QuarkXpress: desktop publishing

19 problems with QuarkXpress and 6 issues with the company itself

To be oversimplistic, when it comes to laying out brochures, adverts, newsletters, and such like, the professional choice is between 2 products. QuarkXpress and Adobe’s InDesign.

I have used QuarkXpress for nearly 20 years. I have created more than 1,000 documents with it. One year I mailed out close to a million brochure packs in the UK to promote my personal growth products.

Inside each pack was often a 16-page 2-colour sales letter, a full-colour brochure, a testimonial sheet filled with enthusiast quotes from satisfied users, an order form, a reply-paid envelope ā€“ and there were words and pictures often over the front and back of the outer envelope. I created all this using QuarkXpress, doing the initial design myself, then emailing my amateur efforts to a professional designer to create the final design, before passing it on to a printing house.

So I am very grateful for what this software has enabled me to do in my business. For many years it was the main program I used every day, even for writing letters to other businesses. I’m now using the latest version: 8.1.6.

I have had so many problems with it, my mind boggles.

It has the most elementary bugs which I’m amazed are there, even in the simplest documents.

  1. It does not work well with other Mac software: it wouldn’t work with Text Expander correctly, so if I misspelled a word and Text Expander corrected it, it would add extra line feeds and other weird stuff
  2. If I found a little bug and wanted to do a screen capture using LittleSnapper, then Little Snapper would often not work at all
  3. Occasionally if I press OS X’s Shift-Cmd-4 to get the cross hairs and take a screen grab of a section of the screen (when I’m not using LittleSnapper because it won’t work with Quark!) then QuarkXpress will create a new box over the area I just grabbed. Bizarre.
  4. You can no longer get a word count for the whole document as you could in previous versions. So if you have created a magazine of 64 pages with, say 20 different stories in it, the only way to get an overall word count is to visit each story, get a word count for that story, then add up the total with a calculator …and so many more!
  5. A minor annoyance: Xpress consumes around 10-13.8% of the CPU when it’s doing nothing, according to Activity Monitor (an application in the Utilities folder if you are not familiar with it). Let’s look at what’s happening right now on my computer: iPhoto (0.1%), iTunes (0.4%), Numbers (0%), Fetch (0.1%), Mail (0%), iCal (0%), LittleSnapper (0%), MarsEdit (2%), Notational Velocity (0%), Omni Outliner Pro (0%), Things (0%). (Safari is taking 12%, but some windows are open and displaying animated adverts.) So Xpress chooses to use up to 13.*% of CPU. If most of these other programs can consume as low as 0% CPU then why not Quark?

Here are some photos I have grabbed over the last several to show you just a few of the many issues I’ve had.

The biggest issue has been, at times, frequent crashing, which is not represented here.

6. Why is Allen’s name written over by other text??…


7. Notice how the colour palette thing on the right of this shot is all greyed out…


8. Why doesn’t Quark attempt to show more of the path of graphic files?


9. Why does it occasionally cover over the Scale figure so I can’t see whether I’m viewing at 100% or 120% etc? (See how the ruler as gone over the numbers in the bottom left)…


10. In this next shot you’ll see how I started with this page, which looks fine…


…but when I copied it and pasted it elsewhere, the result was this, with all the bullets moving off the page completely!…


…which is a bit of a nuisance! :)

11. If I delete a box, sometimes QuarkXpress leaves a remnant of that box behind (see the part of a red box below the word ‘getting in this caption)…


12. In this next shot, I had a simple Quark document which consisted of one picture box with an image in it. I decided to replace that image with another one (to create a Thank You card as a follow-up to my youngest son’s 8th birthday yesterday). I dragged an image from iPhoto and pressed the Cmd key before I let go of the mouse button: this tells Quark to drop the image into a pre-existing box.

Here’s the result: a ‘squashed’ image!…


…yet Quark’s on-screen numbers showed that this image was reduced to 15% on the x axis and 15% on the y axis: so it should be showing the image correctly, but it’s not. However when I changed the y percentage to 20%, as in the image below, the image looks more ‘normal’…


Now I’d like to say 2 things: I have had this bug happen to me several times in the last year, so it’s not a one-off. I think it’s simply a buggy routine. It should be pretty straight forward to fix it. I bought the update from v7 to v8 almost a year ago. There has been one update to the software since then, and the release notes, to me, seemed to imply that only a couple of issues had been addressed.

