Laying It All Out

Introduction

NOTE: Many spelling and grammatical errors have been corrected. Thanks to the considerate and generous Adrian Nier and his awesome list. Thanks, Andy Baird for holding me to your reasonable and expectations. Some images blow-out the layout and I will be fixing these later this evening (Done 22:33PST -jw). – Your Host (17:40 PST 11 August 2009)

We’ve looked at alternatives to Photoshop such as Pixelmator, Acorn and (at the time) DrawIt; and we’ve had a good overview of drawing tool options with a huge head-to-head of Intaglio, Lineform, VectorDesigner, and ZeusDraw. Now it’s time to bring it all together with an overview of page layout tools, probably one of the most critical tools in a graphic designer’s arsenal.

You probably recognize this class of software I’m reviewing now as Desktop Publishing (DTP). Page layout tools allow a designer to arrange artwork, photography and type into a meaningful and attractive composition. Usually the features allow a designer to flow text across multiple pages and around artwork, exercise special control over type and other details, and make accurate and easy adjustments to anything in the publication. Better programs offer ways to make templates and master pages that can be used over and over, and for serious professional level work, they support different colour spaces (RGB for screen production and CMYK and spot colours for designing press ready materials).

In my professional life I use InDesign CS4 daily, and really like its features and tools. I have a very high regard for Adobe’s typesetting engine which has automatic optical kerning and a fantastic paragraph composer that sets text with real grace. I will be using this as my professional measure to compare and contrast the contenders in the review.

I am far less familiar with Quark XPress, although some of my peers continue to use this program. I have installed a trial copy for reference as I work through these comparisons, though I will not be including it as an option here.

So if you’re after a page-layout tool and don’t want to pony-up for InDesign and do the learning that it requires, but you know you need something more than simply a word processor, what are the options? How do they compare, and is one better than another?

Let’s find out.

Note

Even though I go into great detail in this comparison, there are still things that I won’t be able to cover. Readers who want to draw attention to some of these things are welcome to elaborate in the comments and I am happy to receive clarification from users and developers too.

I also have to tell you that this article took me a long long time to write. I have made every effort to modify things as they were updated, but if you spot any errors or omissions because of program updates, or any contradictions etc. please let me know. I will be happy to change them. Thank you.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Selection Criteria
Testing
Focus + Stated Goals
Installation + Updating
Icons
User Interface
Overview
Workspace
Preferences
Toolset
Laying Out a Page
Typesetting
Unique Features
Performance
Scripting + Plug-ins
Help
Tonight’s Verdict
Final Thoughts
Linkage

Selection Criteria

I’m looking at alternatives to Adobe InDesign, and there are quite a few. The choices in this respect are somewhat more circumscribed than the sprawling field of 13 I had to winnow in Drawing Conclusions, and so my selection criteria are different.

I have chosen not to include Quark XPress because I think it competes in a different arena than the others do here. I am also going to stick to Mac OS X native applications, so Scribus fans won’t see their favourite reviewed in this article (I do have the app and will use it as a reference; and who knows – maybe I’ll do a free software review soon).

I have decided to leave out Apple’s Pages and Microsoft Word in spite of the fact that these apps have many page layout features, primarily because these are marketed as word processors and I want to preserve the opportunity to compare these two apps head-to-head at some future date.

Still, I learn from the past and this is too many to handle in any useful way. A brief spin through the possibilities convinces me I don’t want to spend any time on Page Layout Designer (improperly made icon, the file named Page Layout Designer.pdf hasn’t even been revised and the document begins with the title Desktop Publisher Pro, and although it seems to run okay on Mac OS X, none of the interface conventions are used and it feels distinctly OS 9. Doesn’t strike me as worth even the modest $39.95 price tag). I’m also going to remove DrawOutX from the running. While I don’t doubt that it could be an okay aletrnative to the others, I am not at all impressed by its website, or its UI (the website appears as an after-thought and the UI of the app which seems straightforward enough offends with is grey pages stacked one over the other). This leaves me with a these:

Create 14, by Stone Design

iCalamus, by Invers Software

iStudio Publisher, by c:four Limited

Swift Publisher, by BeLight Software

WorksWell, by DrawWell Technologies

Lets see if we can handle 5…

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Testing

For testing, I am going to be using my relatively new 20” iMac (2.4GHz Intel C2D) with 4GB of RAM. I’m running Leopard 10.5.7. You will note this is not the same machine I used for Image Is Everything (and those of you who care can assume that performance and launch times etc., of the apps reviewed in that previous item, are better much quicker overall), for which I do not apologize.

I will be running a handful of apps alongside those being tested, as before. Here they are:

Finder

Terminal

Mail

iCal

iChat

iTunes

Safari

Scrivener

Yojimbo

Linotype FontExplorer X

Address Book

Snapz Pro X running in the background

xScope

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Focus + Stated Goals

Without a shadow of doubt getting an idea of what the developers imagine their app should be in the market is a useful measure about what we can expect. Lets take a brief run through the websites for these contenders.

Create 14
“One low-cost application with all the features of professional page layout, illustration and web-authoring systems and Free Upgrades for Life – find out why people love Create®! Create combines the major features of applications like Illustrator®, InDesign®, Pages®, GoLive®, Canvas®, DreamWeaver®, QuarkExpress®, Streamline® in one easy-to-use, low-cost, completely OS X native application”

Create was one of the first graphics applications that was Mac OS X native. Over the years the feature set has been expanded and the offering has a lot of potential.

iCalamus
“iCalamus offers an easy approach to DTP, and an excellent choice for creating simple posters, to complex magazines, scientific works and book publishing. iCalamus is a multi-lingual, frame-oriented desktop publishing solution for Mac OS X.”

There’s a lot more here, in nice quirky English translated from German. I had to look up what a Calamus was to get the name of this program (the hollow shaft of a feather, also known as the quill) and it attendant icon. It has some neat features like live masking and frame level blending modes and more. Despite the language triggering a bit of congnitive dissonance, this looks promising.

iStudio Publisher
“Professional design tools needn’t cost you the earth. Built on industry standards, the new iStudio Publisher helps you create everything from simple letters to designing great-looking flyers with the confidence that your final output will be what you see on screen.”

Developed by designers, writers and developers dissatisfied with current solutions, this looks like a full featured app and I am looking forward to it. It also uses an original tesxt setting engine, like the Adobe apps, where the others are presumably relying on ATSUI (Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging) so I am curious to see the results.

Swift Publisher
“Swift Publisher – easy page layout on your Mac

No doubt that staying in touch with your customers and group members is important for you. With Swift Publisher, publishing attractive and informative documents for business, social and home activities becomes a snap.

Swift Publisher is an excellent Macintosh page layout application for designing and printing colorful flyers, newsletters, brochures, letterheads, booklets, etc. A great selection of templates inspires your creativity and a variety of editing tools lets you quickly apply it.”

A good positioning statement that makes it clear that Swift Publisher is intended for use in focused small business publishing. It offers a tonne of graphic support and an interface that appeals to me.

