Review: QuarkXPress 9

Pros: Publishes e-books to three formats; adds helpful new features for producing text-heavy documents regardless of their final destination.

Cons: The App Studio for creating iPad apps may not be available until late July; some e-book formatting must occur after the document content is completely finalized. [Editor’s note: will publish Jay Nelson’s mini-review of App Studio soon after it’s available to the public.]

Rating: 8 out of 10

Building on the interface overhaul and dozens of new features introduced in QuarkXPress 8 two years ago, Quark’s flagship product now has simple tools for exporting documents to e-book formats — with or without multimedia, interactivity, and live website content. To support these publishing goals, QuarkXPress 9 includes new features that improve text handling for all users. No matter what kinds of projects you produce in any version of QuarkXPress, upgrading to version 9 will give you new efficiency and design options. InDesign users who intend to publish to electronic formats may want to compare the efficiency of Quark’s new capabilities with the features Adobe is adding to InDesign CS 5.5.

How We Got Here
Starting around 1990, QuarkXPress was the leader in the first round of publishing on personal computers. As the company solidified its position as an almost-monopoly in the professional page-layout business, users began complaining about corporate arrogance and poor customer service.

In response to this opportunity, Adobe released InDesign in July 1999. After a few years and several releases, InDesign took hold in the design community and now commands a substantial portion of it. (No one outside Adobe knows for sure how much.) In recent years, InDesign added new features for rudimentary Flash animations, and with the impending release of CS 5.5, InDesign will have substantial capabilities for creating electronic publications.

During that same time period, Quark completely changed its executive management to improve customer support, and began building an architecture for QuarkXPress that allows users to separate content from formatting, and to export to any format that becomes popular. QuarkXPress 5 added the ability to create Web pages. QuarkXPress 6 gained direct PDF export (without Distiller). In QuarkXPress 7, Quark added export to Flash via an optional XTension. QuarkXPress 8 got a built-in Flash export module. And now in QuarkXPress 9, Quark adds the ability to export to three different kinds of electronic publishing formats: ePUB, Blio eReader, and iPad apps. These formats are used for e-books, digital magazines and newspapers, eCatalogs, and so forth.

As Quark added new export features, it also added new supporting workflow features. For example, to generate HTML graphics, QuarkXPress needed high-resolution previews. To maintain consistency across HTML, Interactive (Flash), and Print layouts, the company added Synchronized Content features, synchronized colors and style sheets, and Project-based documents that may include multiple Layouts for these and future output formats. Here’s a complete table of features added with each release through version 8.

QuarkXPress 9 costs the same as QuarkXPress 8: $799 for a full product license and $299 for upgrades from QuarkXPress 8 and QuarkXPress 7. If you buy or bought QuarkXPress 8 (new or upgrade) between January 1 and April 30, 2011, you’ll get version 9 free.

Workflow Features
To support the new e-publishing features in QuarkXPress 9, Quark has added several workflow features. Some were absorbed from XTensions previously developed by Gluon, a company Quark bought in April 2010. Others were created from scratch. I’ll cover the new workflow features first, and then discuss the e-publishing features.

Conditional Styles. QuarkXPress can now automatically format content based on styling rules you set up. For example, you may want the first sentence in a paragraph to be bold, the first character to be a dingbat character, and the last word in the paragraph to be in a different font. This powerful feature has abilities that InDesign lacks, such as formatting backward from the end of a paragraph. This kind of formatting is often used in documents that have regularly repeating patterns of text, such as guidebooks, price sheets, catalogs, and directories. If your text doesn’t have a uniform, repeating structure, you can place non-printing conditional style markers within any text to use as starting or stopping points for each style.

Here, the first paragraph is formatted using a Conditional Style that tells the first sentence to apply the Bold Italic character style, apply a specific paragraph style to the entire paragraph, and then apply the Italic style to the last sentence only. The next two paragraphs are formatted using a Conditional Style that tells the first string of characters up to the colon character (:) to apply the Bold Italic character style, then apply a specific paragraph style to the remainder.

Bullet, Numbering, and Outline Styles. Quark has clearly thought through the many options and needs when assigning bullets, numbers, and outlines to text. The degree of control is incredible.

Compatible with Microsoft Word import and export, this feature controls the format of ordered and unordered lists and complex multi-level outlines. You can apply Numbering, Bullets and Outlines to text in two ways: Either directly as a paragraph attribute in the Measurements palette, or attached to a Paragraph Style Sheet. A Bullet or Numbering style describes how a bullet should look, how far it should be from the text, and how it should be aligned. The options can be overwhelming, but they are logical.

You can define up to nine indent levels in an Outline, with complete control over the text formatting and spacing of every part, including spaces. To change the indent level of a paragraph, you just click a button in the Measurements palette. You can attach Bullet, Numbering, and Outline Styles to paragraph style sheets for easy formatting. Conversely, you can assign a Character Style to a Numbering or Bullet style, so that if the Character style changes, so does the appearance of the Numbers or Bullets.

Quark’s Help file provides this example of how the various levels of outlines can appear.