13. All I did to cause Quark to crash as below was to import a jpg image created in GraphicConverter, replacing an image that was already there. I may have pressed Shift-Cmd-Alt-F to get the image to fill the box. (Photo taken with my camera.) This has happened 3-4 times and I have lost work each time it has happened…


14. For some reason Quark decided it wanted to Optimise the file. Quark simply locked up half way through the optimising. I don’t know why Quark decided to do this operation — I’ve not noticed it trying to do this since then…


15. If you look at the image below, you can see that the cursor is flashing above where it says “Contacting Chris”…


…but the text insertion point is after the “t” in contact: see above where I pressed the letter “d”? (see the image below) Why is the cursor flashing 2 lines above if Quark is inserting text at a different place?


16. In this next image, you can see that I was looking for the phrase “may have had”. Notice that the text is set a little high in the input box…


…but later the text appears in the middle on the box as I would expect…


17. Notice in the next image that it say 500% for the zoom level? I kept trying the change that first 5 into a 4, but Quark wouldn’t show the 4: it kept displaying 500 until, I think, I pressed Enter, when the text magically changed to 400%.


18. In the Style Sheets window below you’ll see that the blue blob on the right shows that there are styles higher up the list — but I couldn’t get Quark to scroll further up this list. (A few days earlier I had copied some pages from another file with a different set of styles, so maybe that contributed to this bug.)


19. Exporting text. I remember using Quark 7.2 that I’d occasionally have problems exporting text using the “Save text…” menu item: Often Quark would only export the first paragraph or 2 of a 20-paragraph piece of text. (And I would try different ways of doing this including selecting all the text then trying to export all selected text, but that wouldn’t fix it.) Well, in 8.12 there are still problems… A few days ago I found a bug here which I was able to replicate quite easily: Select a word of text in a document. Select “Save text…” in the File menu. Occasionally 8.12 greys out the “Entire story / Selected text” radio buttons, so I guess it thinks I’ve just positioned my cursor in the text. But all Quark outputs is that one word selected. (Sorry I haven’t got a screen grab of this. This bug cost me a good chunk of time and money recently.

Of course, some of the above challenges are trivial, but those are just the ones I could explain easily and I had a clear screengrab for.

And I haven’t mentioned some of the many challenges of using the software. Here’s one…

20. If I’ve selected a photo in a document, there’s a way to find out its file name. To do this, you go to the Utilities>Usage pull down menu. It lists Fonts then Pictures. It would be smart if Xpress went straight to Pictures as I have selected an image, but it goes to Fonts.

21: I have an A4 landscape page which I created. I wanted to export it as a pdf document. So I selected Export to pdf, and the resulting file was in portrait format, so I lost the left and right sides of my page. I couldn’t see any way to fix this. So my only solution was to select Print, and from there select …as pdf.

There are many more like this, and you’ll find complaints about the software around the internet, including an interesting review here at amazon.com.

Doing business with Quark, the company

1. I went to the Quark main site to get 8.12, and eventually signed up for a trial, and got this email…



You’ll see the email I got above which is to tell me how to download my trial copy of 8.12. I’m using Mail on my Mac. Notice that the link isn’t clickable. I have bought dozens and dozens of software products for my laptop, and dozens of ebooks with links inserted in emails. Why can’t Quark provide a simple clickable link?

So here’s what I did: I copied the whole line and pasted it into Safari. That didn’t work: I was redirected to a siteerror page. So I emailed Quark as follows. I also emailed their UK office with the same message…




FIVE days later I got one reply — from their office in Lebanon — telling me to buy 8.12 from the office in Abu Dhabi — but there was no mention of the problems I was having downloading the software.

So I had an idea: I decided to strip off the last 4 characters of activation link: “?=en” and try again — it worked! Iā€™m sure other people have had problems getting their link to work.


