Extend Your Efficiency in QuarkXPress

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - Every user of Quark Inc.'s QuarkXPress should own and put to work at least one XTension beyond those that come with the program.

I haven't got a particular one in mind-it's up to you to choose from the more than 350 commercial, freeware, and shareware XTensions available. But if you aren't using any, I know for sure you're not as efficient as you could be.

XTensions add functionality to QuarkXPress. Some are free and do relatively simple tasks-such as Markzware's BoldSpot XT (800/300-3532, http://www.markzware.com), which makes your spot colors' names appear in boldface in the Colors palette. Others, for a small cost, perform tasks almost any XPress user will find valuable. The Redefine Style Sheet XTension, from Xpedient ($50 after 25 free uses; 781/647-1050, http://www.xpedient.com), for one, lets you update your style sheets by changing formatting on the page instead of in a dialog box.

Then there are the expensive XTensions that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. These ultrapowerful tools, such as AutoPage, from KyTek ($945; 603/529-2512, http://www.kytek.com), are for vertical markets such as book or newspaper publishing and have capabilities that Quark couldn't possibly include in the base program-and that only a select group of people will ever need.

Package Deals

One of the easiest ways to get your hands on XTensions you will use is to buy a tool kit-either QX-Tools, from Extensis ($149.95; 800/796-9798, http://www.extensis.com), or XPert Tools Volume 1 or Volume 2, from a lowly apprentice production ($99 each; 888/818-5790, http://www.alap.com). These packages bundle some of the most commonly requested features, such as a Layers palette, better document-navigation tools, and precision scaling of grouped objects.

Which package should you buy? While both provide similar tools, each offers distinct features. For instance, QX-Tools includes QX-VectorEdit, which imports EPS and PDF files as editable QuarkXPress objects. Have a Microsoft Excel chart you really need in XPress? Write it to disk as a PostScript file and open it with this XTension-you can even edit the chart's colors and strokes right in XPress. XPert Tools Volume 2, on the other hand, includes XPert TextLink, which lets you link and unlink text boxes in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

Comparison-shop to find out which package contains the tools you most need.

Pre-Preflight

You've heard of preflighting documents so they print correctly. Gluon's QC 4 ($149; 888/458-6698, http://www.gluon.com) is what we should all use to prepare documents-even before preflight. QC (which stands for "quality control") checks a QuarkXPress document against a user-defined list of quality concerns.

QC can search for common problems such as incorrectly applied colors, accidental horizontal scaling or tracking, empty boxes, RGB images (instead of CMYK), and even boxes a few points off their alignment. But QC goes beyond that, searching for problems like too much ink coverage, rules that are the wrong thickness, and lots more. If you want, QC can fix the problems for you.

And when you're ready to send the document to a service bureau, QC collects your documents, fonts, and graphics into neatly organized folders and relinks pictures to their new locations. The decision to buy this $149 XTension is a no-brainer.

A Superior Palette

Importing native Adobe Photoshop files into QuarkXPress isn't a new trick, but ImagePort, from lowly apprentice ($149), does it so elegantly that you may not remember whether you're working in Photoshop or XPress. ImagePort can read most layered Photoshop files and can hide or show each layer as you wish.

Similarly, ImagePort's Channels palette lets you manipulate the various channels in a document. This is invaluable when you're using spot-color channels, because you can merge channels, change their colors, or even turn them off. If your workflow would benefit from the ability to get Photoshop files directly into XPress, this XTension is for you.

Scaling Deluxe

While both XTension bundles I mentioned earlier have scaling tools in them, nothing compares to Gluon's ProScale 5 ($129). Want to scale a multipage document from letter size to A4 or tabloid size? ProScale does it easily. Need to scale all your horizontal lines by 10 percent? Or fit all your text boxes into a 4-pica column? With ProScale, it's no problem.

ProScale is the most powerful scaling tool out there, but it's also more expensive than the alternatives. (Gluon offers competitive upgrades to owners of other vendors' scaling XTensions, and also bundles ProScale with several other XTensions in the $249 ProPack.) If you only occasionally scale objects, this tool may outstrip your needs, but any busy production department will want a copy of ProScale on hand.

Great XTensions

So many XTensions, so little time to explore them all-here are a few more worth a look.

Where to Find Xtensions

So where do you find these whiz-bang tools? Most developers offer information about their XTensions on the Web, and some even sell directly from their sites.

But the easiest way to get information about almost all XTensions is from one of these distributors:

In the United States, The PowerXChange (800/940-8737, http://www.thepowerxchange.com); In Europe, CoDesCo ([49] 40-713-00-130 [Germany], http://www.codesco.com).