WorksWell
“Broadly fitting in the categories of Drawing, DTP and Reporting software, WorksWell has features which place it firmly within its own unique niche.

WorksWell’s foundation is built on robust drawing tools set in a powerful environment which allows; layering, grouping, undo, 6,400% zoom and truly massive control of attributes. Text support is well integrated with graphic objects, text can be made to fit shapes or take on graphical attributes by using the artistic text tool.

It’s when we go beyond the powerful drawing capabilities of WorksWell that people really start to sit up and take notice. Multiple page support, Charts and PDF markup takes us well into DTP territory; advanced merging facilities takes us beyond. Merging is possible from a number of sources; iTunes and iPhoto may be used as content for documents of your own design opening up unlimited possibilities.”

This sounds good, but I don’t know what merging means in this context, or just what to expect. But hell, reviews are an adventure and I am always a sucker for unique functionality.

Websites: A Crucial Point
Before we get into the meat of the review, I feel bound to address this important topic.

Guys, we’re talking about GRAPHIC DESIGN here. And sites that look like these just don’t cut it. Really.

Stone Design has a new front door, but the rest of the site languishes in some sort of late 80s DTP hell. Why? The iCalamus site, is quirky and the calligraphic headings don’t help convince or sell. Thankfully, the iStudio site offers some relief, but the fact of the matter is that the Aqua look and reflections can only last so long. Maybe it’s time to be as original as you claim to be? Swift Publisher’s site is pretty good, in keeping with the rest of BeLight’s world, but it doesn’t feel as friendly as the company’s communication implies. Lastly, WorkWell’s site is clear and well structured but appears to have been built for the era of 800×600.

It’s 2009. You’re selling software online. I dropped a contender because the site was even more abysmal than these; but in truth, based on your primary communication here, I should have dropped all but iStudio, and Swift.

It’s worthwhile to get professional design help. I am not kidding.

If I am looking for an alternative to InDesign I want something competent, not cheesy. I’d like to be reassured that even if I’m not going pro, that I am making a sound decision and a great deal of that will be based on how this stuff comes across. It’s not folksie or friendly. It’s messy and disorganized. It’s inconsistent and doesn’t set a good example for amateurs or hobbyists at all.

Pull it together.

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Installation + Updating

Create, iCalamus, iStudio, and WorksWell, all install simply by dragging the application icon onto your preferred folder. iCalamus is unique in that it unzips to be an app, no disk image involved. I love these kinds of installs and am beginning to hate installers.

Swift Publisher ran an installer, and provides uninstall instructions in the download’s Read Me file.

Create has a Check For Updates… command in the application menu. From what I could suss out from the Stone website if there’s a newer version you need to download it, trash the old app and add the new one.

iCalamus ran a check and gave me a dialog box to advise me of a newer version. The box was something I had never seen before where the change log had actual screenshot in it. Clicking the Get It Now button takes you to the download page at the website. Simply replace the app in your folder.

iStudio was up-to-date but the info panel gave credit for Sparkle, so at least this app is with it and updating automatically. Also during my review period this app was updated to 1.0.5 and again on the final day I was writing this (the day of publication) to 1.1. I debated installing the updates, and in the end I went ahead and did as I don’t think the changes would materially affect the outcome of the practical tests I did here in the review.

There doesn’t seem to be a command to check for updates in WorksWell, so I am not sure about what the procedure will be. There is no mention about updating in the DrawWell or WorksWell manuals (WorksWell is the expanded version of DrawWell and the documentation for WorksWell simply covers the features that don’t exist in DrawWell.)

Swift takes you to the BeLight website where a nice message addresses you as friend and advises you on the software version status.

In all, installation and removal is straightforward but updating these apps is not a very modern. Hint to all contenders: Sparkle.

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Icons

And after the little website screed earlier I get to lay on another, but this time I am going to break it down app by app.

Icons are crucial features of an application and identify the app to the user. As a point of first contact, it’s crucial to have a decent icon. As time goes by, the icon comes to represent the app, the activity and the experience of the software. Generally I have found that apps with good icons are better than those with poor ones.

Create 14
Let me just say I am sure glad that this icon doesn’t retain any creepy human hands that characterized many icons from the NeXT effort. But that’s about all I can say. Stone has done a pretty admirable job of staying slavishly devoted to icons based on rocks. It’s time to get over it. Create’s icon is a crystal being carved or revealed from surrounding rock. The result is a darkly glowing blob, especially when the icon is small in a column view Finder window, or in a crowded dock. Not too attractive at all.

iCalamus
A bright red feather, stays pretty distinct in the dock, but the white tufts in the icon make it look a bit strange at smaller sizes. The shape is a bit slender for use in a Finder window set to Icon view at anything less than 64 pixels large. At least this means something and relates directly to the name and the purpose of the application.

iStudio Publisher
My comment about originality in the iStudio website applies here to the icon as well. A bright orange aqua disc, labelled with the iStudio moniker is neither attractive or original. It is however, nicely made, and distinguishable from other apps (although the glow and sheen as well as the label mean lost detail when it’s small. The icon speaks neither to purpose or to identity beyond its label.

Swift Publisher
Here’s a nice document icon with friendly green and a bit of text layout that is at least more attractive than what we’ve had so far. Text flows around a ladybug, and the quality of the rendering is excellent in firmly keeping with the rest of BeLight’s offerings. Maybe I don’t get the ladybug, but at least this one isn’t a travesty.

WorksWell
A pen and paper is understandable enough, but the sad fact is that the paper’s gear and pencil logo icon (not so great to begin with) gets obscured by a pen labelled with the web address of the company in precisely the wrong colour of indigo. I kid you not. This stuff is beyond me.

Summary
I’m throwing down the gauntlet here. Whether or not you are a seasoned veteran like Stone, or a new outfit like c:four, there’s no excuse for crappy icons. Get yourself on over to the Iconfactory, read this tutorial, see here, do some digging and get some nice things into our docks.

To be fair I don’t think too highly of the recent series of Adobe icons, although to their credit, they are at least distinctive and part of a whole visual program.

If I end up selecting any of these, I’m replacing the icon, and I know for sure I’ll even crack open the package and hunt down offenders to replace too.

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User Interface

This is the way the application is. It’s the thing that you get to use to make your ideas become a reality and the more the UI helps you get what you need without becoming the object of your attention, the better the app is. It will feel more natural and fluid and help you to be more efficient and expressive.

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Overview

Page layout programs have specific objectives that they need to support, and these cover a very wide range.

Typically the designer is arranging artwork and type together on a page or spread and usually for more than just a single page or two. Further, the designer needs to output a file that is useful for printing on an offset or even more serious paper press, and may be thinking about repurposing design elements in other media.

The introduction of special effects such as masking, transparency, blending and more, offer the designer opportunities for greater creative opportunity and visual impact, and modern imaging and layout applications support this impulse every step of the way.

Conceived to enable print workflows, page layout tools use the page as a primary metaphor and generally support layers or an analogue of layers. Measurement and positioning tools need to be strong and accurate and there should be grids (with optional snapping), guides, measurement tools, information about position and size for every object in a composition. Further, getting an accurate idea of how the document will look in its final state is a definite advantage and having some preview tools are crucial.

