Unless You Are a Masochist, Do Not Buy QuarkXPress

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2020/07/22/unless-you-are-a-masochist-do-not-buy-quarkxpress/

If you’re entering into a book layout project and considering QuarkXPress, don’t. Author Charles Maurer shares just a few of the horror stories from his experience using QuarkXPress to lay out his most recent book.

This is all very tragic. The last version of Quark I worked with was 4.11 and that worked fairly well. Just the company was utterly flawed so my school switched to Indesign (which I never liked). Too bad that now the Quark program seems to be as problematic as the firm.

Anyways, I have Affinity ready in case I need to go and do DTP again.

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I will not regale you with horror stories from QXP in the 80s (but I could). I had a good experience with InDesign for a recent book project. Some of the features are easier to use if you understand how to use Styles (like the feature in MS Word that nobody uses). It had a steep learning curve on the automatic chapter and pagination issues, and it is definitely better at advanced typography. But other than that, it’s pretty simple. The GUI is straight Adobe so there are many panels and actions that work identically to any other Adobe app.


My page layout learning curve began decades ago with Aldus PageMaker and found it easy enough to use. I had Quark, but was so frustrated with the support. The default mode in their tech support was that most users had stolen the app. I bought it, registered, and could provide registration. So, then to Adobe PageMaker, and I continue to use InDesign subscription even though I’m mostly retired now and use InD in volunteer work for the community and friends.


I did all the layout on my own book, which was photo rich, and probably the reason the publisher took it because it saved them a ton of work. InDesign was easy to use for the layout. Although now with my age and brain cell diaspora, I do have to look up how to do certain functions that I’m sure I used to know.


I also did Page Layout work in the 1990s and PageMaker was my app. I never tried Quark, and the magazine I was working for only used PM. Once I learned it, I liked PM very much and also made brochures and business cards with it. By the time Adobe made the move to InDesign, I was not doing that kind of work any longer.

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We moved from QuarkXPress to InDesign in 2006. While I have nothing useful to contribute about modern day QXP I appreciate the article as we start looking for possible InDesign replacements 3 years from now. No problems with InDesign except for Adobe’s greed. I am concerned that in 3 years we will not be able to afford Adobe Creative Cloud once our current contract expires.

I’ve started playing with the Affinity products. They seem very nice. They are missing some features that are important to me plus there isn’t a publishing workflow product and editorial product, but it seems quite capable and very nicely priced. Since so much of print publishing revolves around PDFs and not native QXP or ID files I can see it bubbling up for certain uses and hopefully establishing a foothold. Now that Adobe products are priced beyond what most hobbyists can pay perhaps Affinity Publish can get a substantial following.


You should be trying FrameMaker for anything more complex than a grocery list. If I created layout for a living and it was on my desktop, I’d be using it for my grocery list as well.

Not trying to be flippant; it’s just that simple. I’ve never read or experienced any shortcomings about FM. Because of perfect realization as a layout tool, playing nice with everybody else, you could use preferred content tools and shove the results in. I could automate any situation I could imagine. I don’t know why Adobe picked it up only to lock it in the attic, other than noting FM was growing from workstations to desktops, so maybe that was a threat, maybe even a threat to Acrobat. If you showed me FM beside ID I’d pick FM, so maybe it was Adobe’s way of justifying their previous ID investment. PageMaker was put down as a mercy killing. The Adobe subscription thing turns me off as well, but the price is de nada if you use FM for revenue.

I think my old feelings are still valid. I created a book, notes for classrooms, convention papers, and I’ve performed college desktop support for QuarkXpress and PageMaker. Moved to FM from PM, assuming I’d have to use QX to make printers happy, but then never looked back. Created my first and only full text book with SunOS FrameMaker, after multiple authors admitted defeat while trying to amalgamate components from Word or WordPerfect. PageMaker would choke, Word was a worse mess, and Ventura Publisher was a Wintel shill. VP was probably the most worthy competitor except far too Windows centric at WorkstationU. InDesign looked promising but I never used it; Adobe was well into the infinite palette universe that I hated.

QX was just expensive for no obvious reason, other than fertilizing their monopoly. Having dealt with QX daily during it’s adoption apex, my perspective was that they felt they had to out-feature everyone else, at all cost. This meant bugs and workarounds propagated rev after rev as long as somebody wanted to pay for the next new widget. Bill Gates said it well, I just wish it wasn’t true.


