Software developer Serif has been taking on Adobe with Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer targeting Photoshop and Illustrator users respectively, and they’ve just released the first public beta of Affinity Publisher, which aims to take on Adobe’s page layout powerhouse, InDesign.
As we now expect from Affinity products, version 1 is a fully-fledged, powerful application that provides a comprehensive working environment with an extensive toolset. It replicates most of InDesign’s power and functionality. And, as with Photo and Designer, it manages to come up with some novel approaches all of its own. And unlike InDesign, Publisher will be available as a one-off purchase with no ongoing subscription costs.
Publisher is still very much in beta form, which means it’s not fully stable and so shouldn’t be used for production work. But you can download the beta for free and try it out for yourself, to see what goodies are in store when the final version ships. To download it, visit https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/publisher/.
Here, we’ll take a quick look at some of the key features.
The Publisher interface
The interface will be familiar both to users of Affinity’s other products and to seasoned InDesign users. Dockable panels display all the information you need, with a comprehensive menu system that clearly shows all the available tools.
One of the innovations is Publisher’s ability to show overset text by clicking a tiny eye icon on the right of the text frame. In InDesign you’d either have to extend the text frame or go into the Story Editor to see the missing text; this simple button makes it far easier to see how much text is overset, allowing you to edit it to fit without leaving the design environment.
Creating fading images is a snap in Publisher, using the novel Transparency Tool. Select any object (it can be an image, or even text) and drag the tool to create a directional feather. You can control both the start and end points of the feather by dragging the black and white handles, and can drag the midpoint marker to skew the rate at which the image fades away.
The Paragraph panel
The panels are where you control every aspect of your layout, and Publisher puts everything you need on view without having to open separate dialogs. In the Paragraph panel, you’re able to pop open sections for tabs, justification, flow options, bullets and more. When creating drop caps, you can set not only the number of lines but also the distance from the capital to the text (a fiddly process in InDesign). You can also assign a style to the drop cap directly from the panel.
An innovative Initial Words section allows you to specify a character style for the first words of a paragraph – you can choose the number of words, or choose an end character after which to stop the style. It’s a great help if, say, you want the first few words of a paragraph to be in small caps, but need to vary the number depending on the context.
Character and Layers panels
The Character panel gives access to character decoration, stroke, slant, leading, kerning and tracking, as well as turning on and off ligatures and choosing font-specific glyphs. It also allows optical alignment to be set with ease.
The Layers panel lists every object on the page, displaying a thumbnail for graphics and the first few words of text objects. These elements can be shown or hidden directly from this panel, as well as reordered front and back. You can even drag an image inside a text layer to use the text as a clipping mask for the image – a very simple approach to an otherwise complex problem.
The standard New Document dialog allows you to set the size, units, margins and so on. If you’re creating work to be printed locally, there’s a button to retrieve the printable margin directly from your printer; this is a major innovation that will certainly appeal to business users.
Like in InDesign, the Pages panel allows you to specify that pages be displayed horizontally, rather than below each other. And you can choose whether your document starts on a left or a right hand page.
Rather than splitting paragraph and character styles into two panels, Publisher puts them all together in a single panel. The real bonus here is that it shows previews of the styles as an extra visual cue. Styles can be created directly from this panel, and there’s even a button to update a style when an instance of it has been changed – to a different color, say, or a different font. An expandable dialog at the top of the panel can show all the attributes of a selected style for ease of reference.
Everything to do with a text frame is contained within a separate Text Frame panel, which is hidden by default (but you just have to look under the Studio section of the View menu to find it). This shows the number of columns, the column width, and the ability to balance the text in those columns. It’s also where you set the fill and stroke, the insets, the vertical alignment, and the baseline grid – and you can have a custom grid for each text box if you want.
You can even make columns within a single text frame of uneven width, simply by dragging the gutter left and right. This can be disconcerting if you do it by accident; it could be that when the final version ships they implement a modifier key to produce this result.
Affinity Publisher is awash with small innovations, such as a fully customizable grid, comprehensive layer effects, and a history panel that allows you to step back and forth through your edits.
Of particular interest is the ability to fine tune text with keyboard shortcuts. As well as using standard shortcuts to change text size, for instance, you can add the Option/Alt key to increase or decrease text in 0.2pt increments.
In addition to the Document Setup panel, there’s a Spread Setup panel that allows you to set different sizes and orientations for specified spreads in your document.
When the full version ships, it will also feature built-in launchers for Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, to allow you to edit your content more fluidly.
Publisher is not ready for prime time yet: moving and scaling objects is a little jerky, and the app is prone to crashing. But it’s a dynamic and powerful indication of what we can expect in the near future. Stay tuned.Tags