QuarkVista Brings Image Editing Home To XPress
Illustration handling in QuarkXPress has, generally speaking, been a challenge requiring deft coordination. Images, as often as not, don’t come in a completely adequate form; some require the effects that only an image-editor, such as the ubiquitous Photoshop, can provide.
Historically, the XPress user has had little choice but to exit or suspend work in XPress, load the image file into their image-editor, make the changes, save the file as an appropriate format, and re-import the image into Quark. Quark looked to change that, responding to the insurgency that Adobe’s InDesign and Creative Suite represented.
Announced in May 2004, the QuarkVista XTension promised image-manipulation and editing from within XPress. After months of waiting, QuarkVista shipped with the XPress 6.5 update. In large part, it was worth the wait.
QuarkVista’s appearance blends in with the rest of the interface. The Picture Effects palette (available through the Windows pulldown as Show Picture Effects), QuarkVista’s manifestation within the XPress interface, is unexpectedly simple, works very well, and displays a great deal with concise precision. A simple six-button toolbar lives at the top, over a window pane, finished at the bottom with an “info” section that provides CMYK and RGB values for the point at which the cursor is at any time.
The toolbar provides access to adjustments and filters which are familiar to any long time Photoshop user. Amongst the adjustments are such as Levels, Curves, Color Balance, Selective Color, and Gamma Correction. Some of the familiar filters provided are Gaussian blur, Unsharp Mask, Embossing, and Noise addition. This is not a complete list.
Any combination of effects and filters can be used. The window pane, which claims the main part of the Picture Effects palette, displays all filters and effects used, and allows the user to not only turn on and off individual effects and edit their parameters, but also to rearrange the order in which they are applied by merely dragging them up and down through the list. While there is a button on the toolbar that allows the user to edit indvidual effects/adjustments, it needn’t be used; all that is really necessary is to double-click on the item in the window. Also, any combination of items can be saved as a preset for later use, and existing presets can be imported.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of QuarkVista is that the effects and adjusments are non-destructive. Unless the image is saved or exported (the Save Picture command under the File pulldown provides saving changes to graphics or exporting them as new files as well as relinking to the new graphic or keeping the link to the old) the original graphic isn’t changed in any way. Changes to the appearance of the graphic are saved within the XPress project/layout file.
QuarkVista reads and saves/exports in a variety of formats: TIFF, PNG, JPEG, ScitexCT, GIF, PICT and BMP. It does not work for EPSs and PDFs
There are downsides worth evaluating, of course. QuarkVista does quite a lot very well, but (my explorations were done on a PowerMac G4, 1.24 GHz 2-processor machine) changes sometimes required a great deal of processing power, especially the more advanced effects such as Gaussian blur, of which a quick and dirty wristwatch benchmark proved out to between five and eight seconds. Similarly, turning effects on and off typically caused a pause. Furthermore these pauses can cause sluggishness in response in the dialogue boxes and sliders; with Preview turned on, the effect is redisplayed when sliders are moved, with the attendant hesitation when the program works it all out. Working with QuarkVista requires a bit of patience as one adjusts parameters and waits for the application to catch up.
The veteran XPress user may find the delays frustrating, but as someone who has used XPress, XPress in combination with Photoshop, and has some idea of the effort and time involved, the time spent waiting for QuarkVista to catch up is still less than suspending layout to edit a file and update it within the layout, making it worth learning a somewhat different tempo.
And, finally, while Quark layouts done with QuarkVista can be loaded and printed out by users who don’t have the XTension, but will only print images in low-resolution. This can be worked around by exporting the changes and linking to the new version, which is a little indirect but not onerous or impossible to do.
Quark estimates that layout designers who require image editing only use about 10% of the capabilities of any image-editor they have. It’s not clear how they arrived at that conclusion but, based on my experiences as someone who started out in Quark, it doesn’t seem a wholly unreasonable assumption. QuarkVista serves that need very well, bringing basic image-adjustment capabilities within the program, an addition that is long overdue in view of Adobe’s innovative accomplishments with the Creative Suite. Though there are performance drawbacks, they are acceptable with respect to the power and flexibility that QuarkVista brings to XPress.
At the bottom line, QuarkVista is a powerful and valuable addition to XPress which promises to slow, in some way, the loss of Quark’s user base to Adobe, as veteran users will appreciate the need of not having to also have an image-editor on hand, and ought to put the industry at large on notice that, regardless of the progress of this battle of publishing big-guns, Quark is taking the challenge from Adobe seriously.
About the author: Samuel John Klein is a freelnce graphic and web designer in the process of being unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Email contact and examples of work can be found at The SunDial Earth Station.