Depending on the nature of the work, you don’t want to run into trouble with artwork not being set to the right colourspace. For example you don’t want RGB images in your file if you’re going to print on a six colour press. Generally a designer can refer to “preflight” tools to ensure everything is ready for production.

Easily importing artwork into the publication, and manipulating it in place makes things more efficient and allows a more focused work style. Constantly going back and forth between different applications always takes too much time and breaks the flow of any good work.

Not all of these programs claim to be pro level, but Create and iCalamus both imply it, and iStudio definitely claims to be on that road. Swift Publisher has already set its focus and WorksWell claims a unique position beyond ‘DTP’.

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The workspace

Create 14
When Create opens, it opens a series of windows very quickly. A document window (which a drawer slides out from), an Info panel, A Library Resources panel, and a Window titled ‘Create® Release Notes – Easy Open and learning Resources. This last window combines the release notes for the latest release with a top panel of buttons including a pull down for opening files (default options are Open > Any doc, pdf, or image… [sic]) and buttons for Create Help, Library, Stone Forum, Online Tutorials, Create Art, and Tech Support. You can choose to skip this by selecting a check box at the bottom of the window, but it will always show after a new version is installed.

The info panel looks decidedly NeXTSTEP-ish and has 5 sections. The sections, which cannot be separated like panels in InDesign or OmniGraffle, handle the display of information and settings relating Objects, Effect, Size, Web, and View, and are not populated. I discovered a setting in the Preferences called ‘’use old style Info’ which ironically made the info panel a standard Mac OS X tabbed panel. Much more to my liking. The Library panel defaults to the Art tab of six in total, one of which is called Page. I clicked on that to see some pre-made layouts. That’s promising. The art library looks pretty funky as do most clip-art libraries and the pre-set effects, images, blends, and patterns, are mostly garish and feel kind of cheezy.

The document window opens with a toolbar set to Icon Only view and rulers usefully turned on. There is one icon in the tool bar that looks pretty funky called Image Drag Well and immediately next to it is a pull-down that sets the Image Drag well’s settings which we’ll look at later.

Overall it’s okay, but definitely has a Nineties feel.

Create 14 First Launch

Create 14 First Launch

iCalamus
When iCalamus starts it opens a series of inspectors and a New Document window which contains all the basic settings for setting up document size and more. Interestingly iCalamus offers a document type called ‘Photographerbook [sic]’ which is just an awesome compound word. It also is cool because it allows you to make a document that can be made into a book using the Photographer book service which is analogous to printing books from iPhoto.

A small tool palette opens on the left with 10 icons in it and an iCalamus label. The label is dumb as it looks goofy and doesn’t provide any functionality. After you setup your document a large window opens with your page and rulers turned on. The presentation feels like a nice cross between InDesign and OmniGraffle.

This feels very comfortable, calmer than Create but still typical.

iCalamus Workspace

iCalamus Workspace

iStudio Publisher
So far, iStudio is the only one to have a splash screen. It assures me that this tool is all about “Desktop Publishing. Simplified.”

Then I get a Welcome screen which is nice:

iStudio Publisher- Welcome

iStudio Publisher- Welcome

Then I get an Task Chooser:

iStudio Publisher- Task Chooser

iStudio Publisher- Task Chooser

Both of these can be disabled.

I say “Create New…”, a Document opens and sheet drop down:

iStudio New Document Sheet

iStudio New Document Sheet

It has extra options too, which remain enabled with the next “New Document…” command:

iStudio New Document with Options

iStudio New Document with Options

I select a default letter size document, add a few pages and I’m in. The main window has a panel on the left for the Toolkit and the shape library and the main portion is dedicated to the page display with rulers on. On the right is an Inspector with 10 collapsible sections. The bottom of the inspector also has a couple helpful buttons labelled ‘Park’ ‘Expand All’, and ‘Collapse All’. If you ever find yourself clicking to close or collapse a panel in InDesign you can appreciate these would be handy. The top of the window has a toolbar with the view set to Icons & Text and Use Small Size. There are a lot of buttons here. The bottom of the window also carries a series of icons and buttons as well. On the left are controls for viewing the workspace. In the middle are controls for moving through a document and on the right there are Show/Hide buttons for Inspector, rulers, shapes tools and thumbnail view.

The overall effect is nice and organized and a little like Aperture and Apple’s other pro level programs.

iStudio Publisher Workspace

iStudio Publisher Workspace

Swift Publisher
Swift also opens to a document setup panel. This one is much more Pages like and offers a series of templates categorized to help get you started. Some of them don’t even suck which is nice. Definitely aimed at the same market as Pages, and it also offers a New Blank Document button.

Swift is a lot like iStudio. It has a single window that contains a left-hand tabbed source art panel, a main canvas area, and a right-hand pages panel. Across the top is a tool bar containing various tools and controls and across the bottom are two tabs to control displaying foreground, background, the scrollbar, a zoom setting and a master pages pulldown. Does this imply there are no layers (or maybe just two layers) in this app?

The interface feels a little friendlier or more approachable than iStudio, probably because of button and control sizes. The inspector panel is also more Pages like than iStudio or other panel-covered applications.

Swift Publisher Workspace

Swift Publisher Workspace

WorksWell
WorksWell opens quickly and to a default page with guides and grids turned on. The default grid is too dense for my liking and the effect is to burden the way the interface presents. A Tool panel opens docked to the window, but strangely carries normal window controls even though only the close button is enabled. Kind of a curious choice that could have been solved better with a drawer à la Create, or a segmented window like the others. There is also a Document Inspector that opens with a series of tab icons which are beefy enoguh to cause the default width of the inspector (which is adjustable) to scroll. The icons in this inspector are distinctly mid-nineties and NeXT-ish in appearance.

The toolbox icons are relatively small and there are 3 columns of them and a total of 41 different tools. I supect this reflects WorksWell’s pedigree as a drawing and illustration (DrawsWell) tool as well as a page layout tool, much like Create. The main window’s toolbar defaults to Icons and Text and has 8 icons, which in keeping with the inspector kind of look NeXT-ish.

A simple interface that I hope supports design actions well, but feels very old-fashioned too.

WorksWell Workspace

WorksWell Workspace

Summary
The apps feel like page layout apps, and iCalamus feels the most familiar. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. The organization of iStudio and Swift are excellent and I like them very much. Create and WorksWell both feel like older apps, not fully brought up to date.

Preferences

A tour of application preferences is always useful to get some kind of idea about all the things the app does and the way it behaves that might not be shown in the workspace or menus. Let’s take a look to find out about these apps.

Create 14
I suspected that this app would have a pretty extensive Preferences panel due to its age and its purpose (Create also serves as a drawing and web authoring tool). It’s actually a lot better than I thought it would be with only 4 sections each with a fair number of settings. Some, like Levels of Undo, strike me as not too friendly (I hate this in Photoshop too), and others seem like real concessions to an earlier era of less powerful processors. The preferences seem comprehensive enough and some of them are nice conceptually like Enable snap to points and then drag a “gravity” setting in pixels to regulate how close things are before they snap.

