Category Archives: quark

Due Diligence

rail crossing

Rail crossing, San Joaquin Valley, Dec 2010

Over the years at various jobs, I had downtime. Sometimes for several minutes, occasionally for days, even a week or two. Reading the papers got old. So I began to practice working on problems.

In the paste-up days, I’d xerox and make assemblages. It kept me nimble. Later when the agency I worked at went digital, I’d set up problems and situations for myself in Quark. Yes Quark, the Error 39 Dark Star of my firmament. While the guys next door were sitting in their office with their fantasy baseball leagues, I was skulling out the business of how this goddamned program worked.

Sooner rather than later, I began to encounter actual old-school typographers who’d washed up into ad agencies. They worked with the invisibles on, frames and all. I was hooked. They willingly taught me about style-sheets. Often times I’d outrun the then-feeble processing capacity of the machines I was working on.

As a freelancer I always had to stay ahead of the full-timers. They had a certain security, while I could be more obviously bounced. That is an unfortunate trade-off, one less and less certain as each new day passes in these grim times.

I too became complacent. Until one day I realized I need to know a whole lot more about Photoshop. So off to night-school I went, and discovered that for over fifteen years I was a mouse gnawing my way around a very large cheese. I’d never cored into the program.

Now I was scared. I went to school for the next 2-1/2 years. Always night, on my own dime. That way I didn’t owe shit to anybody. I’d hear from guys I’d worked with over the years the following statements. You might know them too:

  • I’d go to class if somebody paid for it
  • I’ve been meaning to do this
  • It’s too expensive
  • This shit’s too hard

When I started into Photoshop night school, it was about 18 months before the economy went straight into the shitter. I had several classes, one of which was blighted by a perfect storm of self-centered overtalkers, in over-their-head clueless, and some people who just didn’t take it seriously. One night, I’d had enough, and opened up a can of whoop-ass.

“For those in this class who haven’t noticed, the economy is about to go into the toilet. There are some of us in here who would like to live in a better quality of cardboard box than at present. If you don’t have anything positive to contribute, I’m going to ask you to [shut the fuck up], because your talking disrespects the professor, your classmates, and mainly yourselves…”

Dead silence.

The situation improved slightly. The instructor’s hands are tied, because they can’t tell these idiots to shut the fuck up, because then said idiots would cry that their rights had somehow been violated, and so on. For the record, I’m a stone-cold liberal, but this manner of disrespect I will not abide.

Time took care of them. By 2009 the poseurs and clueless were gone, replaced by a full class sitting stock still, eyes forward, terrified by the economic apocalypse unfolding daily. However the “Special Olympics” mentality is deeply entrenched. Too many expect somehow that just showing up gets them a finisher medal, and a victory lap around the track.

And that’s when getting into a community college was easy. Now that education funding has cratered,  just try getting into those classes. They are probably twice as expensive, and half as long as they were before.

What are your choices? Maybe its what you have to do.

But back to my working life. I make war on bad layouts inside the InDesign Creative Suite, currently 5. I taught myself the mysteries of tables, because where I work, they live and die by them. And I was fed up with working on weird-ass legacy documents where the previous operators had glued all kinds of random shit together with drawn rules, color boxes, tab-delimited text boxes, floating in an ambiguous space, with no definite margins.

Which you’ll never see if you work with the invisibles off.

Here’s the bottom line, ducklings: if you think your skills are the end-all and be-all, you are sorely mistaken. Because they probably aren’t. So if you aren’t going to school, and you go home and drink, watch whatever’s on TV, maybe you ought to slice off an hour and begin to study a problem. Put it on a flash drive, and take it to work, and when shit ain’t happening, study it there too.

All this is out on the webs. Ask the question. And here’s the hook: When you’re sitting at work, surfing, you’re slack. You’re not engaged. Eventually people notice.

But this requires a spark of intellectual curiosity.

So. What are you going to do about it?

Quark and InDesign: Clash of the Giant Rubber Lizards

pinata 2
The piñata ritual can offer an unsentimental analysis of life.

Once Upon A Time, Like When I Was Getting Into All This

In 1991 Quark was King Bee, the True Faith. Quark was also Old Testament: inscrutable, implacable, and inflexible. The Holy Writ that came with it in The Big Box was unreadable. I had better luck deciphering North Korean Presidium documents back in 1975.

It was the only game in town. Over the years I looked long and hard into Quark’s Dark Heart, and kept hearing Ella Fitzgerald singing “Ev’rything I’ve Got”:

Something beats in his chest,
But it’s just a pump at best.

It would tank. Fonts would corrupt. The monitor would flash the dreaded “#39: Unexpected End of File Encountered”. There went your afternoon.

Saving frequently was essential and habitual. And I got very good at reconstructing lost documents, always under deadline.