You can apply an Outline Style from the Measurements palette.

When using a Numbering style on paragraphs of text, if you type a series of paragraphs in-between numbers, the subsequent paragraphs that have numbering assigned will pick up with the next number in the series. For example, if you have three numbered paragraphs followed by several non-numbered paragraphs, the next group of numbered items will begin with #4 instead of #1. However, you can restart the numbering at any point by ticking a checkbox in the Paragraph Attributes dialog.

The formatting options are so deep that, while they’re likely to please even the pickiest typographer, creating and editing Outline styles can be complicated. Quark includes a few basic styles, but there’s no preview button to see how the changes you make to the Outline styles will affect text already on the page. Instead, you have to define the Outline styles, then commit the changes to the Outline style and close the dialog box to see your changes.

In the Edit Outline Style dialog, you define Outline Styles, which can have up to nine levels.

There’s also an unusual convention for selecting Bullet or Numbering styles for each level of the Outline. I expected to click once, or click-and-hold, on the little up/down triangles to select from a popup list. Instead, I had to double-click the triangles to invoke the popup menu. (Alternatively, you can click once on the name of the Bullet or Numbering style, then click again to invoke the popup menu.) This isn’t a big deal, but it baffled me at first.

This popup menu lets you choose any Bullet, Number, or Outline Style to apply to selected text.

Callouts. A Callout is an item or group of items that move automatically with text, positioned relative to the page, spread, text box, paragraph, or character. This is helpful when you want a picture or icon to always appear to the side of the text it relates to. Or maybe you want a pull-quote box that spans multiple columns to always appear on the same page as the text it relates to. When you create a Callout, XPress places an invisible anchor into the related text. If that text moves, so does the Callout. You can even create Callout Styles that collect all the settings for a particular kind of callout, and apply them to a place in your text with one click.

The photos on the left are attached to the beginning of the items in the text box. As the paragraphs of text move up or down, so do the photos.

To control how the Callout is positioned relative to the text, and how it moves along with it, you can either make those settings in a dialog box, or create a Callout Style to apply with one click. Once I realized that Guides must be showing to see the Callout anchors, the process was straightforward.

In the Edit Callout Style dialog, you define how you want a callout to be attached to a callout anchor in the text. The options change as you make your choices in the popup menus. In this case, the top of the photo will remain aligned with the callout anchor that was created at the beginning of the paragraph, and positioned .125″ outside the text box.

ShapeMaker. ShapeMaker is a dialog box for creating and modifying shapes (waves, stars, spirals, boxes with any number of sides) and for creating unique corner effects on rectangles. You can use ShapeMaker to create a fancy new box, text path, or rule. The interface has lots of sliders and popup menus. The Polygon section even has a “New Random” button, which generates a new shape using random settings.

The new ShapeMaker tool can create waves and other shapes. Here, I’ve applied a wave shape to the sides of an existing text box.

Once you’ve created a shape you like, you can save it as a preset for future use. These shapes can be applied to an existing box, or to a new one. Unfortunately, while there is a preview in the dialog box itself, you can’t see your item change on the page as you make changes to the settings.

These ShapeMaker settings produced the text box example above. When you create a shape you like, you can save it as a preset in the last tab of the dialog.

ImageGrid. This feature lets you automatically build grids of images with a variety of layout options, with or without captions that contain the image’s filename, resolution, dimensions, color model, and format. It’s a basic tool that’s mainly useful for quick-and-dirty image catalogs. But if that’s what you need, you’ll be pleased by its many options for controlling how the pictures fit into their boxes, such as fitting proportionally, scaling to a specific percentage, and resizing the boxes to the pictures at 100% scale. You can tell ImageGrid to use the images in one folder, or in all the subfolders inside that folder. You can also choose among three box shapes: rectangle, rounded corner rectangle, or oval.

Linkster. Often when a document contains linked text boxes, you need to unlink and relink them—even if they already contain text. Linkster lets you unlink stories spanning multiple pages, and link or unlink boxes without disrupting existing text. It can even simultaneously link or unlink all text boxes on all pages of a layout! This can be a lifesaver when you want to change text in a chain of text boxes but need some boxes to remain exactly where and how they are. Linkster is also useful for linking text boxes that already contain text. (Previously, this could be a multi-step process fraught with peril.) Unfortunately, because of the complexity of the changes Linkster makes, there is no option to undo the changes.

Story Editor. This alternate view of your document’s text looks a little like a word processor and is handy when text in a layout is rotated or otherwise difficult to read, and when you’re editing stories that span multiple pages. You can change font size in the Story Editor without affecting its formatting on the page. Overset text is highlighted in red in the Story Editor, letting you know that there’s more text than fits on the page.

Similar in concept to the story editor in PageMaker and InDesign, this is a very welcome new feature. Quark says that it added Story Editor to QuarkXPress 9 to facilitate the ordering and formatting of highly styled text so it can be read in a linear fashion in an e-book. However, print designers will also find it invaluable.

