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QuarkXPress 5 Tips and Tricks

Quark, Inc. continues to be an enigma in the Macintosh software world. Its flagship application, QuarkXPress, still dominates the desktop publishing market, despite inordinately long development cycles between revisions and a lack of direct support for the latest Mac technologies. XPress 5 runs under Mac OS 8.6 or later or in Classic mode under Mac OS X, and many dialog boxes still have that pre-Mac OS 9 feel to them. Quark recently announced that the Mac version of XPress 6, due out sometime in 2003, will only run under Mac OS X.

XPress remains the dominant player for good reason: it’s a deep, powerful program that gets the job done. QuarkXPress 5 can also be a gold mine for those who enjoy tips and techniques that can help streamline the way they use it. Here are some of my favorites.

Create One-Celled Tables — Have you ever wanted to draw a text box with different line thicknesses on each side? Or a box that only has a border on three sides? Try this trick: Make a table using the Table tool with only one column and one row, and then select each side individually (Shift-click it) and change its color, style, or width. To make a box with a border on only three sides, select the fourth side and change its color to match the background. (Because you can’t set table gridlines to a color of None, this trick won’t work if you need to put the table over a picture or a multi-colored background.)

Web-Safe Colors in XPress — In the "bad old days," most people had 8-bit color monitors which could only display 256 colors at any one time, and colors would often become dithered (which looked kind of mottled and ugly). To counteract this problem, people tried to pick colors from a palette of 216 "Web-safe" colors, which wouldn’t dither on screen. Today, every computer can display 24-bit color, few colors are ever dithered on screen, and designers can generally choose whatever RGB color they want. However, if you care about using Web-safe colors, XPress can give ’em to you.

When you have a Web document open, XPress automatically displays a bunch of Web colors in the Colors palette, like Web Navy and Web Maroon. However, these are not necessarily Web-safe colors. If you want to add a Web-safe color to your document, you can select Web Safe Colors from the Model pop-up menu in the Edit Color dialog box. Or, use my favorite method.

  1. Pick any RGB color in the Edit Color dialog box.

  2. Change the percentage values in each of the Red, Green, and Blue fields to the nearest 20-percent mark – 0, 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 percent. For instance, if the Red field reads 24 percent, change it to 20 percent. If the Blue field reads 71 percent, change it to 80 percent.

  3. Save the color (you might include "Web-safe" in its name to remind you).

Web Images in XPress: Use TIFFs, not EPS Files — XPress can automatically convert your document’s TIFF and EPS pictures into GIF or JPEG files upon export to the Web. However, because EPS graphics contain "encapsulated" data, XPress can’t get in to convert them properly, so you end up with GIF or JPEG versions of the low-resolution screen previews you see in XPress. Yuck! If you plan to repurpose your XPress pages, stick with TIFF files. (Though, to be painfully honest, you’ll often achieve better results if you convert the images yourself in Photoshop and import them into XPress as GIF or JPEG.)

Quick ‘n’ Dirty Background Lines — Tables in which every other row is tinted (like an accountant’s ledger) are notoriously difficult to build in XPress. Here’s how XPress’s custom dashes can do the trick.

  1. Select Dashes and Stripes from the Edit menu, and create a new dash.

  2. In the Edit Dash dialog box, set the Repeats Every pop-up menu to Points and turn off the Stretch to Corners checkbox. Double the height of each row and type the result in the Repeats Every field. For instance, if the table rows are 14 points tall, type 28 (2 times 14).

  3. Now type the height of the table’s rows in the Position field and press the Add button. (In the example above, you’d type 14 and press Add.)

  4. Save this dash with a descriptive name and apply it to a line.

  5. Set the width of the line to be the same width as your table. For example, the line width might be 6 inches thick. Finally, change the color and the shade of the line (and the gap, if you want).

Boxes with One Round Corner — It’s easy to make a rounded-corner rectangle in QuarkXPress. But what if you only want one or two rounded corners on a rectangle? Don’t worry, almost anything is possible!

  1. Use Step and Repeat to duplicate the box with zero offsets.

  2. Set the Corner Radius of your duplicate box to the radius you desire (in the Modify dialog box).

  3. Select the original box and choose the Bezier box shape from the Shape submenu (under the Item menu). That’s the one that looks like an oval with one part squished in.

