20 September 2007

[design] The Pagemaker Files

956. A few entries ago, I mentioned how, just for fun, I was exhuming an old training text, had downloaded Adobe Pagemaker 7 (still available for purchase, believe it or not) and proceeded to do three of the projects therein.

I wasn't looking necessarily to learn something, though I did. I did them because I was rembering how much fun and adventure I had learning them. if I had any doubt that I wanted to do graphic design, it was banished by that; it's incredibly empowering to be able to create layouts "just like the pros". I suppose, but for a regular gig, I am one.

As layouters will recall, before DTP War II, and before QuarkXPress was the king of the hill, the electronic layout titan was Aldus PageMaker, a thing that results when Adobe (who developed PostScript) meets Aldus (who knew that they could combine PostScript and Apple's Macintosh and PS printer hardware and do magic). PageMaker didn't just dominate the market; as the first arguably "professional" electronic layout application, it defined and created the field of electronic layout (or as some call it, DTP).

As a program that does, at this point, what the biggies do but kind of in miniature, graphic arts programs typically start out with something like it and move you on to QuarkXPress and InDesign. With its comparatively-limited feature and ability set, it was an ideal starter.

On this go arournd, I did the following things:

1. Restaurant Menu

The restaurant menu (clicky to embiggen), taught the beginner the basics of styles and why you should use them. The beginner, perhaps coming from a program like MSWord (which can be used for layout–I've seen examples–but it's like using housepainting brushes to do a miniature), has developed certain habits that need to be superseded. By concentrating on layout via styles, this is done.

Discovering styles were a cosmic moment for me. I didn't think of areas of text in terms of just font and font size anymore–there was so much more you could do with it now. And by selecting the proper "next style" and style to base it on, you can watch your publication fall together like when Will Smith solved the Rubik's Cube in this video here:

Man, that fellow's mad smart. Anyway!

The exercise also educated the begineer on making simple graphics (the screened-back "Union-jack-oid" oval behind the establishment name was made with lines, constrained lines, an oval, and a mask). The result was powerful, at least to me.

2. Center Market Catalog

Clicky to embiggen. Again, a whole lot of things were taught in this one, including graphic insertion and embedding, master page use (the gold stripe across the top and the page footer were on master pages), and text wrapping (text runaround for you Quarksters).

it was also a test of just sheer ability to follow instructions. The instructions for building this document were quite long and involved; to my utter surprise, I found myself making some of the same mistakes I did when doing it originally, such as skipping a crucial step in setting a point size or leading on a style. As before I was able to go back and retrace the steps and get it done. Maybe I remember it fondly because I have an inordinate love of cheese and bread, or maybe because all the colors are warm and happy as is the type, or maybe the sheer fun in manipulating all the little control handles on the text wrap boundary. But it was satisfying to work through and satisfying to view the final result–a happy 2-page spread about cheese and bread.

3. Good Choices Newsletter

Of the three, this one was more concerned with picking up where someone else left off and delivery to a service bureau than the others were.

The beginning started with a template that contained the masthead and the grayish checks. Along the way, stories were placed, the Story Editor was employed to copyfit and to apply styles, several illustrations were added, and at the end, the student is shown how to collect files (including fonts) for delivery to a service bureau.

That last one isn't any thing any more, but time was one had to copy off fonts, file by file, for the service bureau. Font info is linked in, of course; not including the font meant the service provider had to, hopefully, have it, and if they did its metrics would be just slightly different perhaps and the text would reflow (one of the steps had the student actually altering font tracking, so the chance of any service provider having what you had would effectively be nil), ruining the layout (and costing the designer extra as that time is money to the printer–money the designer gets charged). These days, packaging (or, in Quarkese, collecting for output) groups the fonts together with everything else linked into the file (since Finagle's Law applies, of course, this is something layout artists still check).

Output in a Modern World

The question of outputting files from an older app like PM is a valid one. On the Mac, PM runs in Classic environment, which spawns a virtual OS 9.2 machine to run over the real OS X one; as I found out with QuarkXPress 5, putting out files can have its own set of challenges.

Two of the files were output as PostScript file and run through Acrobat 8 Professional to come up with the final PDFs. The Center Market Catalog's PS file acted funny in Acrotbat, however.

The thing I found out is that Adobe inDesign CS3 can convert PageMaker 7 files! It's true, but some work is required after the conversion (IDCS3 has different ideas about kerning and leading and files need to be relinked), but it can be done. Even the text-wrap boundaries are preserved.

And something else, too; looking at the layout in IDCS3 vice PM7 provides no better indication of how far display engine technology has come. In the past, layout programs displayed bitmapped thumbnails of the graphic so you'd know you were inserting the right graphic (one of my QuarkXPress lessons involved putting in a textual graphic and then printing it out repeatedly and moving and scaling it until it was just the right size. Mur-der!). Drop shadows rendered with perfect gradient, sharp, non-jaggedy edges on type...it's lovely.

I'd never want to go back.

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