Create 14 Preferences - Tools

Create 14 Preferences - Tools

Create 14 Preferences - Image

Create 14 Preferences - Image

Create 14 Preferences - Document

Create 14 Preferences - Document

Create 14 Preferences - Object

Create 14 Preferences - Object

iCalamus
When you open the Preferences to iCalamus you get a startling presentation of all the window tabs repeated in the window, because it defaults to the Show All tab.

The tabs are clear and the settings few. I am curious about the Screen Resolution settings in the Measurements tab and wonder just how those affect the way the application behaves. Maybe they have to do with exporting artwork for print and press. The help file advises me otherwise though and says it’s so you “…can adjust the scaling of documents on screen.”

The Document tab allows you to set defaults for new documents. This doesn’t mean that the new document window won’t be displayed at launch or when you select File > New Document… It essentially provides the default values with which that window’s fields will be populated. I suspect that the rationale is that you should be able to override the defaults so this is simply a convenience preference.

iCalamus Preferences

iCalamus Preferences

iCalamus Preferences - General

iCalamus Preferences - General

iCalamus Preferences - Default Document

iCalamus Preferences - Default Document

iCalamus Preferences - Measurement

iCalamus Preferences - Measurement

iCalamus Preferences - Screen Resolution

iCalamus Preferences - Screen Resolution

iStudio Publisher
This app doesn’t have any Preferences. Maybe that’s a good thing. At least there’s no evasion about choices in the UI and fobbing the responsibility off onto users.

Swift Publisher

The preferences in this app are succinct and easily understood. Conveniences like US or metric measures, are available here. You can also set the app not to display the startup assistant window too. I like the fact that I can skip advanced settings in the print dialogue box but they didn’t have to include the word “Option to…” in the label. The preference panels also have help buttons which open help to the appropriate page which is unique to all of these apps.

Again, not too many choices here, but useful ones that would be a pain to integrate into the UI.

Swift Publisher Preferences - General

Swift Publisher Preferences - General

WorksWell

Disappointingly ugly, with crazy Windows-like tabs and a poorly sized and placed Factory Button which presumably resets all the preferences to their defaults. The actual content of the tabs makes sense for the most part, except for the General tab which has some pretty weird ones. Why wouldn’t I want to see control points while editing? Or page numbers. And If I can control the way the tool box is displayed then why not let me control both its width and height?

The Merge Tokens tab looks intimidating which either means power (which I like), or confusion (which I don’t), or both (which is worse). Until I get what Merge is in WorksWell I don’t know what I’m looking at here.

WorksWell Preferences - General

WorksWell Preferences - General

WorksWell Preferences - Application Launch

WorksWell Preferences - Application Launch

WorksWell Preferences - Documents

WorksWell Preferences - Documents

WorksWell Preferences - Graphics

WorksWell Preferences - Graphics

WorksWell Preferences - Path Graphics

WorksWell Preferences - Path Graphics

WorksWell Preferences - Merge Tokens

WorksWell Preferences - Merge Tokens

Summary
I quite like the fact that iStudio has no Preferences. Maybe they can keep it that way, it would be cool. iCalamus’ are clear but the redundant Show All is pretty weird. Maybe it should default to the General tab instead. Create’s aren’t bad but they’re not good either and maybe should be revisited as a general revision of the interface. I like Swift’s fine especially because of the Help integration which means these guys are paying attention. WorksWell has some ways to go before this is okay. Seriously get your tabs nice and rethink the options.

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Toolset

If you read Image is Everything and Drawing Conclusions you know two things about me: I hate a proliferation of palettes and I think a single tool well implemented is more useful than several tools poorly implemented. When I look at the tools here, I am not comparing a list of features, I am comparing how they support the objective of doing graphic design and layout work.

In page layout work you want to be able to arrange any number of things on a page or across a spread. You want to be able to do this with minimum fuss. An excellent example is InDesign’s Place command which allows you to collect a number of images and then place each one in series into your document. That kind of thing is thoughtful and makes you think “Why didn’t anybody do this before?”

Among the things that are crucial: arranging type areas and related graphics precisely. Running text across pages and around other objects. Setting the type so it looks beautiful, including the ability to maintain a consistent look by using text styles and page styles is also critical, especially when you are working a house graphic style where elements and colours can’t be strayed from.

Applying special effects to text and graphics in page is nice but not critical in a layout workflow, but shape and drawing tools come in surprisingly handy.

There are also requirements in professional level work such as support for Pantone Colour Libraries. These applications all fail in this respect, probably because licensing the Pantone colour libraries is costly and would add a considerable amount to the price tag. Also the focus of these applications is on the home or small business user who is unaware and probably doesn’t care about the subtle colour shifts that occur in printing and how it might impact a brand identity (though I do assert that small business owners should care).

All of these applications do support CMYK, RGB and greyscale colours as supported by Apple’s built-in colour system and provided by the systemwide Colour Panel. That’s important because if you intend to go to print any documents on a press, not just your inkjet or laser printer, the press may require CMYK. CMYK can also provide a workaround for using Pantone colours in print work floes as there are formulas for conversion, but if you are considering doing this make absolutely sure you have the correct values for the specified colours. You may want to steer clear of these altogether if you have strict colour management requirements.

Laying out a page (and more)

Getting your layout established is where we’ll start. Presumably you have some idea of the kind of document you want to make. Usually I have seen something or sketched a thumbnail, that I think will be appropriate for the message and content and I’ll want to set about adding elements that will be shared across pages. General positioning of elements, the size of margins, folios and more.

This means using a variety of tools and features such as guides, grids, page numbering and master pages or templates, so we’ll cover a lot of ground here in this section.

Create 14
Aside from the very convenient page layouts provided in the Library (applied simply by dragging them from the Library’s Page tab onto the page), Create has many of the expected tools for page layout that you world expect coming from InDesign or Xpress. Grids are here, and you can also add a background to a page as well. Backgrounds don’t have any bearing on objects and snapping, but this could be useful for setting up page layouts, and further each page can have its own separate background.

Guides work a little differently than what I’m used to. In Create you need to be sure that Rulers are turned on. To make a vertical guide on the page you click just above the top horizontal ruler, and by a little above, I mean one or two pixels, no more. You’ll get a guide marker above the ruler and a guide on the page. Dragging up further cancels the action. And dragging a marker upwards removes it. This applies to the vertical ruler where you can set horizontal guides. The markers have a tooltip with a position readout of two decimal places. I have to say, that not directly controlling the guide on the page feels a little abstract and I also found that clicking inside the rule and then dragging a little upwards (or to the left) was a bit easier than trying to hit the invisible two pixel band next to the rule. The advantage of this method is that you can plainly see the measure position of your guide and don’t risk snapping the guide to other objects or anything.

Create Guide Marker

Create Guide Marker

Getting my basic guides in place didn’t take long. I added page numbers simply by selecting Object > New Objects > Page Numbers and a folio popped onto the page at the bottom centre. I changed its position by dragging and the text formatting with the standard test handling tools. Create exposes a number of options in a useful panel found in the Font menu. You use the standard Apple controls (Font and Color Panel as well as Characters and Typography) for most of your formatting needs.

