Comparing X-Ray and InDesign Magazine

How do these two publications compare and contrast, and which one is better?

Guest edi­to­r­i­al by Jeremy Schultz

In my pre­vi­ous edi­to­r­i­al, “X-Ray Magazine Shows Its Fangs,” I gave X-Ray Magazine some­thing of a wrist-slap for talk­ing down InDesign as much as it pro­mot­ed QuarkXPress, as well as Editor Cyndie Shaffstall’s slight toward users who may feel QuarkXPress is anti­quat­ed and stale. With the eighth issue of InDesign Magazine just released I want­ed to give that mag­a­zine not only a thor­ough review but com­pare the two pub­li­ca­tions side by side and see how they approach this del­i­cate turf war quite dif­fer­ent­ly.

X-Ray Wows With Slick Design

Given that InDesign is the appli­ca­tion with drop shad­ow, trans­paren­cy and oth­er daz­zling fea­tures, it’s sur­pris­ing that X-Ray is actu­al­ly the pub­li­ca­tion with the slick design. Matt Bargell (that’s him in the Contributors sec­tion wear­ing the French beret) and Marty Hallberg have cre­at­ed a high-energy design with beveled and embossed par­al­lel­o­grams, a space-age logo, adven­tur­ous page lay­out and the use of DIN type­faces, one of the hot­ter type fam­i­lies being used right now. It’s a type­face that was designed for engi­neer­ing so the strength of the typog­ra­phy may be ques­tioned by some, but it is nev­er­the­less a cool font. And how about those cov­ers, which rely on tex­ture and min­i­mal­ist col­or schemes but don’t say much about QuarkXPress or the mag­a­zine itself? The design is cool though, and that’s the atmos­phere this pub­li­ca­tion tries to wrap around Quark.

InDesign Magazine looks like it could have been cre­at­ed with PageMaker just as eas­i­ly as InDesign. That’s not a bad thing mind you, and I’m not knock­ing the pub­li­ca­tion for that. I only note the use of old-school pub­li­ca­tion type­faces like Bodoni, Minion, Sabon and Frutiger; the lack of drop shad­ows for drop shad­ow’s sake, or trans­paren­cy for the sake of doing some­thing cool and slick; the columns of copy, nar­row­er than X-Ray’s and some might say meati­er; and the strict design tem­plate that does­n’t allow sto­ries to devi­ate much or be dar­ing with its design. Some of the cov­ers glit­ter with play­ful design (I like issues 3 and 5 myself) but over­all InDesign Magazine’s style looks like it would get an A-plus from any desk­top pub­lish­ing instruc­tor, cir­ca 1997. While it is sol­id and “fol­lows the rules,” it is not bold like X-Ray, which embraces modern-day design fads influ­enced by web design and hot type­faces. Which one is bet­ter? Is there an answer to that ques­tion? It only shows how these two pub­li­ca­tions approach design and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in two very dif­fer­ent ways.

Both Give Voice to the Corporations

In dif­fer­ent degrees, both pub­li­ca­tions speak for the com­pa­ny that puts out the prod­uct they pro­mote. X-Ray Magazine speaks for Quark; InDesign Magazine speaks for Adobe [Note: InDesign Magazine is owned by Creativepro​.com, and not a pub­li­ca­tion direct­ly affil­i­at­ed with Adobe. -Ed.]. But they do it in dif­fer­ent ways. InDesign Magazine inter­views key Adobe engi­neers and lead­ers (in the eighth issue it’s Thomas Nielsen, direc­tor of engi­neer­ing for InDesign and oth­er relat­ed prod­ucts) and I find these inter­views illu­mi­nate the prod­ucts in a very dif­fer­ent light. They aren’t box­es of soft­ware any­more; they’re the work of crafts­men. They’re the work of peo­ple you know and can relate to. And, as any good sales­man knows, peo­ple like to buy from their friends and acquain­tances.

X-Ray, on the oth­er hand, offers a forum to Quark (Quark’s direc­tor of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Glen Turpin, has the last page) but it comes off as being a mouth­piece for the cor­po­ra­tion and the way the rest of the edi­to­r­i­al is writ­ten also makes it feel too cor­po­rate. Unlike Nielsen, who seemed to spend much of his inter­view dis­cussing the chal­lenges InDesign faced and how they were look­ing for­ward to meet­ing and exceed­ing them, Turpin spent his ink tout­ing the upcom­ing QuarkXPress 7.0. He’s into cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions so that’s to be expect­ed, but what I did­n’t expect was how oth­er arti­cles in the mag­a­zine speak the same way: “QuarkXPress 7 Takes a Quantum Leap in Color Quality”; “QuarkXPress 7.0 will offer fur­ther enhance­ments in PDF pro­duc­tion”. I don’t recall any arti­cle in InDesign Magazine enti­tled “InDesign CS2 Continues To Drive Integration Between CS2 Products” or “InDesign CS3 Promises To Be A Big Step Forward”. I think X-Ray Magazine needs to start look­ing at how its pages can help the aver­age QuarkXPress user, rather than Quark the com­pa­ny. InDesign Magazine, as with most pub­li­ca­tions that cov­er Adobe prod­ucts, seems to do it right. I can get a lot more use out of InDesign Magazine than X-Ray, and it’s all because of the tuto­ri­als and question-and-answer sec­tion.