Cloner. With Cloner, you can copy items or entire pages to other pages, layouts, and even other QuarkXPress files. Cloner can also combine layouts or split them apart, and split layouts into separate pages. Imagine being able to copy (clone) a page item from one layout onto several others, all at once. Production pros will appreciate the time-savings of splitting a multiple-page layout into separate pages, or breaking apart all layouts in one project into separate projects.

The Cloner dialog has scores of options for copying items, pages, or Layouts to other pages or Projects.

Cloner adds an unprecedented level of depth and capability for copying and splitting documents. This feature, unique to QuarkXPress, was another developed by Gluon.

Tables.You can now let anchored tables automatically break if they don’t fit onto the current page, along with header and footer rows if you like. Previously, you had to perform calculations to determine the appropriate height for a table to break across pages. Now, you just paste it into a text box and QuarkXPress will break it for you when necessary. You can import both .xls and .xlsx files.

Version 9 also added a feature whose absence almost crippled the Excel-to-Tables feature in previous versions: You can now update your table with new data from Excel, without losing the formatting you applied in QuarkXPress.

Style Sheets. Quark has improved your options to override local formatting when applying Paragraph and Character Style Sheets. For example, you can keep italics and boldface but make all other attributes match the Style Sheet. Or, you can keep advanced OpenType formatting intact while changing the rest of the text attributes. (This is a pet peeve of mine in previous versions, as well as in InDesign.) You can even apply a style sheet without changing the appearance of the text at all! This is like applying a logical structural definition to a paragraph without changing how the text looks.

There are now many options for keeping local formatting as you apply a Style Sheet.

Go to page 2 for information on publishing from QuarkXPress 9 to ePUB, Blio eReader, and iPad apps. The Buying Advice section is also on page 2.

Posted on: April 28, 2011

Jay Nelson

Jay Nelson is a printing, design, and publishing industry veteran. As editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly for 21 years, he chronicled publishing's evolution from manual paste-up to iPads. He loves fonts and font technology, manages and publishes e-books at

14 Comments on Review: QuarkXPress 9

  1. If it walks like a duck… it’s still Quark and their interface engineers continue their errant ways. Used to be great (when nothing else was there)… now it’s run its course.

  2. Thanks for the review Jay.

    Does the ePUB export support the ePUB 3.0 spec? Specifically, audio and video? If you have these media elements in your layout, will Quark add the audio/video tags?

    How clean is the resulting ePUB? (CSS specifically)
    Can you export just the content and choose an existing CSS file?

    thanks again and I look forward to seeing you at the Print and ePublishing Conference next month.

    James Fritz

  3. Hi James. I asked Quark, and they said:

    “If you want to use a custom CSS you can replace the file XTensions/DigitalPublishing/Templates/css/style.css and that file will be used when you export ePUB from QXP. You do have to keep the same element names that are already defined in the CSS, but you can give them your own properties. Also check out the Examples folder in the path listed above — it has some edited CSS to show a few different things that one might do with custom CSS. Also keep in mind that ePUB readers have wildly different support for CSS properties so test, test, test.”

  4. Hey James, I asked Quark about QuarkXPress 9 supporting audio and video in ePUB exports, and it doesn’t.

  5. James, the ePUB export files from QuarkXPress 9 pass the epubcheck utility:

    That should mean it’s pretty darned clean! 🙂

  6. Thanks for the answers!

  7. As a long-time user of Quark, since v. 3.0. I am very disappointed in v.9. It does not seem to be capable of holding settings, i.e. document size, and dpi when you export to pdf or ps files.
    Our manufacturer keeps rejecting our files for production because of these reasons and multiple glyph errors. No one, including Quark seems to have any answers. Looks like we will have to make the switch to InDesign. QuarkXpress is costing us valuable time, money, and resources. Very disappointing and aggravating.

  8. I haven’t seen this problem. I just now did a test, and the document did keep the resolution (DPI) setting that I set for Transparency in the PDF Options dialog.

    I exported the PDF, closed the document, then reopened the document in QuarkXPress 9 — the transparency settings were kept for PDF output.

    Also, what do you mean about “document dimensions”? My PDFs are the same size as the documents I exported.

  9. Thanks, the review helps a lot.

  10. I do a magazine and I was testing Q9 at a friend’s studio. I like it but I encountered one huge prob. When I copied and pasted a page from a multi-page, left and rt facing document, the text which was left and right justified in several linked columns and contains a lot of Tracking, always reflows. Tracking has to be done all over again on the new doc. I even opened the layout holding the OPTION button to make sure everything was updated to Q9 before I copied and pasted. Is there a fix for this?

  11. Found the problem. Original text layed out in Q7, copied and pasted into new Q9 doc. Copying + pasting within Q9 with Q9 originated docs not a problem.

  12. Your comments re: Quark won the first round of Design programs is incorrect. Aldus Pagemaker won the first round before Quark was even inveted and then Adobe bought Aldus and years later replaced pagemaker with InDesign 1.0

  13. i still an awful awful program. Should be called Derpty Derpty Xpress. Why further postpone the inevitable plunge into the dark abyss. Adobe is, and for the foreseeable future, will be king.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.