I selected the text tool and dragged a text box and then another. The first box evaporated and I am not sure why. Usually I’d drag a series of boxes and then link them up and then add text to format. In Create you have to make a box and then place some text or the first one just disappears. That brought me to my next issue which was after I pasted some lorem ipsum the text box grew to accomodate the amount of text instead of staying at the size I dragged. I could resize the box using the handles on the sides of it, but not on the corners. I couldn’t find anything about resizing text boxes in the Help file and eventually worked out that I could use the Size tab in the Info panel to affect the vertical size of the box. Not only is this a pain, but making the box shorter does so from the top edge, and I can’t find a way to set a scale point like in InDesign or Illustrator. After I succeed in making the box too short for its content I can click the text overflow icon and drag another text box to accommodate the continued text. The last dragged box is selected with coloured handles and clicking on the original box reveals that both boxes are now resizable from all corner and edge handles.

Resize Text Box

Resize Text Box

I am spending a lot of time detailing this because I think it’s important. Dragging objects, scaling and resizing are crucial tasks as you get your parts roughed in and then detailed, and I can’t imagine how this will be efficient at all.

Selecting text or placing your cursor is either a double click inside a text box with the Selection Tool (which also selects the nearest word), or a single click inside a test box with the Text Tool.

Maybe I’m missing something.

Placing objects in Create is great, simply open the Library Resources panel (Cmd-Shift-R) and drag some artwork from the Art tab to the page. You can also select photos from your personal library by selecting Tools > Photo Browser. For me it loaded empty but I click the plus button and pointed it to my ~/Pictures folder and it loaded everything I had from that folder, including my iPhoto library. Just drag a picture from the photo browser onto the page. If it’s too large to fit on the page Create will offer to scale it and suggest a percentage scale. If you don’t you won’t be able to see the corners of the photo to scale it yourself. Create doesn’t have a work area that can display objects beyond the bounds of the page itself. Also a handy option is to drag favourite images from the Photo Browser to the Library Resources Images tab easily done.

Adding Art

Adding Art

Wrapping text around an object is simple: select the object you want to wrap text around and then select Object > Text Wrap… (Cmd-Opt-W) which opens a small panel that you can use to make wrap adjustments. I had to consult Help to find out how to wrap text in an irregular shape. Easy enough: Draw a Spline (use the Freehand tool for example) and then select the art and the spline. Then go Cmd-Shift-E (Object > Group > Mask Group), then with the object still selected Cmd-Opt-W and select Shape. The fineness of control when handling this depends on both the shape you’re wrapping to as well as the Standoff value (and I can’t figure out if that value is a measure or some arbitrary number and it’s limited to a -10 – +10 range) and ends up feeling coarse.

Wrapping custom Shape

Wrapping custom Shape

Create has layers (accessed via Tools > Page Layers or Cmd-Opt-L), as well as a concept call Master Layers (File > Master Layers or Cmd-Shift-M) which are special layers that can be applied individually or in multiples on a per page basis. This is a very flexible way to handle master items that repeat throughout any multi-page document and offers a fine degree of control, even if my cursory inspection wasn’t too detailed.

Things like panel showing and hiding behaviour I found strange initially, but it felt okay after a bit of time.

So this is all merely ‘okay’. There is nothing ground breaking or deeply original here and a few quirky things like making guides and text box dragging seem like more of a pain than they should be.

iCalamus
Setting up your page in iCalamus feels a lot more like working in InDesign than did Create. Guides work as they do in InDesign simply drag from a ruler onto the page. I really missed the tooltip positioning read out that Create has but discovered that positions of any object, including guides, are displayed in the Geometry Panel (Cmd-1 – I really like the panels and the associated Command keys).

Creating text frames worked as I expected, and didn’t do the weird evaporation trick that Create did. iCalamus has some interesting features that relate to text boxes and frames. Every frame and object has a small triangle at its top left corner. When it’s pointing down, the frame is considered Unlocked and displays its features (control handles, bezier controls or other features) when clicked once it’s locked and pointing to the right and can’t be inadvertently edited. I thought this was going to be a pain, but it turned out to be a nice feature. The entry point and exit point for ‘piping’ text from frame to frame are surprisingly large, unmistakable and even a little horsey.

Select text by double clicking on an text box with the Selection tool or single clicking with the text tool.

Placing artwork onto a page is done using the File > Import > command which has sub-menus for accessing a TWAIN compliant device like a scanner, importing from a camera, or importing from your iPhoto library. Each of the photo options opened a dialog that was large and clear and gave ample previews and the useful selector of adjusting the photo or frame to fit the other on placement. You can also drag files directly from a Finder window. I was disappointed to find that images default to display at low resolution on placement. What this meant is that I had a blank frame. Entirely blank and no indicator that there was something there. I switched each import to Full Resolution in the Content Panel (Cmd-2) but never found a way to make it the default setting.

Text Wrap is easily applied. Select a frame or object and then select you desired settings in the Text Wrap panel (Cmd-5). The panel, like any panel that has measure inputs, allows very fine control and displays 4 decimal places of measure. I applaud this because in computerized production there is absolutely no excuse for not being precise and the days of rounding up numbers to one or two decimal places to save precious processing cycles are safely behind us.

That said, I discovered a wicked weakness in the text wrap, much to my dismay. Wrapping text around objects might be easy but around anything other than quadrangle makes some pretty scary typesetting. It appears that though the typesetter is calculating the wrap including the control triangle or something and when there is a significant intrusion of an object into the text frame it just suddenly gaps gaping huge gaps. I experimented a little and then hit help for what I thought should be a pretty straightforward thing. No help there, but eventually I was able to narrow it down to the font I was using. Changing the font helped a great deal.

I have to say I am pretty disappointed. I really love Locator and use it in my portfolio. I know that Eric Olson of Process Type Foundry is a very good typographer too, so I am wondering just what is up in the iCalamus text setting engine that makes it fail in this way. This isn’t just a personal disappointment, it’s also very unfortunate because you never know what font you might be required to use or choose to use on a project and you have to be able to rely on the fact that if a font is well made and the tool that’s using it is too, you will at least get satisfactory results.

Frames in iCalamus, regardless of content, handle the content as a separate object. This means that text, images or graphics can be moved and altered independently of one another, make masking very easy and flexible. Further, any object, frame or shape can accept a graphic so you really have a lot of flexibility in making a layout.

iCalamus makes use of layers and Master Pages in ways familiar to InDesign users, and it’s worth noting that layers as well as content in frames all inherit the use of blending modes. Layers can also be labelled like folders in the Finder as well as named locked rearranged etc. These may not be as flexible as Master Layers in Create, but they feel familiar enough and work as expected.

