Some of the CS4 applications I’ve reviewed have been somewhat disappointing (Photoshop) while others have turned out to be radical upgrades with varying degrees of success (Dreamweaver, Flash). InDesign CS4 is, in my opinion, one of the best upgrades in CS4 suite: none of its new features really miss the mark, and most of them are quite useful (and a few are excellent advances in InDesign’s evolution). In my daily work I use InDesign CS4 more than probably any other Adobe application, and it has been a treat to use.
The new preflight paradigm
I have to begin my review with Live Preflight, InDesign CS4’s new method for preflighting documents. For twenty years, designers have put together their print layouts only to preflight at the very end, looking for RGB images, missing fonts and other errors that would ruin the final output. We used to use a third-party program like Markzware’s Flightcheck to preflight files before output, and then a few years ago InDesign incorporated native preflight technology. However, both these preflight options were manually run by the designer after the work was done.
Live Preflight alone makes InDesign CS4 an upgrade worth consideringâ€”catching one printing error can practically pay for itself.
Live Preflight checks documents for output problems constantly, while the designer is laying out pages. There’s a simple display at the bottom of the document window listing the number of errors (unfortunately, InDesign CS4 does not highlight the actual page element causing the error) and from here one can also set or revise the profile InDesign CS4 uses to analyze the document. It’s an easy process to revise profiles with the Preflight Profiles dialog boxâ€”just check what InDesign needs to look for, and set the numbers accordingly. I use preflight profiles to check my layouts going to the web, newsprint or magazines. Live Preflighting has changed the way I work and all I can think is, “Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?”
Advances in the user interface
The Links panel has seen major changes in InDesign CS4. Some new features haven’t been too useful for me, but on average it is a welcome improvement.
Adobe made news with the major revisions in the CS4 interface, but InDesign CS4 went quite a bit further with its own additions to its user interface:
- A Smart Cursor heads-up display shows your X-Y coordinates as you move and transform items with the selection tools.
- Smart Guides appear when dragging elements around and allow for extremely simple alignment, spacing and resizing moves in relation to other elements. Smart Guides will show you when objects are evenly spaced, aligned or other attributes usually controlled by the Align panel. I hardly use the Align panel anymore, thanks to Smart Guides. However, I’ve found that in layouts with many elements Smart Guides will snap you to align with things you don’t want to align to. The workaround to this is to zoom in so all you see on screen are the elements that need to be aligned: Smart Guides only pay attention to elements in the current view. However, sometimes I am aligning objects across a large cross-section of the layout and other elements hamper my effortsâ€”in this case I just turn off Smart Guides and use the Align panel to make it work.
- The Links panel has been redesigned to show a lot more information, such as the page where the link instances resides, attributes (scale, resolution, layer and others), metadata and more. Link thumbnails are particularly effective, as is the ability to show only one instances of the link in the Links panelâ€”if you have 50 instances of a logo, listing it once rather than 50 times saves a lot of space. The new Links panel, by default, has more detail than I usually need, but it’s customizable through the panel’s flyout menu (look for Panel Options) so it’s a good improvement overall.
Smart Guides can align elements…
…and space them uniformly. Check out the green arrows.
I really like these UI improvementsâ€”the InDesign development team was really thinking when they put this batch of features together.
Conditional text and cross-references
The conditional text and cross-referencing features are all about streamlining multiple elements and versioning of InDesign documents, and though my clients and I have not yet found a need for this I do think it’s a good duo of features for the right designers.
The Conditional Text panel allows designers to make different document versions in one file.
Conditional text in InDesign CS4 allows designers to tag text so it appears if a certain condition is met. This replaces the common practice of placing text blocks on different layers and showing/hiding them to create different versions on the fly. The new Conditional Text panel looks similar to the Layers panel, and it’s from here that you apply a condition (or conditions) to selected text. This is a wonderful feature for those creating multiple versions of the same document, whether for release in multiple countries and states or for multiple audiences.
Cross-referencing basically makes selected text into a symbol (to borrow Flash lingo) that can be applied as instances elsewhere in the documentâ€”change the original symbol and all the instances change along with it. I get more use out of cross-referencing because publication design almost always uses multiple instances of titles, headings, chapter titles and so on. However, I find that cross-references (and hyperlinks, which share the same panel) are difficult to use. One can’t simply select text and make it a cross-reference: it has to be a text anchor (created in the Hyperlinks panel) or styled with a particular paragraph style, and even then it’s a difficult process to master. If you revise all the text in a cross-reference, for example, the cross-reference will not update automaticallyâ€”but the cross-reference itself is maintained. This is actually by designâ€”cross-referenced text can be formatted and edited, and still retain its cross-referenceâ€”but it is a complex function that requires some study.