Asking arcane questions on various QuarkLists involved a lot of dial-up if you were away from the office. The answers might as well have been recorded on a quipu somewhere. These Lists’ main traffic was “uh… how do I do extra leading on the end of a paragraph?” or colorful in-group flames by a select Kool Kids Klub. So in the end I learned Quark from old-school typographers and endless self-tutoring.

Trying to get answers out of Quark Support was futile. If you worshiped remote gods, or had grown up with an absent parent; this was for you. The other part of that dialectic was that people still had the notion that the Mac was the center of a warm, fuzzy community, and you could just hang out and ask questions. No, Quark made it clear that it was all commerce, all the time. No group hugs from them, only a reach-around.

After a while, enough people got tired of all that. They’d had also gotten past the notion that software companies were Your Friend.

Gathering Evolutionary Developments

Adobe had built its everlasting fortune on the Acrobat PDF platform. PDFs had become integral in government, corporate, and other bureaucratic structures. Illustrator and Photoshop were small slices of the revenue-stream. But here was a chance to crack into the page-layout game.

Sometime in 1998 or so, Adobe inhaled PageMaker, retired it, and then retooled it as InDesign 1.0. Nope—not ready for prime-time. It still had a long way to go. They went back to the drawing board and came up with ID1.5.

The training-wheels were off, and it was free-wheeling, but still wobbly. Further refinements yielded IDCS2, and that’s where it really took off.

Adobe had pulled off a similar evolutionary leap with Illustrator. AI3 was similar to AI88 with a dopey interface and limited features. Freehand held the face cards in that bout, despite its weird twin-file set-up, arcane font-handling and rendering, and other features I’ve mercifully forgotten. But Adobe retooled AI3 into AI5 where the font-handling became cleaner. Freehand’s days were now numbered.

The primary hurdle for InDesign were the service bureaus. They’d just gotten used to the peculiarities of Quark, Illustrator, and Photoshop. They were just not interested in a Freehand-like golem raising hell in their shops. And if they weren’t placated, there was no future for the program.

Adobe cleaned it up.

The Evolving Technology Platform

Without getting into a lot of ur-weenie speak, the infrastructure got larger, faster, and more surefooted.

For instance: in ’91 my IIfx was the Mac Daddy. It had (brace yourself) a 100mb hard drive! 4mb RAM! And when I up bought a 16mb RAM upgrade, it cost $600. Like heroin—it was hand-delivered in a glassine package.

In ten years the hard drives were now in Gigs, the ram was closing on on a gig, processors blew the doors off their predecessors, and the ZipDisk was the new mega-floppy. Memory and hard-drive prices had fallen through the floor.

The new machines could now handle full-resolution high-rez files, whereas in 1992 we did outputs and pasted them onto boards, still with FPO’s. It reminded me of the hybrid ironclad full-sail brigantines with side-wheel paddles.

Finally, the introduction of OS X ditched what hadn’t worked well, eliminated the “march of the inits” on start-up, and stabilized matters considerably.

Quark vs. InDesign: Real World

My job as Mr Pre-Flight at the Workbook gave me a window seat of the changing landscape. I kept track of the files as they came in and traveled through the system.

This was the file breakdown in 2004:*

  1. 350 Quark
  2. 231 Photoshop
  3. 221 InDesign
  4. 156 Illustrator
  5. 2 FreeHand

By 2007 the file numbers* had shifted considerably:

  1. 304 InDesign (v.2-IDCS3)
  2. 254 Photoshop (v.7-CS3)
  3. 134 Quark (v.4, 6 & 7)
  4. 132 Illustrator (AI9-AICS3)

*Does not reflect actual page counts.

Obviously InDesign CS was eating Quark’s lunch.

I used an InDesign proofing doc to flight-check and laser-proof massive files from rep groups, who’d built their pages in Photoshop or Illustrator. It was the simplest way to import multiple formats, check for crossovers, check bleed, DPI, the works.

The Giant Rubber Lizards Do Battle!

OK, this is what you’ve been waiting for. This feature review is completely unscientific, subjective, incomplete, capricious, and arbitrary.

Quark: Plus…

  • QXP has the benefit of better key-commands than IDCS—by virtue of being first and locking them in as intellectual property. I also attribute this to its typographer roots.
  • In-line text boxes anchored to either the baseline or cap height.
  • Consolidated menus, unlike the menus that blight the IDCS experience.
  • Collect for output.

and Minus:

  • Utterly inflexible column guides.
  • Limited image import options: Tif, jpeg, and eps only.
  • No bleed and slug presets. You could specify a wider print area beyond the doc bleed, but that was it.
  • QXP5 had the crappiest PDF driver, ever. If it felt like making them. They fixed it in QXP6, sort of, but was blighted by leisurely output times.
  • QXP7 pdfs are still 2x the size of ones generated thru Distiller. However, generating a PostScript file in Quark was very good. Then Adobe Distiller would take care of the rest. I lay this at the feet of the PDF driver in the Quark software.
  • The lo-rez preview in Quark was unpardonable. That’s why a lot of people who should know better did ads in Illustrator.
  • Standalone Xtensions that had to accompany the file to service bureaus, and be bonded to their software. As much fun as a leech.
  • No pre-flight capacity. But neither did Photoshop or Illustrator, makes that a 3-way tie to the doghouse.
  • No layers in versions 3-6. I haven’t looked at QXP7 recently.

