QuarkXPress 7 vs. InDesign CS 2 shootout

So Quark is making some noise (and filling up my inbox) with news about their new public beta of QuarkXPress 7. I’ve been looking at blogs and around the web, trying to find someone who has compared the new version, beta that it is, with InDesign CS 2.

I’ve found a review of the beta. However, I realized that if I wanted to know what the new experience is really like, I had to try it myself. So I washed my hands and signed up for the beta. After providing the Quark folks with my name, rank and serial number (I’m already on their mailing list anyway) I dove in.

I think I must have broken a record for how fast I managed to crash the application. What was I doing to bring the thing down? I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to open an InDesign file. If ID CS 2 can’t handle a file, it pops up a little error that tells you it’s an unsupported file. What does Quark 7 beta do?


Oh boy, this is going to be fun… read on for more…


This is just me, QuarkXPress user from 1992-2001, InDesign user from 2001 to now, clicking around and reporting on those little things that matter to the person who has to sit and work in these applications for hours each day.


First thing that struck me is how little the interface has changed since Quark 3, and that’s not a good thing. For Quark 5/6 they had the excuse that they were rushed porting from OS 9 to OS X. What’s the excuse now?

The application doesn’t have that smooth polish that InDesign has. Look at the Quark side palette on the left compared with the default InDesign view on the right (click to see larger). Maybe it’s me, but Quark feels so 1993. Clunky. If Microsoft put out an interface that looked like this, the crowds would be screaming in “It ain’t Mac-like!!” agony.


Looks like they spent the past few years working on the swank & textured dock icon, so maybe they ran out of time to update the application’s interface.


Interface-wise, this is kind of nice…as you move your cursor closer to the measurement palette at the bottom, you get a pop-up selection of different palette views. It makes the screen less cluttered than InDesign CS2 and its palettes all over the place, if still quite clunky.


The dialog boxes haven’t changed. They’re still huge.


Quark easily imported GIF, JPG, TIF, EPS and PNG files I threw at it with high-res previews. But how about a native Photoshop file which InDesign handles easily (and makes it very easy to make on-the-spot changes to a file without exporting to another format)?


I have no idea if this XTension will be included in the shipping version or not. How about a native Illustrator CS2 file?


Hey, at least it didn’t crash.


This was something that drove me crazy in previous versions of QuarkXPress. Let’s say you lock an item’s position and there’s something underneath it. Or, you have items on a layer and you lock that layer. Now you want to select an item that’s underneath that layer/locked item. In InDesign and Illustrator, something that is locked can be seen but can’t be selected or moved. In other words, it behaves like it’s not there even though you can see it. You can select items beneath it or draw a marquee to select items on other layers easily. The locked items are locked, but they’re not in your way. In QuarkXPress, a locked item still retains its place above other items, you just can’t touch it. So if you want to select an item underneath and you click over the locked item on top of the item you want to select, you get a locked icon cursor and you’re stuck unless you use the shift-command-option keyboard combination to select the item underneath. If the locked item takes up the whole page, you can draw a marquee to select the item(s) underneath but you can’t edit the text or do much except move it above the locked layer.

How does Quark 7 all these years later fix this problem? It doesn’t! Exact same issue. Unbelievable.


Quark’s table-manipulation feature is so lame compared to InDesign’s that it’s not even worth picking apart. Not a fair fight.

Text & Misc.

Quick text formatting without style sheets is still difficult and unwieldy in QuarkXPress. Can’t see a way to pick up the formatting in one paragraph and copy it to another. Can’t see a way to copy text and paste in another dialog box without formatting.

Font menus have been improved in Quark 7 in that they are now organized by logical name rather than just PostScript name.

Transparency is a touted feature in this release. But all you can do is move an opacity slider. There doesn’t appear to be an option to manipulate modes (multiply, screen, difference, etc.).

Modal dialog boxes (did I mention that they’re huge?!?) have an “Apply” button but no live Preview.


If I double click a text box one more time expecting to be able to edit the contents and instead bring up the “Modify…” dialog box, I think I’m going to scream so I’ll start wrapping up here. There’s still so much more to explore, but this is long enough. If you’re interested in a part 2 before the beta expires, comment and let me know.

The big news in this version of QuarkXPress is the “Composition Zones” which supposedly allows you to create content once and then re-use it across multiple documents in the same project. I can see where that would come in handy. It’s the only thing on Quark’s entire list of new features that InDesign lacks. I may take some time to play with that.

