Tag Archives: desktop

REVIEW: Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

The Overlay Creator

The Overlay Creator panel is the DPS component that InDesign designers will spend most of their time in. The Overlay Creator panel, a plugin that works with InDesign CS5 and later, is the interface for adding multimedia and interaction to InDesign files for inclusion in digital publications. You can add a variety of interactive features to InDesign documents, not all of which are new to InDesign:

  • Image Sequences display multiple images, which has a variety of applications including time-lapse sequences, animated clips and 360-degree views. Image Sequences can auto-play or respond to user “scrubbing.”
  • Audio & Video insert audio and video assets into InDesign documents. Thanks to the multimedia features that have been added to InDesign in the past few years, adding audio and video is easy to do and the media controls generated by InDesign are good.
  • Hyperlink overlays will add links to your digital publications that link to online content, articles within the publication and more. Quick tip: Apple provides a method to write hyperlinks that send SMS text messages. Apple has a URL Scheme Reference that explains how to build these links.
  • Like the Image Sequence, the Slideshow overlay displays a slideshow in digital publications. Think of Slideshow as a traditional slideshow, incorporating InDesign elements including text and graphics, while Image Sequence is more of a “flip book” slideshow format with only images.
  • Pan & Zoom is one of my favorites, allowing users to pinch and expand images in digital publications. The designer has to think ahead when using Pan & Zoom and insert large images in their graphic frames. These can be scaled down to the desired default view, but the digital publication will retain the full-resolution image so it can be blown up when the user enlarges it. The DPS does not enlarge images on its own.
  • Panorama will combine multiple images into a panorama. This can be tricky because the user needs to load six photographs into InDesign with the right angle and order so it can be stitched together automatically. There are also some esoteric settings in the Overlay Creator including field of view and limit vertical pan. Reading through the instructions and a little playing around with the controls will help users grasp the Panorama overlay, and there are tutorials online for shooting images to be stitched into panoramas.
  • Web Content, which used to be called “Web View,” will embed online webpages or an HTML file within digital publications. It’s really surprising and very cool to see a webpage loaded in an InDesign publication, but it works and users can even interact with the webpage. The process is actually fairly easy to implement.

Creating interactivity with the Overlay Creator does a good job of condensing extensive interaction into a panel with a few settings, but I think Adobe’s development team can make the process more intuitive, particularly with bringing multimedia onto the page. The current InDesign has a lot of panels to sift through and the Overlay Creator adds quite a bit more chrome to the package. Keeping track of all the user interface elements involved with Overlay Creator was my biggest challenge, not bugs or a lack of interactive features.

The Folio Builder

The other component of DPS that resides in InDesign is the Folio Builder panel, where users combine articles into .folio files for publication and also finalize the document’s orientation. Working with articles and folios can be a mundane task but this part of the process is where designers can see their work on a tablet for the first time through the Content Viewer, an Adobe app available on the desktop or on the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World and for webOS.

Articles can be pulled from multiple documents, so you can build a horizontal and vertical version of a publication and combine it into one app in the Folio Builder. Creating two versions of a publication is not ideal, but it’s necessary if you want a publication that changes orientation properly. Adobe seems to be at least on the right track in creating “liquid layouts” in InDesign that will re-orient themselves depending on the orientation, which would be a wonderful new feature. Here’s a demo of the technology at Adobe MAX.

Adding articles and pushing folios up to the Content Viewer is most of what the Folio Builder does, but there are also some sharing features which I think is very important in a production environment. The Folio Builder panel’s menu has a Share option which will let users share a publication with other users who have an Adobe ID. You can also append a subject and message to the share notice. This is very useful but I would also like an interface in the DPS website where you can set up groups of multiple users so you can grant rights and share folios with groups of people at once. This is what I do when developing Facebook applications. Even though you can share to multiple individuals at once in Folio Builder, groups and shared rights make collaboration easier.

REVIEW: Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac

Virtualization on the Mac has been widely available for several years now and a lot of creative professionals need and use Windows and other operating systems to handle all their clients’ needs. I run Windows XP, Windows 7, Chrome OS and Linux as well as Mac OS X, originally to test websites in PC environments but also to run Windows-only software for tech reviews.