Overall this was a nice app to use and I really liked the organization of the palettes. If only it didn’t have the type issue.

iStudio Publisher
This application is new, initially released at MacWorld January 2009. The developers identify themselves as designers who were dissatisfied with the current design and writing options available on the market. From what I can tell, iStudio Publisher is just an initial step towards the developers’ attempts to make a perfect design application referred to as iStudio Pro. And in pursuit of this goal they have developed a brand new XML based, Unicode supporting, ‘design engine’ capable of creating anything on screen or in print. A development which is comprehensive and licensable (for any developers out there).

This all sounds like a promising start. Let’s see what happens next.

Well, there aren’t any draggable guides. Really? Am I too stupid to find them? Nope. They’re not here. Planned for a future release according to the Roadmap. Version 1.4. We’re at Version 1.0.4 now. No problem, I’ll just use the Object Inspector’s Size and Location tab which allows me to type values into the fields for precise two decimal place control. Except that the zero point of the rulers is bottom left instead of top left and the snap point for the text frames I am trying to size and position is bottom left too. Fine if I was just building a document from scratch, but I wanted to imitate the stupid example layout to make comparisons easier. The answer is Select View > Mouse X-Hair and then use the mouse position to align with the ruler. And make sure Snap to Grid is turned off in the View menu as well.

Okay I have dragged two text boxes (Cmd-Drag with the text tool) and I paste some formatted lorem ipsum into the big frame. It comes in unformatted and there’s no option to Paste and Match Style or equivalent. Too bad. I formatted it with the Character panel tools, which are kind of strange. A pull down, a slider, and a text field input with a spinner? Really? Notably no Kerning, just tracking. I make the box smaller so text overflows (indicated by a red plus sign in the bottom right corner of the container and then select the Text Flow Tool. Hovering over the big container highlights it and a simple click and drag to the small one with a final click connects them.

You use Insert > Image… to place an image (or PDF, EPS or AI file) into your document. Dragging from the Finder doesn’t work (see the Roadmap for when this will happen) and copy and pasting worked with the clipart from Create (but not the Finder. I didn’t test other options). When you insert an image it gets a default frame. Alternatively you can select an object and then insert an image effectively masking the image. You can also select more than one object or frame and insert an image which will be place in each object. Interesting, but the only adjustments I can seem to make to the position of the image inside the frame are pretty coarse. It should also be noted that in this second instance, the frames will be loaded with two separate instances of the image, they will not be combined into a single masking frame. Finer image positioning controls are promised for release 1.1.

Text Wrap is in the Object Inspector in the Text Wrap tab. You can adjust the offset here but not on a per side basis like Create and iCalamus. Wrapping worked beautifully, even with Locator as the font wrapping around an irregular shape. Text wrapped and reformatted instantly when dragging the shape around over the text.

The interface is neat and well organized, but there are plenty of things that get in the way or make it not ready for prime-time in terms of reasonably serious production and design work.

Swift Publisher
After selecting New Blank from the Swift assistant the app’s window the document opens behind my dock. I keep my dock on the left edge of the screen, and I can see that Swift is set to respect the dock at the bottom. Clicking the Zoom window control fixes this instantly. Not a big deal but kind of dumb.

Setting up my document is easy. Guides work as I expect just drag from the vertical or horizontal ruler and show a live position read-out with 2 decimal places. You can also use the Insert > Layout Guides… sheet to set guides in the document. Dragging text boxes was easy, but I had to figure out that after I dragged one box I needed to select it , click on it’s outflow indicator then drag a second. Text boxes are not automatically threaded. This is in fact a little easier if you drag one box, then fill it with text and then click the outflow indicator and drag a second thread box. Either way, the results were fine.

Placing artwork on the page is simply a matter of dragging it from the Clipart Panel. You can also drag files from the finder onto your page. You can also use the Insert menu selections too. Text wrapping is found under the Text Tab in the inspector panel simply click it on and adjust the values. Again the interaction between irregular shapes (in this case Swift’s Smart Shapes) and my typeface was ugly and gappy. Rectangular wraps worked fine. I also noticed that if you clicked and held the spin wheel in Inspector, it didn’t update until you released the mouse, leaving you guessing at how much space you might have applied. I also note that when resizing an object you need to hold down the Control key to maintain proportions. A bit of a trick, because Control also invokes the contextual menu, so you have to concentrate and click and hold a handle, press control, then drag. I don’t like this at all but I can’t find a choice to make this functionality be the Shift key instead.

You can crop an image by selecting it and clicking the Crop button at the bottom of the Image tab in the Inspector. The selection handles on the image turn red and you can crop the image by moving them. This is non-destructive. Alternatively you can double-click on an image or symbol and enter the Edit Image dialog which exposes Crop, and a plethora of effects (which are Core Image filters provided by the free Image Tricks software also from BeLight). You can apply masks to artwork in the Image tab of the Inspector as well.

There is a page panel too, that usefully displays thumbnails and allows drag and drop rearrangement of pages in your document. Swift doesn’t have multiple layers, simply a foreground and background for each document. This reduces management but could hamstring complex layouts. Helpfully in this regard, and surprisingly, Swift offers Master Pages just as InDesign, iCalamus and iStudio.

WorksWell
I won’t beat around the bush, WorksWell rubs me the wrong way already, but I am interested in seeing how this tool works to enable some page layout.

Initially disappointed by the lack of guides and the fact that the default grid which was enabled didn’t match my rulers after I changed the default measurement from cm to inches, dragging out and adjusting the text boxes proved to be a simple affair. Except that there’s no way to thread boxes together. It gets worse because evidently I can’t wrap text around objects.

On the other hand, I can place text inside objects (but with no way to handle any overset), I can insert images with ease both by dragging from the Finder and using the Image Inspector. Images can be masked by their frames and even copied into the document without actually deploying them onto the page. Shapes work nicely and offer nice touches with control handles replete with tool tips to adjust their features. You can morph shapes from one to another with simple clicks and despite the plethora of tools in the toolbox, once you identify a useful one they are easy to handle and work as expected. I can attach text to vectors and even apply special effects to it.

Further, I feel comfortable in the app, despite it’s horsey iconography and weird inspector panel. There are a lot of controls, but they’re logical and well organize and facilitate a pretty high degree of refined control (although I will say there will be a fair bit of clicking and scrolling in the inspector panel).

Am I missing something? Please WorksWell team embarrass me and tell me I am.

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Typesetting

Core to every page layout task is typesetting and styling. When doing any document of length or designing a magazine or periodical, the grace of the set text as well as the tools to make it that way are critical to the designer.

I am absolutely blown away by Adobe’s paragraph composer, and optical kerning which I use all the time in InDesign. Whatever other faults Adobe apps exhibit (and there are many), InDesign’s typesetting is truly awesome.

As far as I can tell, these apps, with the exception of iStudio Publisher, all use Apple’s ATSUI typesetting engine. This doesn’t mean poor text setting, despite the poor wrapping results we’ve seen so far. (I am thinking that whatever is going on in my chosen font and in the ASTUI typesetter is to blame for these strange results as there aren’t any troubles with other font selections and iStudio which uses its own typesetting engine don’t exhibit the same trouble).

C’est la vie.