My verdict: If you or your company have a lot invested in Quark products and there’s no way you can afford to make a switch to InDesign, this version sucks a tiny bit less than previous versions. But it’s still no contest.


20 responses to “QuarkXPress 7 vs. InDesign CS 2 shootout”

  1. I haven’t had time to see the Quark 7 beta, so thanks for this summary of your experience. It’s always great to hear from our customers what they like and dislike about InDesign, as well as the competition.

  2. Nice review Judi. I, too, signed up for the beta, and played with it for about five minutes before I had an overwhelming feeling of ennui and happily went back to InDesign. Sorry Quark, too little, too late…

  3. I agree with you, Judi. I downloaded the beta, expecting to be wowed. Instead, it looked a lot like the same ol’ Quark, with the same ol’ modal dialog boxes, the same ol’ need to pre-specify text or graphic frames, etc.

    I’ve taught Quark at a public technical college since 1999; InDesign since 2001 or so. By a 9:1 ratio, students prefer InDesign. Those students graduate and go on to influence purchasing decisions at their jobs.

    From the looks of the beta, Quark 7 will be a disappointment for users. True competition between Quark & InDesign would be a win for the user community, but it looks to me like Quark’s still playing catch-up.

    Nancy Dick, Adobe Certified Instructor

  4. “If I double click a text box one more time expecting to be able to edit the contents and instead bring up the “Modify…” dialog box, I think I’m going to scream so I’ll start wrapping up here.”

    Try the same in content mode. You can change the mode from tool palette.

  5. Hey folks,
    So finally Quark is in with the new release of a Bug…..again you will have to spent time on the phone with these guys…..

  6. Try the same in content mode. You can change the mode from tool palette.

    I know that. Remember, I was a Quark user for nearly 10 years (all 2 versions that came out in that time ). It’s just a stupid, extra unnecessary step that I’m used to skipping since the latest InDesign version.

  7. How sad that I have taught Quark for the last 8 years at major art college and this past semester was the last time.
    What was our decision based on?
    No support, no support, and having to have a dedicated keyed server just for Quark. uggg. Yes it is a keyed application, as is all of our applications, however, the idea of a dedicated server for just one program? and if we had too many licenses out, guess what? Oh no, that didn’t mean that a lot of students had Quark open, Quark just forgot to log them off from that wonderful dedicated keyed server. The one that we didn’t get multiple user purchase discount for.
    Am I happy that I am done (for now) with one of the most major programs I have ever used since Venture Publishing? ummmm…NO.
    Thanks for the heads up review, I don’t even bother to look at Quark at more.

  8. Judi,
    did you know you can make screenshots by typing shift-command-4, and then, instead of drawing a rectangle with your cursor, hit the spacebar and then click the window you want a screenshot of with your cursor ?

    Maybe you should try it out, your screenshots of windows will look so much nicer…

  9. Hi Judi,

    Nice review indeed! I really really hope the Quark UI design team has a look at this blog. “Working” for Quark and opening up the program each day I know how clunky this thing looks. But meer mortals like us have no say in telling the higher management that UI sucks!

    I hope the management takes more note of these blogs rather than painting a pretty picture on their website of what a success the beta was and how rosy XPress 7.”oh” is.

    – Vicky

    P.S. For obvious reasons cant state my email here.

  10. Somewhat biased review in my opinion. You seemed to gloss over major improvements and highlight some personal peeves. That is fine since that is your preference but I don’t think this is a fair comparison. Little statements like, “Interface-wise, this is kind of nice…” seemed like you were reluctant to concede any improvement. I’m thrilled with the new measurement palette but you still found something to complain about… “The dialog boxes haven’t changed. They’re still huge.” Other aspects such as UI were subjective. One camp feels the UI looks dated. Another camp feels “comfortable” with a UI that they know inside and out. (I personally think it could be freshened up a bit but can see some reasoning for keeping it consistent)

    I don’t mean to be negative but I just don’t think this fairly compares the two products. I personally feel that Q7 made a major leap forward and has caught up to CS2 overall. It still has shortfalls but it has a few improvements over CS2 (e.g. transparency, collaboration, soft-proofing, to name a few). So on my subjective review, I would say they are both on equal footing now and if a designer should base their decision on what features are most important to them and weigh the overall costs.