  4. Option-click on the sides of the original rectangle near the corner (but not too near). This adds points. Make sure you don’t move the point accidentally!

  5. Option-click the corner point to delete it.

  6. Finally, select both rectangles and then choose Union from the Merge submenu (under the Item menu). The result is a box with one rounded corner.

Comparing Two Styles — I hate it when I have two styles that are very similar but I can’t remember how they’re different. Fortunately, QuarkXPress lets you compare two style sheets. Select two styles in the Style Sheets dialog box (click one, and then Command-click the other), then Option-click the Append button. (Actually, as soon as you press the Option key, you’ll see the Append button change to a Compare button.) The result: a dialog box that lists each element of the two style sheets; the differences are highlighted in bold. Of course, you can only compare two character styles or two paragraph styles; you can’t mix and match.

From Beginning or End – You can print all the pages in a document by typing "All" in to the Pages field of the Print dialog box. On the other hand, if you only want to print the first four pages, you can type the cryptic "+1-+4" (remember that when it comes to page numbers the plus sign means "absolute page number," no matter what page numbering scheme you’re using). To print from page 15 to the end of the document, type "15-end".

Post-it Notes — If your XPress documents need to move from one person to another, you may want to add comments to certain objects or areas of a page. By taking care of QuarkXPress’s ability to suppress the printout of any item, you can easily create noticeable but non-printing, electronic "Post-it" notes, to contain comments and suggestions about an individual document.

Create a text box and enter the text of the note. Then select Modify from the Item menu, give the box a background color of 70 percent yellow, a runaround of None, and turn on Suppress Printout. Any object that has Suppress Printout turned on and runaround turned off is a "non-object;" it shows up on screen, but won’t print or affect anything on the page.

Making Content-less Boxes — It took 10 years for the engineers at Quark to figure out that we sometimes put boxes on our pages not to contain text or a graphic, but just for the sake of a background color (sometimes known as a tint build). In the past, you had to use a picture box or a text box to do this, with annoying side effects. Empty picture boxes display a big "X" in them; and text boxes, when covered by other boxes, display an overset mark, even if there’s no text in them to overset. Instead, select the box and choose None from the Content submenu of the Item menu.

Snapping Line Edges to Guides — When you drag a line close enough, it snaps to the nearest guide. But what part of the line snaps? Whereas a box or a group always snaps to a guide based on its bounding box, there are different rules for lines. Lines built with the Diagonal and Orthogonal Line tools always snap to guides at their endpoints. Bezier lines, on the other hand, generally snap like boxes – at the edges of their bounding boxes. If your line is thin, like 0.5 point, it hardly matters where it’s snapping. If it’s thick, though, it could make a big difference.

You can force a diagonal or orthogonal line to snap at its edge instead of its endpoints by selecting it along with another object. For instance, you could draw a little dummy picture box above a line, select both the line and the box, and then drag them both close above the guide. This lets you snap the bottom of the line to the guide; then you can delete the picture box you made.

You can force a point on a Bezier line to snap to a guide by selecting it first. If you want to move the whole line, select all the points (double-click on any point on the curve) before dragging the point you’re trying to align.

Cut or Copy the Opposite — If you have the Content tool selected, you can cut or copy an item itself (as though you had the Item tool selected) by adding Option to the keystroke: Command-Option-C copies the object, Command-Option-X cuts it.

Anchoring Text Outlines — If you hold down the Option key when you select Text to Box (from the Style menu), XPress converts the text to an outline and automatically anchors it in the text box.

Scale-Specific Guides — Here’s one of my favorite "hidden" features in QuarkXPress: If you hold down the Shift key while dragging a ruler guide onto your page or spread, it becomes magnification-specific. That is, if you pull it out while in Actual Size view, you’ll only be able to see it only at Actual Size view or a higher (more zoomed-in) magnification. If you zoom out (let’s say to Fit in Window view), it disappears. This is great for those times when you want to see a thumbnail of the page without guides, but need the guides to work with normally.

[David Blatner is the author of Real World QuarkXPress 5 (formerly The QuarkXPress Book), from which these tips have been adapted. He is also the author or co-author of Real World Photoshop 7, Real World Scanning and Halftones, and The Joy of Pi.]

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