes to end quality, design power and now production efficiency. And when you remember that you can buy the Standard Edition of the Creative Suite including both Photoshop and Illustrator for less than the price of QuarkXPress on its own, the comparison becomes embarrassing. If this was a fight the referee would have to step in.

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System requirements Pentium III 600MHz, 128Mb of RAM, 185Mb of hard disk space, Windows 2000 (SP3) or XP, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

Nov 2003

Full Photoshop CS2 review
Full Illustrator CS2 review
Full InDesign CS2 review
Full GoLive CS2 review
Full Acrobat Professional 7 review
Full Creative Suite 2 review

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