InDesign: Plus…

  • Image import options included PSDs. Of course your processor will grunt processing all those layers too. These habits will become fatal in long-form documents.
  • IDCS has the proprietary Acrobat Distiller engines—big snaps up for that. Cooking off a PDF is a straight shot through the proverbial goose. Very clean, few cut-outs.
  • Hi-rez preview
  • Bleed and slug pre-sets
  • Adjustable column guides
  • Layers

and Minus:

  • The designer “menu-puller” interface. Obviously a pick-up from Photoshop and Illustrator, but these are not page layout programs. I find them fragmentary and scattered.
  • Keyboard commands: Yes, you can hot-rod the menus with QXP commands, but you are again lost when you find yourself at another machine.
  • Do the palettes have to be so freakin’ tiny? Advantage Quark.
  • Preflight feature only checks the presence/absence of an image, not whether it is print-worthy. People, you can do better.
  • The ability to copy and paste EPS files into a layer. In the hands of a lazy operator, bad news. Why? Because it won’t show up in a pre-flight scan, and if you have to modify it you get to find it, replace it, ad nauseum. Hint: make an AI file out of it, then import it.
  • In-line text & picture boxes have a seemingly vague way of floating/drifting in the line they’re pasted in on. This is where Quark’s rigidity can be described as “vertebral”
  • The picture boxes with the 2 aspects: the frame edge and the imported image. A hangover from AI.

That is the promised arbitrary summary of these two tools. Yes, tools—not lifestyles or religious choices.

Drawing Conclusions

The technological landscape has changed completely in the last twenty years. Getting answers is much easier with broadband access. You can download software and whatever else you need 24/7. Buy it this afternoon and get it tomorrow. I like where its at now much better.

I also wouldn’t count Quark out yet. They may pull their heads out of their ass and completely redefine the tool paradigm. In the meantime, learn the tool in front of you, and learn it well. And be ready to jump when the Giant Rubber Lizards Battle for Total World Domination.

Design and Production: Two Agendas That Eventually Meet

cali fires11-2003

So…Whaddya Know?

A prominent senior designer once asked me what I knew about Quark. There was amusement in his query. He was designing the 1998 Pac Bell annual report. I was an unknown freelancer. What did I know?

I asked to sit down in front of his keyboard, and began to analyze his comp by asking questions in a walk-through manner as I looked through each part of the layout

It went something like this:

“Page layout? It looks like a spread, with a cluster of pulled guides, and what looks like a 2 column grid. Let’s go to page masters. Create master page A, set up a 2-column grid, apply said Master page to spread. Nudge and tug the master page columns a bit. Now the text starts looking a little more secure.”

“Common text box tops? Go to baseline grid. Set first line to strike at 1.5” (18p). Now all the text boxes can be moved and parked accordingly if that’s the plan. We’ll adjust the line leading later, but we’ll leave it at the default 12pt.”

“Well lookie-here. All the text boxes have a default inset of 1 point. Eliminate that, then the text boxes can slam up against the guides without fuss.”

“Formatting type? Hmmm…no evident style for anything. Body text looks like Centaur Book, 10/12.5. There was a gummed in initial cap in its own box with whack runaround. Not good. Let’s set up a style sheet for the main body text, and pull a dupe style sheet to accommodate the init cap (3 down, 1 over) paragraph, and use a character style sheet for color, etc. Now define a style sheet for alternate first, middle and last paragraphs. And forget the part about hitting returns on the end of the ‘graph. Specify the space after each paragraph. Ditto subheads, pull quotes and sidebar info”

“Colors? How many is this project going to use? 4+3 spots and a varnish? Nice. Go to color palette. Lose or convert all RGB colors to CMYK, unless the RGB green is being used as a die-line FPO indicator. Otherwise kill it.”

“The folios in the bottom look improvised. Go back to master spread. Create folios using automated page characters. I can think of more fun things to be doing rather than chasing improperly formatted folios and where they are placed.”

“Text rules? Inline text ital/bold/? Character styles!”

“And that is what I know about Quark”.

His grin had frozen in place. Which leads to the next idea.

Style Sheets Are Your Best Friend

Design and production have two separate agendas: The designer is creating multiple variants to sell one. The print-production expert has to take that one idea and make it jump multiple times. This is where a solid command of style sheets will make your waking working life considerably happier.