I hesitate to add this contribution in the context of professional layout and design, but it might be useful for someone. I recently did the complete layout for a paperback book, published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, using Apple’s free Pages. It’s limited in its capabilities of course but for me, simple and brilliant. I set page format, heading styles, different body text styles, headers and footers, imported images (both photographic and line drawings) - everything you need for a straightforward job. Obviously it’s not for high-level professional work but I did produce a very workmanlike paperback with it.


I loved FrameMaker and was sorry to see it disappear from the Mac after Adobe bought the company. It is superb for book layout for many reasons. InDesign was supposed to eventually replace it but I still don’t see that happening.

QXP painted itself into a technical corner. It was a very tight bit of programming that made it very resource efficient. But it was like a ball of yarn, it was difficult for the programmers to update. I had contact with a number of people at QXP and when I asked why a certain feature wasn’t fixed or replaced they said they couldn’t, that it was impossible to figure out the programming and fixing one thing ended up breaking something else. When I asked why certain features weren’t being added that would be very valuable to print publishing the QXP just shrugged their shoulders. They were also frustrated. QXP was eventually completely rewritten to a modular architecture that, in theory, was easier to update. That took years of work. Plus we had Fred Ebrahimi have a melt down telling its largest customers that print publishing was dead. This was a couple of years before the mass exodus to InDesign. Fred was the business guy, Tim, the programmer partner, left years earlier and cashed out to work on his causes.


The company I worked with moved from Quark to Adobe Creative Suite around 2007-8. The reason they stuck with Quark for so long is they had made substantial investments in Xtensions that were important to the workflow. By that time InDesign had advanced far enough that the expensive Xtensions were no longer necessary. And the company already had a lot of Photoshop and Illustrator licenses, and the number of Dreamweaver users was beginning to grow.

The art department of the company my husband worked for at the time had done beta testing for InDesign, and everyone he knew in the test group loved it. The company was so happy with it they switched as soon as the final version was released.

Although I loved Quark, bitched and moaned about it at the time, and had been praising it to the skies on occasion in TidBITS Talk, I could see how it would make sense for the company I worked with to get everyone in art, editorial and production on the same page and save money as well.

If you’re in the book publishing world, this makes sense. I’m coming from a magazine, packaging, newspaper, online and signage background. For magazines and newspapers, you’re dealing with a constantly changing environment in which editors, designers, art directors, publishers, ad sales and production people are working under tight deadlines in an environment where everything always changes rapidly and paginations, layouts, folds, stapling, gluing, etc are a fact of daily life. There are as many issues for packaging and signage as well, and add in sizing. Shoving content in and out is not a workable solution.


Back in the mid-90s, I bought FrameMaker with the idea of moving my Internet Starter Kit book to it so I could do conditional publishing with the Mac and Windows versions in the same file. Probably wasn’t a good idea, and my publisher never went for it, but the real problem was it losing Mac support around then. It never ran in Mac OS X, although even Apple continued using it up to 2008 for manuals, according to Wikipedia.

I think I still have the FrameMaker box in my attic.

I am not sure if some of the commentators of this article are paid to write this by Adobe, the arch-rival of Quark Xpress.
I have been using Quark since version 1 in the 90s, and also PageMaker as it was known before InDesign, and this is the total opposite. Where there was absolutely no problem with Quark, PageMaker was just a nightmare, and at some point, I refused clients bring PM files to me, to finish the layout and do the prepress. It was just too complicated.
InDesign that I also use, has been a huge improvement and I like the fact that it does integrates the shortcuts and pallets from Illustrator. However you should be aware that if this is something you want, it can be programmed in Quark so you are not lost with your shortcuts.

Never get any problem with Quark which is far superior in term of page layout than InDesign that I also use for some clients supplying files in this format. This doesn’t stop me to use Adobe Illustrator for logos, illustrations and graphs, and Adobe Photoshop for photo retouching (than can also be handled directly from Quark Xpress if you didn’t know).
Maybe because I know almost everything and all the shortcuts to make the most of Quark I will be adamant that Quark is much more professional than InDesign in term of layout.

It’s like comparing the reliability and performance of a Porsche for exclusive clients, to a Renault which has a mass market and try to do as well but never reached the same level and I completely disagree with Charles comments. Perhaps his Mac is not set-up correctly, he doesn’t have the latest updates, his system is not clean, he has left invisible files for past Quark versions, which makes it instable.
I cannot recall how many years (or decades) ago, I got crashing files with Quark, perhaps in the late 99s when they moved from version 3 to version 4… and at the time, most of the crashes were due to font problems or lack of memory to open very large Quark files.