2. It would have been helpful, earlier this year, if the Xpress software had told me how long I had left on my 60-day trial, but I couldn’t find any mention of this in the software. I did get an email from Quark a month after I downloaded 8.12 which had the subject “Your 60-day Test Drive is Coming to an End Soon” — which isn’t actually true: I had another 30 days.

3. Telephone help with Quark’s customer service staff in India was not much use: When I had one crash the guy there just told me to remove all extensions from the Extensions folder: but that meant I couldn’t export files as images, add drop shadows etc! This is not really a solution!

4. Posting on the forum didn’t get me complete answers. I either got one reply or no reply. Sometimes I got a clear answer, mostly not.

5. Emails to their customer support address are ignored or answered incompletely.

6. When they posted an earlier update to the software in March 2010, I just happened to come across it on the main site: I didn’t get an email telling me there was an update! Nor does the software seem to check for updates like 99% of other Mac software. So how are users supposed to find out if/when a new version of Quark has been released?!

I just thought I’d check Quark’s at www.quark.com. There’s a new version of Xpress there: Version 8.6.1, released on October 10, 2010 (all 750meg of it!). The only description about what has changed in this version is the following: “This free update further optimizes the stability and quality of QuarkXPress 8.” The previous version was released on March 21, 2010. I personally would like to have more detail than this! Surely after 7 months with a team of programmers they have done more than minor alterations and could list what they had fixed so frustrated purchasers could say “Wow, they’ve fixed that issue at last!”

I’ve been through my email Inbox. Quark sent me an email on October 20, 2010. It says: “As someone who has previously downloaded the QuarkXPress 8 60-Day Test Drive we’re excited to offer you and additional 30-Days to try out the very latest version!” It was sent to my mac.com email address which was the one I used to buy Quark at the beginning of the year. So maybe I was never added to their buyer’s list, which doesn’t make sense.

Let’s look at price: QuarkXpress costs US$799. I have paid for several updates since I first bought it. The upgrade to Version 7 cost me around $299, and the upgrade to Version 8 cost me $299.

I think I read that there are more than 3 million users of QuarkXpress. I guess that Quark’s revenue is pretty considerable as a result.

Yet I have had almost no communication from them in a year; no significant upgrade in that time; very poor customer support; and more.

I don’t begrudge the price. I just expect similar or better service than I get from one-man operations like Red Sweater Software and the makers of Typinator, who reply to my emails and, if I find a bug, fix it in a timely manner.

What about my graphic designer friends who all used to use QuarkXpress? They’ve all moved across to InDesign. They’ve had enough. They recommend that I do too.

And when I was upgrading from Version 7 to Version 8, Quark’s US office told me to speak to their distributor in the United Arab Emirates where I now live. I called them, and the first thing they recommended to me was to switch to Adobe InDesign rather than upgrade to Version 8! So their distributor seems to be switching their loyalty too!

So my love affair with QuarkXpress is over. It’s possible that, over the next several months, I will move to InDesign. And as I have so many files in Quark format, I will need to pay about $200 to buy software to convert those files to InDesign format. That’s a significant cost, but also, far more than that, is the amount of time it will take to get up to speed with what is new software to me. But that’s life! :)

As part of the coaching/therapy/counselling I do, I sometimes talk about the lessons from some of the old myths and fairy tales. Many ancient stories tell of a king who, at first, is brave, wise and powerful, then gets set in his ways, and is sometimes defeated by a young, vibrant rival. In other words, he has changed from the hero to the anti-hero who needs to be defeated or transformed.

We all go through this cycle in life, even day to day. Quark got old and crusty years ago, so along came the young, lively, sparkling InDesign! Quark bucked its ideas up and became a whole lot better. But, in my opinion, not enough, as perhaps you can tell from my concerns above! (Contact me at this site if you or your business needs revitalysing!)

In summary: if you are considering buying QuarkXpress, have a good read of all the latest reviews at other sites. You may end up going with InDesign.

Do please share this content! :)
Christopher John Payne

Chris helps coaches, trainers and consultants to double or triple their net income by optimising their website, product funnel, pricing structure, and more. He lives just outside London, England. His main site is at christopherjohnpayne.com.

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