After a few years of using Parallels Desktop 4, I wanted to try out version 6—the latest version—and see what’s changed since then. Version 4 worked pretty well but it was also a drain on computer resources and I had some display issues when switching back and forth out of Coherence mode, which runs Windows programs in the Mac environment without maintaining a separate Windows desktop window.

Parallels Desktop 6 is a definite improvement. The most noticeable changes are in the UI for turning on and switching virtual machines. There’s more transparency in the dialog boxes and I can tell the design was a major focus during development. I think this is important because Mac OS X users generally use that OS because of its strong design aesthetics, and dull gray interfaces can be a turn-off. Parallels Desktop 6’s UI has a stylish glass and charcoal palette that reminds me of Windows 7 more than Mac OS X but it’s certainly not out of place on a Mac. This attention to detail earns points from Mac users.

The integration between Mac and other OS applications is well-done. Coherence mode allows virtualized applications to run beside Mac OS X applications within the Mac desktop, as opposed to having the virtual OS take over the screen or run in its own window. It works well in version 6 but I have to say I still run Parallels Desktop in its own maximized window. I am not usually running Windows and other applications regularly and am comfortable jumping in and out of Parallels. I run two monitors at once and when I’m working between two operating systems I will often run Parallels on one monitor and move my needed Mac apps to the other.

Rather than Coherence, what I appreciate more is having the Windows folder in my Mac’s Dock. This folder is automatically placed in the Dock while I am running Windows in Parallels Desktop, and it lists all my available Windows applications and folders. In version 6, this now includes Windows Start Menu items like My Computer and the Control Panel. It saves me a step when I want to launch something in Windows.

Let’s discuss performance, which was only average in Parallels Desktop 4. Parallels Desktop 6 is a significant improvement if you have enough processor power and memory in your machine. On a stock Mac Pro purchased a couple years ago, Parallels Desktop 6 boots up quickly and doesn’t have much trouble suspending and stopping virtual machines. It can be a little slow sometimes with this, but a user like me who needs Windows or another OS for a particular task can launch Parallels, do the task and then end the session.

I have read that graphics-intensive applications like games perform very well in Parallels Desktop 6 and boast good frame rates. I don’t play games in Parallels, and use it instead to test websites in Internet Explorer and other PC-based browsers or run review software such as Autodesk MotionBuilder. Like I mentioned previously, an operating system’s performance in Parallels Desktop 6 will really depend on your computer’s performance, and it will also depend on the computing resources you allow Parallels Desktop to allocate to the operating system. When these are set to the right levels, Parallels Desktop 6 allows for good performance and I didn’t see any issues while working.

I’ve not had any bugs affect Parallels Desktop 6 in the time I’ve worked with it. However, I’ve read about some isolated bugs that I think are related to long-running processes like Time Machine updates or a constantly running instance of a virtual OS. If you’re jumping in and out of Parallels to run specific applications, then you are probably a lot safer from any bugs in Parallels Desktop 6.

Parallels Desktop 6 also marks the release of a nice new iOS app called Parallels Mobile, which allows access to your virtualized OS from the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. There was a similar app available for the iPhone only in version 4, but it didn’t have much functionality. Parallels Mobile is much improved, and it’s pretty easy to set up from Parallels Desktop 6.

Along with the usual Parallels functions like suspend or shut down, Parallels Mobile allows a great degree of control over virtualized applications but it’s limited by the two main deficiencies of gesture-controlled interfaces: inaccurate targeting of small UI elements and difficulty mastering all the gestures that correspond to mouse input. It can be mastered but I’m really not sold on the idea of handling complex applications like Photoshop on the iPad by tapping tiny checkboxes and sliders. Of course, this will all be avoided when they make an iPad the size of my monitor….

Besides the difficulties with the UI, Parallels Mobile runs nicely. You can even quit Parallels Desktop altogether and still use your virtual machines with Parallels Mobile, but they will continue to use computing power that way.

