Tools Of The Trade: QuarkXPress 7

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Quark's desktop publishing and layout program will be 20 years old next year. In that time it has become the application of choice.

The latest version of XPress, version 7, which came out last month, is being positioned by Quark as the most significant upgrade yet. The application is available for the Macintosh - both those that use Intel and PowerPC chips - as well as on PCs with Windows. And, Quark claims, it has a host of features designed to appeal to users in all parts of the publishing process.

The first thing you notice when you start up XPress 7, though, is how little it appears to have changed. The basic Quark interface will be familiar even to those who started out on the first version in 1987. But though XPress 7 might look dated to users of other applications, the uncluttered layout of its screens is an advantage.

Quark talks in its literature about "palette blight" and has designed the latest version of the software to cut the number of interface and navigation palettes or options needed to run it. Though Quark can create complex documents, the idea is to allow designers and other users to sketch out their ideas quickly.

As a result, many of the improvements in this version are not immediately obvious: Quark has added features to existing palettes and menus rather than adding lots more of them. These include more control over type, measurements and images.

The result is that someone working on a layout can do far more of their work within XPress 7 than in earlier versions, especially if they are importing images from Adobe Photoshop or another design programme.

For example, someone laying out a brochure can use the same image several times over, adjusting it each time in XPress. There is no need to go back to the original imaging application, and the original file is not affected, however many changes you make. Other improvements also include new ways to handle transparency, for example for overlaying type on top of an image.

The other strength of XPress 7 is the way it works with printers and pre-press houses that scan images before printing. Quark makes it easy to create "job jackets", which contain all the information a print shop needs to print a brochure or other document, using the industry-standard Job Definition Format.

Using job jackets, a company can set rules, such as the standard number of pages in a sales brochure. Any document designed using the job jacket will then stick to those rules.

XPress 7 also provides extensive support for other printing options, such as Adobe PDF files and also HTML files for publishing on the internet.

Those new to XPress might find the learning curve for Quark steeper than for some other layout applications. But it is worth spending the time to explore the software, as no other application can really compete with XPress for raw power.

RATING: 4 out of 5.

PROS: powerful improved features but consistent interface

CONS: not easy for novices to start out with

PRICE: upgrade, £299, including VAT; full version, £749