    Hope you don’t take this wrong I am purely providing critcal feedback. It would be very interesting to do a more detailed side-by-side comparison and real world review and objectively state what each software program can and can’t do. That would be very helpful.

    P.S. I agree with you on the locked items/layer issue. Very annoying.

  11. David, You are of course entitled to your own opinion and I thank you for commenting. But I stand by my review.

    Pick 100 Quark users at random (not selected by Quark’s marketing department) and 100 InDesign users at random and ask them about their layout program. I would bet that you’ll have more grumbling Quark users who are using the program because it’s what their employer has installed, not by choice. Quark 7 is a huge improvement over Quark 6, but I doubt it will make any InDesign user even twitch to switch back.

    However, I can’t let this go:

    >It still has shortfalls but it has a few improvements over CS2 (e.g. transparency, collaboration, soft-proofing, to name a few).

    You’re kidding right? Have you actually tried using transparency in CS2? If so, then you’d know that Quark 7 isn’t even in the same ballpark. Quark has an opacity slider now. Woo hoo, let’s alert the media. Oh yeah, they already did that. No blending modes (except in a drop shadow).

  12. It is interesting to read the variety of reviews on comparing these two programs. You, have missed something very important right from the get-go. You are comparing a BETA with a RELEASE. I have used XPress for many many years. I have rarely been frustrated with what I have had to work with. I have NEVER called Quark with a problem as I have never needed to. I currently use version 6.5. Yes, it hardly compares to IDCS2 which we are now forced to use by our management. In XPress I rarely left the content tool. Modifier keys allowed me to do everything almost that I needed to import, move, size etc. In ID all I ever do is change tools. Even importing a picture, which everyone seems to think is so great in ID because you don’t have to draw a box first, IS easier in Quark. Let’s not forget that once it is in ID you still have to size it to your layout. Further, after it is imported I have to select the picture with the mouse just so I can size it. More steps, more steps, more steps! If I want to add a rectangle to my layout I can’t have my curser anywhere where there already is a box because it won’t let me draw one until I move off to the side. More steps, more steps, more steps! I even emailed David Blatner as he claims that with ID “you may never have to draw another clipping path again”. What a pile of crap that is! Just try to knock out the background of a vehicle sitting in front of a car dealership without ever using Photoshop. Let’s not make the program sound better or more capable than it is.

    One thing I have noticed for sure is that positive reviews of ID come from those who make money promoting their books on ID, teaching ID or what have you. Having the masses switch to ID is money in their pockets. It’s kind of like asking DELL employees to write a review of the MAC. It doesn’t really matter what they really think, they still have to eat.

    I am not employed by Quark. I do not make a dime from Adobe. I have and use both of the programs. I have downloaded the Beta from Quark and I WAS not particularily impressed. I do suspect the final release of version 7 will have more to it than the beta, at least one would hope. My program of choice is still QuarkXPress as I have thousands of ads built in XPress. It is stable, it does what I need it to do. I love Photoshop and Ilustrator and will always use them. Drop shadows in Q7 kicks the lights out of those in IDCS2. So what! Does everything have to have a drop shadow on it? Transparency in Q7 kicks the lights out of IDCS2. So what! I still use Photoshop and will continue to do so.

    If I were getting into the market today what would I buy. CS2! Because IDCS2 is better? NO NO NO! For about the same amount of money you get more from CS2. That is it and I suspect why most students (who are usually broke) go that way. I feel sorry for them. Speed-wise I still work 5X faster in XPress than I do in ID. Maybe old habits die hard!?

    ID has lots of nice features. How many do you really need or use? Is it worth it for me to convert all my ads to ID? Time is money in this industry… I think I will stick with what I have. When I print a file I want to know that I am going to get what I think I will get. Adobe will never touch Quark in this area. Never have, never will. I find it amazing that Adobe invented postscript but could get a lesson or 2 from Quark in how to use it.

    Now that I have pissed all you INDESIGN fans off, you can go back and use it. Is it a good program? Of course it is. Adobe is a great company who has great products. Instead of spending all your time bashing XPress why not tell us all the amazing things that ID can do instead of what XPress can’t? I find this very similar to speaches by poor politians, always bashing their opponent instead of following through on their own promises.

    I like the look of XPress. I am comfortable with it. I know where everything is. With each new release I don’t have to re-train myself to use it. Adobe likes to change for the sake of change it seems. If you don’t believe me, open Photoshop 7 and try linking layers together. Then open Photoshop CS2 and try linking layers. What a stupid change!