I’ve enjoyed working with Parallels Desktop 6 and the product is value-priced even at its upgrade price. Versions 4 and 5 have somewhat mixed reviews so those users should consider the upgrade, and new users should consider the purchase even more if they ever need to run non-Mac operating systems. Buyers need to know that Parallels Desktop does not include the operating system itself—if you want Windows, you have to buy it separately. But there are open-source operating systems like Linux or Google’s Chrome OS that are free to run and handy to have.

Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac
US $79.99/$39.99 upgrade
Rating: 9/10

InDesign CS5 and InCopy CS5 Review

This review supplements “InDesign CS5 First Impressions,” which I wrote just after CS5 was announced. That article explains most of the new features in InDesign CS5 like other reviews, but the goal of this article is to share my experience in the field with InDesign CS5 and to tell what works and what doesn’t work for me.

Things have changed

Creative Suite 5 encompasses many industries, but probably none has changed more in the last few months than publishing. Apple released the iPad and then banned Flash from its walled garden, leaving publishers scrambling for technology that would put its content on Apple’s products. It also left Adobe unsure how to proceed, and puts InDesign CS5 in an odd position. InDesign has embraced Flash for years and InDesign CS5 has major improvements in digital publishing and multimedia—all powered by Flash.

For now, I am using InDesign CS5 to produce multimedia and exporting it to PDF to be deployed online. This doesn’t solve the Apple problem but my clients seem to appreciate PDF better than Flash—even though Acrobat and Reader handle both technologies—and PDF is a format I can publish online, on other devices, and even print on a press. InDesign CS5 is the best PDF content producer on the market right now and I prefer it to Flash when producing presentations and multimedia that don’t require scripting. Flash is more of an application development tool nowadays, at least in my studio.

Greater control over layout and columns

InDesign CS5’s new additions seem very smart, on the same level as Dreamweaver CS5’s advancements in CSS and HTML5. The column spanning/splitting feature, which allows headlines to occupy multiple columns and lists to be segmented into sub-columns, adds elegance to my layouts. I had been achieving spanned headlines before with a separate text box above the body text box, but now I can spare myself the extra work.

I actually haven’t had a project recently requiring multiple page sizes, but the ability to create multiple sizes in InDesign CS5 is an important addition. I’m actually surprised the InDesign team hadn’t implemented it earlier: the need has always been there, and third-party plug-ins have been available to fulfill it.

I am less thrilled about the object grids and Gap tool, but that’s just because I very rarely design grid systems into my layouts. I prefer a more organic approach to layouts. But there are some instances where I want to produce a large array of images in a grid, in which case object grids save a lot of time and effort. If you’re a designer who often uses grids, InDesign CS5 will make production much easier.

InCopy CS5: Not promoted enough

I’ve always liked InCopy, the writing and editing application that complements InDesign, and I’ve set up InDesign-InCopy workflows for companies before. I like the fact that they’re designed to work together, unlike Word which is what most editorial departments still like to use.

I’ve wondered why InCopy hasn’t gained much market share—at least in my area—and I think it’s because Adobe just hasn’t really promoted the product enough. It’s not available as part of any Creative Suite, even though it is upgraded with the rest of the applications and carries the CS5 name. Even a lot of InDesign users know very little about it and therefore can’t recommend it to their editorial partners. Until Adobe bundles it with the Creative Suite—or, better yet, integrates it more fully with InDesign—I don’t expect it will ever take command of its niche like InDesign has.

InCopy CS5 is a relatively modest update, with several new features that will be familiar to InDesign CS5 users. The Eyedropper tool, which has been in InDesign and Word for years, is new to InCopy CS5 for copy-and-paste formatting. Several features new to InDesign CS5, such as the redesigned Layers panel, multithreaded performance, splitting and spanning text across columns, document-installed fonts and Mini Bridge are all included too. However, a lot of these new features make more sense in InDesign because it’s a page layout application—InCopy is designed to handle editorial only, and visual improvements like document-installed fonts and spanning/splitting text isn’t as vital in InCopy CS5.