Tutorials and answers: IDM Has Many, X-Ray has Few

This is the big dif­fer­ence between the two pub­li­ca­tions: InDesign Magazine is chock-full of tuto­ri­als, tips and answers for the aver­age every­day InDesign user. X-Ray Magazine, in con­trast, has a frac­tion of the tuto­ri­als and tips and spends its pages say­ing how great QuarkXPress is but offers few insights on how to actu­al­ly use the appli­ca­tion to do some­thing spe­cif­ic. Roger Black’s arti­cle on QuarkXPress’s supe­ri­or­i­ty to InDesign in a pub­li­ca­tion pro­duc­tion envi­ron­ment did­n’t have many tips and tuto­ri­als on how to actu­al­ly do the things he men­tioned. In Stephen Beall’s arti­cle on work­ing with PDFs in QuarkXPress, he men­tions some spe­cif­ic fea­tures of QuarkXPress, such as multi-page PDF import, with­out walk­ing the read­er through the process of actu­al­ly doing it. Step-by-step instruc­tions are scarce in X-Ray, which is sad con­sid­er­ing that in its hey­day it had a lot more and seemed to be more use­ful to the every­day user.

As for InDesign Magazine, open it to any page and point your fin­ger, and you’ll prob­a­bly be point­ing at a tuto­r­i­al of some sort. I count nine, and while some are sim­ple one- or two-paragraph tips oth­ers take up whole pages. These tuto­ri­als are thor­ough, well-written and are geared toward the aver­age user with spe­cif­ic prob­lems or needs. Do you need anchored objects in your text? Read the tuto­r­i­al, writ­ten by this Web site’s own Pariah S. Burke. Could you use a text frame that will enlarge the text that’s flowed into it? Read David Blatner’s tuto­r­i­al, which is inge­nious and illus­trates what a great tuto­r­i­al does: it stretch­es the capa­bil­i­ties of the soft­ware and inspires users to do the same. There is none of this spark in X-Ray Magazine.

100% Quark

Another big dif­fer­ence: X-Ray Magazine is 100% Quark and QuarkXPress. No sto­ries about desk­top pub­lish­ing in gen­er­al. No sto­ries about the com­put­ers we use. No sto­ries about type or design or oth­er top­ics. Quark is it. Compare that to InDesign Magazine, which opened this new issue with a great arti­cle by John D. Berry about sans-serif type­faces, their read­abil­i­ty and leg­i­bil­i­ty, and what to use and when (anoth­er exam­ple of how this mag­a­zine focus­es on every­day prob­lems for every­day design­ers). And the sec­tions on new prod­ucts and books fol­low suit, with men­tions of new type­faces, books on brand­ing, art, pho­tog­ra­phy and more. X-Ray does do a sim­i­lar thing with Art Director Matt Bargell’s sec­tion on cool design­er gad­gets, toys and mag­a­zines, and this rein­forces X-Ray’s atmos­phere as the mag for the “cool” design­er. But in com­par­i­son it is clear that InDesign Magazine has the broad­er focus, embrac­ing top­ics of gen­er­al design and lay­out as much as InDesign itself.

Bashing the Competitor

InDesign Magazine does­n’t real­ly men­tion QuarkXPress. Leaf through the pages, and if you do find a men­tion let me know, but the mag­a­zine seems too busy talk­ing about InDesign’s fea­tures and gen­er­al typog­ra­phy to wor­ry about the 800-pound goril­la in the room. But X-Ray Magazine does men­tion InDesign, and in a very neg­a­tive arti­cle by Roger Black that was the focal point of my pre­vi­ous edi­to­r­i­al. If X-Ray was writ­ten like InDesign Magazine, there would be tips and tricks on how to work with Quark’s PDF Export, con­trol H&J, build spot and process col­ors as well as multi-ink com­bi­na­tions, and more. These are the things that design­ers both novice and expert are look­ing for when they need to do some­thing and aren’t sure how to do it, but X-Ray Magazine instead writes how QuarkXPress is great and InDesign sucks, switch­ing is bad for you and Adobe is out to con­trol the entire mar­ket. All of those con­clu­sions may be dead accu­rate, they may not, but the dif­fer­ence is that X-Ray Magazine brings one of them up in almost every issue since their relaunch in March 2005.