Longtime QuarkXPress user here, since version 1.0 in 1990. The past few years QX has been getting better and more stable bit by bit. Version 6 through 8 were pretty unstable. It also had a great customer support mediator, Matthias Guenther, who created great how-to-videos, and quickly responded to problems and questions on the very active QX Facebook users page. Then about a year ago, some investment firm bought Quark, and it’s been a shit show ever since. All they seem to care about is getting users to sign up for their faux-subscription plan, they email all of us users, even phone us, naging us to sign up. New features are now nothing I ever find useful, and Matthias is long gone, customer support is non-existent. I persist in using it because I’m very efficient at it after 30 years using the app, but Affinity Publisher is starting to look very attractive, and would likely suit my work fairly simple, just lesson material for my music students. I learned InDesign for a period when freelancing, but didn’t like it very much. I’m currently using and pretty happy with QX2018. I’ll probably never migrate to InDesign, unless they offer an affordable bundle of just InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Lightroom Classic. I have little to no need for the rest of their apps in the CS subscription.


Cough… What! What! What! My good fellow, you do realize there’s a new chap in town by the name of Affinity Publisher for $49.99 available from store.serif.com or the Mac App Store? Windows and Mac supported. No subscription. Lean, mean, and powerful it won’t eat your disk. Not gonna say there might not be a bug or two.

But anything is better than QuarkXPress or the high fees of InDesign. I publish a lot of technical documentation using LaTeX, store all the content in git and it’s great when you have a solid template and just need to inject the content. It’s not so great for a one-off quick project. Remember you have BSD under the hood on that Mac and that gives you incredible text processing power. Pandoc, LaTeX, sed, awk, scripting, etc.


I’ve been supporting DTP users since the early 90’s and dealing with QXP used to be a daily thing for me… and I never liked it… whenever I did my own DTP projects, I used PageMaker… because I never liked the Quark interface… BUT at least the app was mostly stable in those early days… unless my client was doing a particularly large layout… in which case I would admonish them to make frequent iteration backups of their QXP files… or run the risk of losing hours of work from file corruption.

And once They moved beyond the legendary version 3.3x… and onto version 5 and beyond… QXP started a serious downhill slide.

Though I was so sad about the demise of PageMaker… once it became cliear that InDesign was becoming a serious rival to QXP… well I was very happy… because Quark had become a real stinker. So was delighted by how many clients were migrating to InDesign.

But don’t think that I’m full of praise and adulation for Adobe CS/CC. When it works good, it works good… but when it doesn’t work it can be a real stinker to fix. But I’d still rather deal with that than the ball of hurt that is QuarkXPress (and THAT is the real ball of hurt, Mr. Jobs, not BluRay).


I agree with the first sentence. But my issue is if Affinity can handle halftones flawlessly on high resolution CMYK imagesetters or platesetters at 150-300 dots per inch.

Well it certainly is cheap enough to give it a go? I mean that’s less than a tank of gas in most cars. You could also email Affinity and ask. Not everyones requirements are the same.

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I will delve into some of my ancient history. 23 years ago I was hired to be IT for a magazine using QXP 3.3 and QPS and QuarkCopyDesk for editors. So my needs are not the same as many others. It was important that editors, writers, designers, and production staff to work together. QXP and QPS was amazing. But it has limitations which, to this day, might not yet have been fixed. Does anyone know if QCD is able to show images at greater than 72dpi?

We were one of the first publications to move to QXP on Mac OS X. This is because we were having such problems with QXP running under compatibility mode under Mac OS X. We would lose one specific layout every month. QXP style sheets didn’t include cascading or inherited styles, resulting in some designers refusing to use them. And there was no comparison in the quality of typography, ID was better. The initial move to QXP native to Mac OS X was a disaster. A year later we didn’t see any improvements in QXP’s weaknesses, including stability, we moved to InDesign for designers, InCopy for editors and writers, and K4 for workflow. QuarkCopyDesk had so many weaknesses that we had to give our copy editors QuarkXPress, which gave them the opportunity to make mischief, often by accident. Adobe InCopy was so much better than QuarkCopyDesk that no one in editorial needed a layout program anymore, much to the joy of designers.

Yes, you can get plugins for QXP to give it added capabilities, but I was often not satisfied with the UI integration. And the more plugins it seemed to me the less stable the program. In 2006 moving to InDesign was a no brainer, almost all magazines similar to ours had already made the change. Plus by around 2004 or 2005 we couldn’t hire interns because they didn’t have any QuarkXPress experience and weren’t interested in working in QXP.

We are testing the Affinity products. They look good but miss some features and don’t have a workflow program nor editorial product. Maybe in 2-3 years these areas of weakness will be fixed. I am hoping one of our recently retired production staff will buy the Affinity products so she can report to me how much she likes them.