The best improvement is in tracking changes, which InCopy has had for at least a couple versions now. InDesign CS5 has a Track Changes panel now and so change tracking has better integration, with the same controls and highlighting on either end. This is one example where an editorial feature from InCopy has migrated to InDesign, and it’s interesting because it seems many new features in these two applications are actually blurring the line between editorial and design functions. Adobe must have learned from their research that sometimes designers need to revise writing and writers need some layout tools on their end.


InDesign CS5 is hard to evaluate: its features make a lot of sense and are executed very well, but the publishing market is volatile now and it makes it tough to judge how much of an impact it will have. I know many designers and publishers, still not used to the digital age, won’t care at all about new multimedia tools. Most editorial departments will still stick with Word for writing their articles. In my studio, InDesign CS5 has proven to be a solid workhorse with no major drawbacks and several benefits. It’s already become a tool for building multimedia I would normally do in Flash. But its success will ultimately depend on how quickly its publishing customers stop looking backward and start looking forward.

InDesign CS5
Adobe Systems
US$699/$199 upgrade
Rating: 9/10

InCopy CS5
Adobe Systems
US$249/$89 upgrade
Rating: 7/10

BOOK REVIEW: From Design Into Print

Cover image
Cover image

I’ve seen Sandee Cohen’s writing many times over the years in InDesign Magazine and heard her speak at The InDesign Conference a few years ago, but From Design Into Print is the first book of hers I’ve reviewed. It’s a good book with Sandee’s usual wit and comprehensive knowledge of the industry, and it’s well-written and well-designed.

Great for newcomers

I was struck by how useful From Design Into Print would have been for me in 1999, when I started my career at a local newspaper. The company gave me a copy of Newspaper Ads That Make Sales Jump: A How-to Guide but From Design Into Print would have been much more pertinent to my everyday work preparing images and layouts for printing. There are also projects and quizzes at the end of every chapter, but I found the projects so broad and intensive that they didn’t hold my interest. One project asks the reader to pick up a magazine and study the dot patterns in printed images, but why not just print some pattern close-ups right there and explain their qualities? Fortunately, project topics are usually explored elsewhere in the book.


One difference between From Design Into Print and a similar production guide from ten years ago is the inclusion of chapters on image sources (digital photography, stock photos and clip art) and some new technologies (PDF, Acrobat and other applications). This book shouldn’t be considered just a book on printing: it encompasses the full production workflow, which I think it vital since designers are called to do much more today than in the past. The only things I think could have been expanded were the sections on PDF/X specifications, which can demystify the whole PDF export process, and color correction, which is vital to print production but is not really discussed in From Design Into Print.

A few mistakes

The information and techniques in From Design Into Print is pretty much free of errors, but there were enough spelling mistakes to make me notice. Ironically, three of them are on page 261 in the paragraphs about errata and fixing spelling mistakes after printing. Sandee tells me one is intentional (read the passage and you’ll know why). I’m not too bothered by harmless typos but there are also a couple product names that are misspelled, and that is more serious. The worst is Apple Aperture, misspelled “Apperture” twice in the same section.

Despite these flubs, From Design Into Print is an excellent book overall—one I would give to any designer new in the field. The tools for print production are available to everyone today but there’s still craft and skill involved in printing the dots and vectors that make up the printed page. From Design Into Print teaches the craft very well.

From Design Into Print: Preparing Graphics and Text for Professional Printing
Sandee Cohen
Published by Peachpit Press
Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: InDesign CS4 and InCopy CS4

InDesign CS4 box

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.

InDesign CS4 Preflight panel

Live Preflight alone makes InDesign CS4 an upgrade worth considering—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 box—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

InDesign CS4 Links panel

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 efforts—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 panel—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.

InDesign CS4 Smart Guides align

Smart Guides can align elements…

InDesign CS4 Smart Guides spacing

…and space them uniformly. Check out the green arrows.

I really like these UI improvements—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.

InDesign CS4 conditional text

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 document—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 automatically—but the cross-reference itself is maintained. This is actually by design—cross-referenced text can be formatted and edited, and still retain its cross-reference—but it is a complex function that requires some study.