Both pub­li­ca­tions are true to their respec­tive products-I’m sure QuarkXPress users find X-Ray to be a com­pelling read and very inter­est­ing, and they are by now sali­vat­ing for the big juicy steak that is QuarkXPress 7.0. But InDesign Magazine read­ers find that pub­li­ca­tion just as com­pelling, and I’m sure the thought of InDesign CS3 will be just as deli­cious to them. The dif­fer­ence is that X-Ray Magazine is also com­mit­ted to show­ing just how unap­pe­tiz­ing InDesign real­ly is, while InDesign Magazine does­n’t real­ly pay much atten­tion to their com­peti­tor. They’re too busy play­ing with InDesign and find­ing cool new ways to use it and extend its lim­its, and in that regard the dif­fer­ence between the two pub­li­ca­tions can­not be fur­ther apart.

Download the cur­rent issue of InDesign Magazine
Download a PDF pre­view of the cur­rent issue of X-Ray Magazine

Jeremy Schultz (www​.jere​myschultz​.com) spe­cial­izes in graph­ic design, web design and illus­tra­tion and has been active in the design pro­fes­sion for six years. He is the edi­tor of Designorati:Photoshop, and his designs have been fea­tured in nation­al pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing Dynamic Graphics and SBS Digital Design, and he is the recip­i­ent of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals’ Guru Award, inclu­sion in the 2005 American Corporate Identity annu­al, and the First Place Winner in Quark VS InDesign​.com’s Celebrate InDesign Postcard Competition.

Pariah Burke

Author, consultant, trainer, guru: Digital Publishing, ePub, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark. Empowering, Informing, Connecting Creative Professionals™

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9 Responses

  1. marco says:

    Loved the arti­cle and down­loaded the InDesign PDF.
    But what about prices? ID mag costs $ 69 for two years. But what about X-Ray? I kin­da get lost in their web­site. (off top­ic: Was it mad­ed with Quark’s InMedia or what? Does any­one actu­al­ly use that?)

  2. Hi, Marco.

    X-Ray’s sub­scrip­tion rates, which vary by coun­try, are here. For a 1-year/6-issue print sub­scrip­tion to U.S. address­es, it’s cur­rent­ly list­ed as $47.76. You also get a spiffy t-shirt embla­zoned with the X-Ray logo on black.

  3. Jeff says:

    Great edi­to­r­i­al, Jeremy. You’ve real­ly hit the nail on the head as far as the dif­fer­ences in these pub­li­ca­tions. Well done.

  4. gary lindberg says:

    I agree with your take on the bias­es for xray and the inde­sign mag, how­ev­er, i have been at many forums and pre­sent­sa­tions where adobe and inde­sign fanat­ics take cheap stabs at quark, includ­ing your site. so, why cry foul?
    all i care is that the cre­ative space is kept com­pet­i­tive, and com­pe­ti­tion breeds inno­va­tion. call­ing a spade what it is, aint bad at all.

  5. addy says:

    Well said Gary!!!
    I think this site is owned by Adobe :) When we guys see­ing some real­ly cool reviews about XPress 7.0, these guys just spend­ing time in find­ing flaws in every thing Quark does.
    I am expect­ing anoth­er cheap reply from the edi­tor.….
    :).Waiting 4 your sweet reply.

  6. Jim Oblak says:

    No one is hunt­ing for flaws in any one appli­ca­tion or mag­a­zine. If an appli­ca­tion or mag­a­zine has flaws, they are self evi­dent. It is use­ful infor­ma­tion to all design­ers to know the fea­tures and faults of an appli­ca­tion or a mag­a­zine about that appli­ca­tion.

    If you have a dis­pute with these self evi­dent flaws, con­tact the soft­ware or mag­a­zine pub­lish­er to have them cor­rect­ed.

  7. Jim Oblak says:

    Curiosity: what qual­i­fies as a cheap stab?

  8. mihan says:

    I am in Iran oth­er side of the world and I sub­scribe Indesign mag because it is down­load­e­able. xray sub­scribyion with post servise does­n’t worse.
    inde­sign Middleeaste ver­sion (win​soft​.fr) is very cape­able in this area and quark doesn“t any Me ver­sion.

  9. marco says:

    Thanks forthe prices mr. Pariah! Have to agree with our Iranian friend. I’m over in Europe. To down­load a mag­a­zine is eas­i­er. About that ara­bi­an InDesign: To bad I can’t past Arabic from Word. InDesign revers­es the let­ters. Arabic is right to left. So is Arabic in Word. When past­ing this text in InDesign, the pro­gram pastes evey­thing from left to right. So it actu­aly pastes the text back­wards! The only solu­tion is buy­ing InDesign Middle East. To bad.