In 2002 I was contracted to produce the 355-page Hancock & Moore catalog through Dan Lennon’s design office.

On arrival, I was handed a sample spread containing text blocks with grouped AI eps files. It looked a lot like this:


Behold the famed Quark “Duct-Tape Xtension! The delightful things one sees when you turn on Invisibles and Guides. Whoa!

I then asked the designer if this was it. He said it was. I told him that I would use this design to set up typographic solutions for this set up. He was skeptical.

This highlights the difference between a one-off idea and a production-line execution. If I used this exact setup I would be in deep trouble. Why?

  • it was a collage, subject to unintentional ungrouping
  • the rule combination was a different enlargement for each text box
  • it was unmodifiable on a production set up.
  • Hard returns after every line, tabbed everywhere (indicated by arrows), spacing (indicated by dots). All of these can (and eventually will be altered by unwary edits)

Clients will change their minds. Count on it.

This is an example of what the finished style sheet looked like for a main copy block. Everything is handled through the style sheets. The rule combo, distance from main head to descriptor body. The subsidiary listing is described by another style sheet.


(top line is highlighted, showing relevant style sheet, with Invisibles turned on)

Remember what I said about the Client changing their mind?

Three chapters into the book they decided they didn’t like the look. I was idled for a long weekend while the designers went back to the boards. What you see here was the final-final round. Converting the previous style sheets only took several hours. Imagine what it might have been like had I not set up the original style sheets in the first place. Not a pretty picture.

HM Sample spread

One final note: While I was putting this project together I thought the type was a bit fussy and small given that the target audience was likely to be 50+ and a bit farsighted. Secondly, furniture galleries have subdued lighting, unlike Ikea or Target. The following year the catalog had an insert that used chunky 12pt bold type…

Problem Documents: Biopsy or Autopsy?

paris hilton sofa

One day last February, I was contacted by one of my cheerful placement agents. He asked if I was busy. Sad truth, at that moment, I wasn’t. He asked if I was interested in going to a remote part of the LA Metroplex to work on-site for a large B2B client. I was searching for satori, and opening my checkbook provided some trenchant insights.

I heard myself saying “I can’t be Sandra Bullock forever…”.

“And you’re gonna have to go on a date sometime!” was the snappy rejoinder.

Arrangements were made, and the next morning I was onsite.

The first order of business was a 495 page book that needed text revisions. By end of the week 10 days hence. Flipping through the mark-up it looked pretty straightforward.

The fun started when I tried opening the Quark document. I was barraged by repeated error messages telling me why it wasn’t going to open. Swell! A corrupted doc. Of course this was the only copy, the previous final doc on the server. Shutdown and reboot.

The second attempt at reopening was met by the same error messages. Consulting with other employees in the adjoining veal cubicles was met with semi-blank faces and admonishments to “keep hitting Return”.

OK. I did, and it finally opened. There it was, all 455 pages in one document. Cue up forbidding rumblings of distant thunder.

Consulting again with my littermates yielded advice to “save over the doc, and throw the old one away…”

No way. After taking a further look into this Amateur Hour bit of home-made sin, I made a decision.

I got up, walked over to the Graphics Supervisor, and explained what I’d seen, what happened and what I thought was the most effective way to deal with it.

  1. The document was hopelessly corrupted.
  2. The document would inevitably fail at some future date—maybe tomorrow, maybe the day it went to the printer
  3. And when it did fail, everyone would remember that The Freelancer (or insert your name here) had worked on it
  4. The most realistic way of correcting the document was to rebuild it in free-standing chapters, linked together by the “Book” feature, which would keep track of the inevitable folio/chapter/section changes.

Bottom line was I couldn’t and wouldn’t work on it in its current state. Otherwise they would be wasting their money, and my professional reputation was not negotiable.

A startled silence greeted this news. This wasn’t what they had in mind. Frankly I wasn’t about to humor them in this. The odds were good that Mr Murphy would make a dramatic appearance at the time of his own choosing. In the Continent of Failure, no man is an island, he is a peninsula.

They said “Uhhhhh……OK,…I guess”.

I imagine similar noises had been made at Initech when Lumberg was out of the office.

The next thing I did was to call my assigning agent and tell him exactly what happened. This was to establish my professional assessment of the situation, because I knew that within minutes he’d be called, and might be told something along the lines of “he won’t play nice” and so forth.

I was reassigned to other tasks. And I got to see the quality of Quarksmanship that oozed from that locale. It was not pretty.

Towards the end of the assignment, I got a call from my assigning agent, asking how things were going. I told him things were going fairly well, given the boundaries of competence and attitude displayed. This location was where bottom-feeding Quark operators went to die, because they couldn’t get hired anywere else.

Or anyplace that I would willingly work at.