What I am going to do first is set the same text in each application with all the same settings. I will also set it using InDesign for a benchmark. You can download the small PDF (~ 6 MB) or the big one (~ 38 MB) to review the comparison text settings. In doing these I made every effort to keep all the settings identical, but in some cases my ignorance of the application may have prevented me from using a critical tool or a refined setting. These tests should be regarded as good general measures, NOT demonstrations of the AWESOMENESS of a particular tool.

Create 14
Sets satisfactorily for the most part but can’t keep the word ‘time’ (last word in the second paragraph) from being orphaned. Adjustments are relatively rough and kerning is more like tracking. The worst thing I found is that an object containing text exhibits an internal offset for the text block, which I could not control at all. This means that I would have to adjust my layouts to compensate for this. In this case the text box starts at x=0.5 in. and y =0.5 in. (where 0,0 is top left of page), but the text itself starts at x=0.57 in. and y =0.57 in. I searched the tabs and margins in the text ruler, the objects parameters and attributes, and even in the application’s preferences, all to no avail. I would love for this not to be the case. Maybe somebody knows something I don’t.

iCalamus
Again, a good showing. iCalamus does pretty well, but orphans “time” just as Create does. The text runs a line less than Create in the first column, and is a little uneconomical in the second column, fourth paragraph. The text reads nicely and I am sure with some adjustments we could solve the orphan.

iStudio Publisher
One of the things I was curious about was what text would set like because this app has its own layout engine and doesn’t rely on Apple’s ATSUI. In this regard it is most like InDesign than the other competitors. The first column runs a line longer than InDesign, and the “time” orphan is still a problem here. The second column is revealing in that the column length is the same as InDesign’s but the word wrapping choices are distinctly different from the others. Look at the ends of the lines, especially in paragraphs two and four. The text is nice and even overall.

Swift Publisher
I have to admit to being kind of mystified here, as the lines start to diverge and apparent leading is lost. Even so, the word or letter spacing (or both in combination) means that Swift is almost, if not equally, economical in text setting as InDesign. When looking at the page by itself, not compared to InDesign, I like what I see just fine. The weird leading thing bugs me, and in interest of actually finishing this article, I am going to leave it. If any of you have made it this far, and have some idea about what’s going on here, let me know.

WorksWell
I constructed this by setting two separate blocks of text, and yes this is irritating enough for me to just say the hell with it and drop WorksWell from the review. But we’re over halfway now, and although I should have done it long ago, I’m am going to see it through. This app also orphans “time” in column one, paragraph two, but performs well enough overall. The second column is a lot closer to InDesign than I thought it would be.

Summary
It’s interesting to me that the ATSUI based apps did as well as they did. iStudio did well too but the “manmade/en-dash/therefore” combination in column two paragraph two, sure caused an unsightly gap in the paragraph’s first line. Swift was nice, but I’d hesitate to do a big project of typesetting (or even an article of a few pages or in a complex layout) without getting to the bottom of the leading strangeness.

Also, the different tools expose different features and fineness of control depending on their target markets. Create 14 felt like is was split across NeXT and OS X conventions, even though I appreciate the rigour with which it adopts ATSUI features like the Text Styles system. Its schism made it feel crude and awkward. iCalamus exhibited the finest amount of control, but sometimes I found the settings weren’t where I expected. iStudio had a fine combination of control and simplicity. Swift was Pages-like in its approach and I enjoyed using it. WorksWell didn’t expose any text formatting controls other than that strictly necessary to get by.

I think that you could set some seriously lengthy or complex text with iCalamus. I would steer clear of doing so with Create because of the inset mystery, Swift until I figured out what is happening with the leading and I would not use WorksWell for any more than a single page. I think iStudio could be useful too, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Unique Feature Focus

Applications competing against juggernauts in the same space, or in really competitive markets (see drawing Conclusions), need to find ways of distinguishing themselves and at the same time they need to improve materially on what may be available.

Create 14
Create 14 is ambitious in scope and serves illustration functions, page layout functions and even web design functions. Much like Canvas from ACDSee or other suites, it’s an approach that always promises more than it delivers. Create does have nice features though one of which is the Image Well which can be used to convert “…graphics from one format to another and to create thumbnail images of your graphics or pages.” Creates tools for making patterns are great. Matrix and rose repeat objects in grid patterns or rotated around a point respectively and offer some great flexibility to explore and do repetitious layout chores like setting up cards for printing.

iCalamus
iCalamus takes an interesting turn and offers the ability to publish books just like iPhoto does. The service is through Photographerbook in the UK. iCalamus will also import iPhoto books from iPhoto and thus allow you some extra control over the layout and details therein (it should be noted that doing this means printing will have to go through Photographerbook and I did not test any round-trip scenario from iPhoto to iCalamus and back again).

iStudio Publisher
Here’s where I’m not so sure. Other than new stuff under the hood, iStudio’s approach doesn’t seem to offer anything new in terms of special features. I think this is a great thing because it means these guys are starting out focused on getting the fundamentals right from the start. So really the unique thing here is an original and difficult approach to app development. The UI is nice, and obviously carefully considered. It shares the same traits as other apps like Iris (the photo imaging software from Nolobe) and Swift Publisher too, where the app windows for the most part contain the palettes or settings and tool panels.

Swift Publisher
This app reminds me of T-Maker, probably because of the clip art. It implements Core Image filters for handling bitmaps as well as integrating with BeLight’s Art Text software. It also offers iPhoto integration, in case you’re heading down this path instead of iWork’s.

WorksWell
This whacky application has some pretty powerful tools for business users including presentation tools, PDF markup tools, charts and Merge Tokens. WorksWell documents can collect information from reports or data sources and by using the tools, you can transform it into more useful visual expression. WorksWell towers above the others in these cases.

Summary
In all, there’s nothing really explosive here, but the apps do tend to make sound choices to appeal to different segments of the same general market. I like iCalamus best for its iPhoto book handling because I have often wished I could tweak some of the iPhoto layouts even if just a little. The others don’t really feel like they offer a lot and Create’s Kitchen Sink philosophy doesn’t do it for me at all.

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Performance

If you’re considering doing page layout and design work,you’ll want to be sure that the work you’re doing is displayed as you do it and that the app your using isn’t hogging all your Mac’s resources. This isn’t about benchmarking, it’s about how the apps feel and behave when we’re doing layout tasks, as we keep an eye on the memory. Time prevents me from doing any real test with a large and complex document, but this should give you some measure of these tools.

Without exception, these apps were snappy and responsive. They opened quickly (in some cases blindingly fast like in a single dock bounce for Create and Swift), didn’t take crazy amounts of RAM (iStudio used the most at 122MB with both the work documents opened, but most were in the 30s). Even when I placed stupidly huge photos in the layout, these apps all took it in stride.

One take-away here is for Adobe: make your stuff faster guys. This saves designers money so they can afford your upgrade path.

The other note is for users like you, who want something that doesn’t suck. Well in terms of performance, these apps don’t suck and their requirements are relatively modest considering the amounts of power available to us.

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Scripting + Plugins

As you work with any app and integrate it into you workflow, it’s nice to know there’s some automation available or extra capabilities that you can get in some simple fashion. Scripting and plug-in architecture offer this. Let’s find out what these apps offer in extensibility.