    Well, as my father would say, “Dean, you have gone off and left your mouth running”, so I guess I should close this. What have I just said in this epistle? Stop bashing XPress to try and make InDesign look better. Why not just tell us all the great things that InDesign can do and let us decide for ourselves. Here is a little test. Open an InDesign project that you already have made. Try to draw a text frame over top of several items. Enter some text into it and then try to move the text frame elsewhere on the document. Try doing this with out changing tools in the tool box even once. Dollars to donuts I can do it faster in XPress! Enough said. Oh, one more thing… Happy Valentines Day.

  13. >Here is a little test. Open an InDesign project that you already have made. Try to draw a text frame over top of several items. Enter some text into it and then try to move the text frame elsewhere on the document. Try doing this with out changing tools in the tool box even once. Dollars to donuts I can do it faster in XPress!

    I’m sure you can because you aren’t completely comfortable in ID. The rest of us would simply hold down the command key and then drag the text box.

    If you’re switching tools a lot, it’s simply because you haven’t learned the keyboard shortcuts yet, like in any other application. I find that I can use the keyboard to get around ID quite nicely. A trick is to use layers and lock them when needed so you can draw boxes on top of other items without the extra steps.

    You want to know how great ID is without bashing XPress. I think I already said so in my entry but if I had to rank my can’t-live-without-them features they would be:

    1. Eyedropper tool – With a click pick up the stroke, fill, character, paragraph and transparency settings of any text or object and apply them to another object without setting a style.

    2. Redefine style – Set a style sheet, make a change to a paragraph with that style and in one menu command redefine the style to the new setting, updating all other paragraphs with the same style.

    3. Tables – I can do a whole blog entry on how wonderful InDesign is for laying out tables of text.

    4. Anchored objects inside *or outside* the text box bounds.

    There’s more, of course…but that’s off the top of my head and I didn’t have to compare it to a single XPress feature to do it. Better? 🙂

  14. Hi Judy,

    I think your post in response to mine was excellent. InDesign does do many amazing things and can certainly stand on its own. As I stated before I have to work with it as that is a management decision that has been made. I am trying to keep a positive attitude (despite my rather negative comments yesterday). I guess I was getting a little fed up with always hearing how great InDesign is but not really hearing any specifics as to why. Perhaps in a year or so I will wonder why one would ever even open XPress. We do have problems printing directly from InDesign to our imagesetters but I am sure time and experience will heal that.
    I once attended an Adobe seminar on InDesign where the presenter spent the whole time bashing XPress and even though I was impressed with what little I saw of the actual program, I went away with a rather bad attitude as I did not attend the seminar to hear about XPress.
    Again, thanks for your positive response. I expected to get blasted a little but why should you stoop to my level right?? I believe I will take some of my own advise and think positive about the inevitable from now on.

  15. Hi Judi

    There’s one thing xpress can do in tables what IDCS2 can’t.
    That a cell is able to contain a picture! And another cell in the same table text! I find that very smart. With alt you can select a line and give it a color. (that’s a fraction faster than IDCS)

    And i love the fact that the glyphs palette can hold out on favourite
    used glyphs! And that we’re able to zoom in and out.

    Better late than sorry, right?!

  16. I do agree with you about the “favorites” thing…There’s a thread on the InDesign list asking about “wishlist” items for IDCS3 and I wished for a favorites menu. I was thinking of fonts, but in Glyphs would be cool too.

    But you’re wrong about the tables. It’s very easy to put a picture in a cell or any block of text. Simply place the picture outside of the text. Select it, copy/cut it, and then paste it in the cell. Resize or manipulate it as if it were in a separate frame. No problem. IDCS2 even has a neat feature called “Anchored Object” which gives you incredible control over how pictures move with text in the same frame.

  17. ahhh, didn’t know that!
    Good to know!

    i’m going to read the help-manual again!

    have a nice day!

  18. Moving from the position of employee to self employed the switch to Indesign was a no-brainer. Even if we ignore the superior usability of ID compared to Quark and also the integration with the rest of the Adobe products the killer feature is price.

    How Quark can charge over Eur1000 for Quark alone where for just 200 more you mcan get the entire Adobe CS2 Premium suite is a complete mystery.

    I tried the QX7 30 day trial too and after about 20 minutes realised how little had changed. Especially the extemely dated UI. My Quark 7 demo was dumped from my mac with 29 days left on the trial!