-- Imposer 2.0 from lowly apprentice is a good XTension for imposition (printer spreads, for instance). If you're a printer, you'll want one of the powerful $2,000-plus programs that does this, but for designers and small shops, at only $199.99 Imposer pays for itself pretty quickly.

-- Quark has announced that XPress 5 will include a basic table editor, but if you need one now (or if you create really complex tables), you should explore one of the table-making XTensions from Tableworks (307/778-9378, http://www.tableworks.com). Both Tableworks Plus ($179) and Table2000 ($199) are great tools for building tables in QuarkXPress.

-- Everyone has to build a drop shadow in XPress sooner or later. If you only have to do one or two, Photoshop is the answer. If you've got a boatful, then check out ShadowCaster, from lowly apprentice ($99.99), or QX-Effects, from Extensis ($129.95). Both offer good tools, though each uses slightly different methods to create shadows.

-- Em Software's Xdata ($300; 877/984-1010, http://www.emsoftware.com) is the tool for publishing database and spreadsheet data. If you find yourself formatting this kind of data manually, slap yourself and go look for this XTension.

Get Efficient

Granted, if you're paid by the hour, expanding QuarkXPress's feature set with these XTensions might just make you too efficient (of course, your boss need never know). But anyone who really depends on maximizing productivity would be foolish not to take advantage of these tools, which are easy to get ahold of and are usually easy to use as well. Best of all, most XTensions come from smaller companies that can offer better personal service, customization, and bug-fixes than larger companies can. So go ahead-XTend yourself.

DAVID BLATNER is the author of The QuarkXPress 4 Book (Peachpit Press, 1998) and a coauthor of Real World Photoshop 5 (Peachpit Press, 1999) and Real World Scanning and Halftones (Peachpit Press, 1998). He can be reached at david@moo.com.

Sidebar: New XTensions in QuarkXPress 4.1QuarkXPress 4.1 ($849, or FREE for an upgrade from XPress 4.0 to 4.1; 800/676-4575, www.quark.com) is primarily a bug-fix upgrade, but it comes with a number of cool new XTensions. Some of these you might use only occasionally (like Super Step And Repeat, which lets you rotate, scale, and tint an object as you make duplicates of it); others, however, are more useful. These are some of my favorites.

HTML Filters: QuarkXPress now lets you export text stories in HTML format. You still need a separate XTension like BeyondPress, from Extensis ($249), to convert pictures and page geometry, but this free tool is great if you're trying to get a story into Macromedia Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive. Even better, you can now import HTML files into an XPress text box.

PDF Filters: The PDF Import and Export XTensions should finally silence complaints that QuarkXPress doesn't support Adobe Acrobat PDF files, but there's a caveat. While this tool makes it easy to export PDF files (although you still need Acrobat Distiller), the PDF Import filter can't yet read files from Acrobat 4 or Adobe InDesign. Quark has already promised an update to address this shortcoming.

QuarkLink: The QuarkLink XTension uses the Internet to shorten the distance between you and Quark corporate headquarters. A new Headlines palette can display daily or weekly news from Quark (including a weekly QuarkXPress tip from yours truly). Sending e-mail to customer service or technical support is only a menu item away, as is a direct link to Quark's online knowledge base.

Enhance Preview XT-SE: One of the most important XTensions included with version 4.1 is Enhance Preview XT-SE, which considerably improves the display of TIFF and JPEG images. This Òspecial editionÓ of a commercial product from Koyosha Graphics works on only one image at a time, so you might consider buying the full version, Enhance Preview XT ($99; www .koyosha.com).

An Added Bonus: The XPress 4.1 upgrade disk (shipped free to all registered users of version 4), contains a number of free XTensions from third-party developers. For instance, Badia FullMeasure lengthens your Measurements palette so you can quickly control more paragraph formatting. David's Place 1.5 puts a Place command in your File menu so you don't have to draw a picture box before you import text or graphics. (It also lets you drag and drop images and text into XPress from your desktop.) FontWizard lets you embed fonts into EPS documents.

All of these XTensions perform tasks I wish QuarkXPress could do by itself.

Until that day comes, though, you can rely on XTensions to pull off these tricks.

A Better View XT-SE can dramatically improve the screen previews of TIFF and JPEG images in QuartXPress, though the free version works on only one image at a time. That's plenty for adjusting dipping paths or positioning type or lines over an image, which has always been difficult in XPress.

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