Create 14
Opening this app’s Applescript library (though the Apple’s Script Editor) reveals the basics that one might expect as well as the CreateOSXsuite which includes commands for almost all of Create’s functionality. This is a good showing and speaks volumes about the developer’s thorough design approach and the application’s usefulness as an automated production tool. Create files can be saved as Applescripts which can be run on other Macs with Create to share the file. I was disappointed in my testing that whenever the file called for a piece of clip art the Applescript would fail.

Create doesn’t offer a plug-in architecture or API.

iCalamus
iCalamus takes the opposite approach of Create and instead of offering an extensive Applescript suite it offers a plug-in architecture. Currently there’s an offering of 5 “Add-ons” that enable LinkBack technology and the use of a barcode application, equation typesetting in LaTex. The inclusion of Linkback as an Add-on in this list is strange since it is part of the app ( it allows you to include to other resources made by other applications or residing in other application files). Photographerbook Add-on is also included in iCalamus, but it neatly demonstrates the extensive functionality that plug-in architecture that iCalamus features.

iStudio Publisher
This app doesn’t have any Applescript and no indication was made about future Applescript support or any plug-in architecture in the Development roadmap.

Swift Publisher
I was surprised that Swift not only had Applescript support, but also added a few commands in its own Applescript suite. This library is not nearly as extensive as Create 14’s offering, but in such an inexpensive application was a nice touch. Swift doesn’t have a plug-in architecture, but the clipart library can be extended greatly.

WorksWell
This app offers basic Applescript functionality and what can only be described as an incomplete application unique suite which includes only the app’s principal classes. WorksWell offers no plug-in architecture.

Summary

Swift was a refreshing surprise in that it had any scripting at all. Create offers the deepest support for Applescript so if you need Applescript automation for producing newsletters or other basic layout chores it’s the best. iCalamus has a long road ahead as it tries to develop interest in its Add-on architecture to increase its utility. iStudio is still in undergoing a lot of development so in the future it may sport some useful features in this arena but currently is the least useful in these aspects.

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Help

Apple provides hooks for developers to integrate Help and user manuals into an application. It’s a useful thing especially now that Mac’s are so quick and powerful, and hypertext is such a natural medium for users to work with.

Create 14
Create offers extensive and thorough help, and although it lacks polish it sure makes up for it in terms of usefulness and completeness. This is supplemented by Tutorial files which are Create files that step you through using Create’s many features with live in document sample. An excellent combination of guidance and hands-on. There are also online forums and support available in the Help menu.

iCalamus
Offers Help and it is thorough and well written. I have to say I am always impressed by the English of speakers of other languages as I have only English a smattering of poorly pronounced pidgin Sprench (Spanish and French). The documentation is clear and precise and explains concepts well with complete screenshots of the topic. This is supplemented by a list of Keyboard Shortcuts, an online FAQ, forums and support contact information. Videos are also available.

iStudio Publisher
This Help file is nicely structured and will be familiar to you if you access Help in any of Apple’s applications. It features a Rapid Start Guide and useful topic in the featured Topics section as well as a logically grouped list of all the tools and functions the program offers. Tutorial videos are offered from the help menu as well as Keyboard Shortcuts and other information like the development roadmap and support online.

Swift Publisher
Concise and useful, though lacking in polish and example screenshots, Swift’s help is good. It also provides links to online resources as well as sister apps (Art Text and Image Tricks).

WorksWell
The most disappointing, WorksWell’s Help command opens the Help window but points you to the PDF which you have to download and use in Preview or Acrobat Reader. It’s made worse by the fact you need to use DrawWell help PDF for many of the basic functions as the WorksWell help covers only the additions to the core technology. This is a weak showing especially considering that cheaper more capabale apps offer a lot more.

Summary

I like iStudio Publisher’s help the best because it was nicely structured in sections as well as featured (read of interest and useful) items. Create’s and iCalamus’ help were excellent, and Swift’s was very good. PDFs for help don’t cut it any more and WorksWell fails again.

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Today’s Verdict

Well, it’s taken a long time to get to this point and I’ve done a lot of thinking considering and tested as much as time allows. This was really hard but I think if I was going to lay money down I would choose iCalamus. If I needed to save even more money it would go to Swift Publisher no question. I think that my feeling was that iCalamus felt more familiar to me and offered a degree of control that was superior to the others in a way that made sense. Swift was its equal in almost all respects except extensibility and the scope of help.

I liked Create and wanted to like it more, but I couldn’t get past the fact that it felt old fashioned because of its clip art, and was painful like when I was trying to zero the text frame margin inset. Also I don’t like its icon.

From where I stand, iStudio Publisher shows great promise and the fact that it was updated twice while this review was being written shows the developer is dead serious about bringing this and other tools to market.

WorksWell gets a big F. I don’t think it’s just me. Even if my focus was creating useful, intelligible business documents, the Token processing engine isn’t awesome enough to overcome its lack of threaded text frames, and clumsy help PDFs.

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Final Thoughts

First I need to return to my earlier point and suggest that the developers of these apps seriously consider redesigning their websites. The people you’re going after are people who care about the finish and polish of the things they make, even if they’re amateurs. Show them what great graphic design really is. This also assures design professionals that what you are offering is of the calibre they expect.

StoneDesign I am looking at you. Your front door is merely adequate, and everything behind it is generally ugly and garish. Your application icons are lurid and and verge on creepy.

Invers/iCalamus you guys could do so much better. Lose the script font and adopt some carefully considered modular layout. Your German origin gives you a halo of technical competence and precise Teutonic vision. Here in North America BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Miele and others all carry positive connotation in our minds. Why not set yourself at that level? And yes, that means reconsidering the name of the application too.

iStudio, the days of glowing lozenges are passing. Reflections and other effects are nice, but we’ve seen them before. Maybe you could offer something more original? You are crafting a new suite of original software after all.

BeLight, of the websites here I’d have to say that yours is the most thoughtful and nicest. And my only real suggestion is to expand each of your product offerings into it’s own microsite, and perhaps consider working out some in depth movies and tutorials showing just how powerful your modestly priced software can be.

DrawWell Technologies, I don’t know where to begin. The chosen typeface for your products? The crazy webpage scrunched up into the top left corner of my browser? Did I miss something here guys? Maybe you can set me straight, but overall I’m ending up warning people away. Not ideal, and I’d really rather not. Pull up your socks and let us see some real tools.

It’s been a real education for me trying these various design tools out. I am fascinated by the fact that many conventions are so useful and enduring (content frames) and how Mac OS X technologies can be leveraged by developers so readily, offering functionality that reaches into the professional arena at dramatically reduced prices from the Adobe apps that so many are familiar with or aware of.

I am impressed by the fact that there are truly viable alternatives to Adobe’s InDesign.

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Linkage

Create 14 (Stone Design)

iCalamus (Invers Software)

iStudio Publisher (c:four Limited)

Swift Publisher (BeLight Software)

WorksWell (DrawWell Technologies)

InDesign (Adobe Systems Incorporated)


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