14 November 2008

Stupid Newbie QuarkXPress Tricks (that apply to InDesign too!)


While, through what layout work I've been able to snag, QuarkXPress has had no part (I'm surprised at how little demand there is for QuarkXPress layout-artistry hereabouts) I do have experience in XPress and use it with a certain amount of joy when afforded the chance.

It was the first layout tool I learned deeply, and you always remember your first.

Today I stumbled on an article here (via Ripenews) titled Most Frequent Errors Made By QuarkXPress Users, and it's a good review. The mistakes noted here are easy to make if you don't know the program very deeply, and well worth avoiding. I think that layout files should be built as tightly as possible, with nothing wasted or sloppily done. It's easy to avoid sloppiness in your Quark or InDesign files. It's even easier to let things lay about, so to speak.

A few things really spoke to me as being universal truths.

For example, this gem:

Whenever you create a new project in QuarkXPress, the New document window appears. Beginners will often create a new project and click OK without paying much attention to the settings in the New Project dialogue. Quark keeps the settings from the last project you created. If these are inappropriate for the document you are about to create, change the page size, orientation, margin and column guides as necessary.

Whenever I'm starting a new InDesign document, then the first thing I do is to take a quick look at the New Document window. A few extra moments spent here can save a bit of work down the line. Also, both Quark and InDy have a curious property; settings changed within a document production tend to persist for that document only, whereas settings changed when no document is open tend to persist session to session, as general program settings. This can be used to your benefit, depending on your personal style; the downside of that is that it's easy to forget, meaning that you can find yourself endlessly twiddling settings that you thought were already at a different default.

A little forethought here means a little less frustration later on, and in the pinch, a little less frustration may be all the edge you need to get that document out.

Here's another good one:

Another common error is excessive use of ruler guides. These are created by dragging either the vertical or horizontal ruler onto the page and can be used to align elements using Quark's handy snap-to-guides features. Snapping two elements to the same guide ensures that their edges are aligned. This is a great feature when used in moderation. However, a lot of users create so many guides that it becomes difficult to see which guide relates to which element on the page. In general, guides are quicker to use but measurements are more accurate.

I tend to try to use as many guides as I absolutely need, no more and certainly no less. If you're not careful about creating new guides, then you'll have an absolute rainbow net (I tend to use layers to organize content) and after a point you're putting things on the wrong layer or aligning them to the wrong thing.

The best way to go about this is to establish a grid early on and try to keep to that grid. Having a well-designed grid will automatically give you enough alignment possibilities that you can have a nice, loose, dynamic layout (if you want) or a tight, ordered layout (if you prefer) without breaking the grid very often.

If you really want alignment of objects, the best way is to use the program's alignment tools (in Quark, it's called "Space & Align", in InDy, is't the Align palette (if you use CS2 or before) or Align panel (CS3 and later)). Position your main graphic element where you want it, then use the alignment tool to align dependent elements to it. Your screen layout will be a lot less cluttered and you'll be less cross in crunch situations, and that, again, is what we always want.

The article's advice on text boxes doesn't comlpletely transfer to Indy; this is one of the chief differences (some of us say advantages) over XPress. In Indy, you can create a "frame" which can then be made into a graphics frame (Quarksters say "picture box") or text frame (in Quark, "text box") as you will. You can even insert graphics into text frames as inline graphics. Even though there are text and frame tools ... the Indy analog ... you don't have to go that route if you don't want to – you can style your frame and then convert it to a text or graphic frame.

The article has wise remarks to make about making sure you're using a box tool as opposed to a content tool (the appropriate Indy analogs distribute between the Select tool (black arrow), Direct Select (white arrow), and Text tools. Moreover, you can double-click any unassigned frame and it will become a text frame; double-click any text frame to begin editing content, or double-click any graphic frame to go to the Direct Select tool and scale and resize the graphic content.

In general, it's good to be aware of the status of the tool you're using. This will come with practice.

One more tip I'd particularly like to share:

QuarkXPress novices also tend to create far more text boxes than they need to. The worst error people will make is to create a separate box for each different style of text. In actual fact, you can put as many different formats as you like in a single Quark text box. You only need separate text boxes for items which have no direct relation to each other within the layout or which require conflicting text box attributes. So if some of your text is spans two columns and another bit spans one column, you will clearly need two boxes.

In the OryCon 30 books I just completed, I used a minimum of textual frames. Each booklet was about 40 pages long (10 or 11 double-sides spreads, saddle-stitched) but, in the "pocket program" I used one box for the general information, one box for the panelist listing, one box for the panel listing. These three boxes contained more than eighty per cent of the content of the book.

They were, of course, not one single big box, but threaded boxes arranged on my grid (remember what I said about grid? Well, setting one up first-off meant that all I had to do was place and style the content. That's one huge step saved). At first, I imagined that threading amongst a long line of frames would be a chore; if you adjust the size of one frame enough, changes ripple through the other frames and you have to do a little tweaking up and down the line.

But really, it's not that much work. If you're intense about your layout (and no layout artist I know if isn't), you'll be tweaking up and down the production anyway. And the fewer stories you have, the less headaches you'll have over the long run.

Once again, the whole article is here. Worthwhile reading.

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