It takes 24 hours for the Earth to revolve around the sun, 12 months to orbit the sun, and—just as surely—about 18 months for Adobe to release a new version of the Creative Suite. So as the sun rises on a new day, Adobe today an-nounces Creative Suite 4, and with it, a brand new version of InDesign.
InDesign CS4 is chock full o’ cool new features, but ultimately this upgrade is evolutionary, not revolutionary. It’s heartening to see that Adobe has been listening to its users and added long-requested features such as cross-references and real pre-flighting to the industry standard page layout program. But if you’re looking for groundbreaking new functionality that will improve every InDesign user’s worklife, the pickin’s are on the slim side.
Let’s take a quick look at what you’ll find in InDesign CS4. Note that this overview only gives a glimpse of what’s to come; you’ll find far more detail in David’s upcoming article in InDesign Magazine (Issue 26) and in future blog post-ings at InDesignSecrets.com
While we initially complained bitterly about yet-another-user-interface-change, after some months of using beta ver-sions of CS4, we now find ourselves really liking the new darker-gray interface and CS3 already feels quaint and old-fashioned. Our favorite new UI feature is the ability to have more than one file open within a single document window (each with a different tab, a la Web browsers).
We also love the new panel features, especially being able to make floating “docklets” that contain multiple panels and put them anywhere we want on screen.
We’re “text heads” so we have to admit our tendency to like all things relating to text-and-type. In this department, InDesign CS4 rocks. For example:
Conditional text. You can create one or more conditions and then apply them to any text you want. For example, let’s say you’re creating a brochure that will appear in both the USA and Australia. You could make a condition in the Condi-tional Text panel called “English English” and apply it to the “u” in “colour” and “harbour”. When you want to print the US version, turn off the condition (click the visibility icon in the panel) and the “u” disappears. In fact, text can have more than one condition applied to it simultaneously, opening up all sorts of possibilities for single-source, multi-channel publishing.
Cross-references. This is the holy grail for many long-document publishers: The ability to create sentences such as “See Figure 5-4 on page 19” and then have those cross-references (x-refs) update automatically when the figure or page number changes. Now it’s amazingly simple in InDesign CS4. Why Adobe hid the cross-references feature inside the Hyperlinks panel is a mystery, but that’s where you’ll find it.
Line styles. Ever since we started using nested styles a few years ago we’ve wanted to apply a character style to the first line in a paragraph — not just the first few words, but the whole line. Now you can do this, with the new line styles fea-ture. It’s separate from nested styles (though in the same dialog box), but it works pretty much the same way. Since they’re separate controls, you can combine “regular” nested styles with nested line styles (and even GREP styles — see below) in the same paragraph or even instance of text.
GREP Styles. If you’ve ever played with GREP in the Find/Change dialog box, you know that it’s incredibly powerful. However, the problem is that you need to run a find/change routine each time you want to make a change. GREP Styles changes all that: It’s a way to attach a GREP find/change routine to a paragraph (or better, a paragraph style). For example, within the Body paragraph style, you could configure the GREP style panel to format all the text inside parentheses with an italic character style. If a story contains 10 different instances of parenthetical remarks, they all get converted automatically as soon as you apply the Body style to the paragraphs. It’s amazing.
Smart Text Reflow. InDesign users have complained (with good reason) for years about InDesign’s inability to auto-matically add pages and text frames as you type, paste, or edit text. After all, QuarkXPress has done this for two dec-ades. Fortunately, InDesign CS4’s Smart Text Reflow lets you do this. Plus, as you’d expect, it’s actually even more powerful than XPress’s feature. For example, you can also set it up to automaticaly delete extra blank pages when you remove text. Again, long-doc folks will eat this up.
Adobe started showing off some “future technology demos” at the beginning of 2008, in which they could export SWF files directly out of InDesign, or export something called an XFL file that could be opened in Flash. For legal and financial reasons they couldn’t say whether these features would be in CS4, but today we can yell a big “Yes They Are!”
While it’s cool to be able to export SWF directly from InDesign, Adobe hasn’t given us many interactive features to work with. For example, you can make buttons, hyperlinks, and page transitions that survive the export to SWF — in fact, InDesign CS4 has brand new Buttons, Hyperlinks, and Page Transitions panels. However, imported movies and sounds are stripped away. Sure, you can import a SWF file into InDesign, but it won’t show up in an exported SWF file. Why can’t Adobe just grab the Quark Interactive Designer panel and put it in InDesign? Because they want you to use XFL and open the file in Flash, of course.
The good news is that Flash CS4 is way, way, way better than any previous version. That is to say, it works more like an Adobe application, and there are a number of cool things you can do even if you don’t know ActionScript. (The bad news is that hyperlinks, page transitions, buttons, and pretty much everything interactive drops out when you export to XFL … because the idea is to design in InDesign, and add interactivity in Flash.) However, the beautiful formatting you applied to text in InDesign is maintained–and fully editable–in the Flash file.
If you still prefer PDF to Flash, that’s okay, too. All those page transitions and buttons and hyperlinks (and even movies and sounds) can be exported to interactive PDF files
InDesign CS4 offers a few cool features for those of us who place a lot of images. First, the Links panel has been given a ground-up workover, and it’s just so much better. We didn’t really think the old Links panel was so bad, but now that we’re used the new features — such as choosing which information we want to display, an interactive File Info area, arrangeable columns like a spreadsheet or database — we just no longer want to go back.
Two other link-related features bear mentioning, as well: There’s (finally) an “Edit With” feature that lets you choose which program you want to launch to open a file. And the Place cursor (the thing you get when you choose File > Place) has some hidden features now. For example, as you click-and-drag, InDesign constrains the size to the propor-tions of the image you’re placing. Small but sweet!
Also, if you’re placing more than one image at a time, and you hold down the Command-Shift/Ctrl-Shift keys while dragging, the images get placed into a grid on the page. It’s a handy and fast way to make a contact sheet out of a bunch of graphics.
One of the most important new features in InDesign CS4 is the Preflight panel. Adobe ripped out the not-very-useful Preflight feature from earlier versions and replaced it with a grrrrreat way to check (and double-check) your docu-ments. Most importantly, you can create custom preflight profiles to tell InDesign what you want it to look for. For ex-ample, you could have it search for overset text frames, images that are below 150 ppi effective resolution, graphics or text that have been scaled disproportionally, and page objects that don’t bleed far enough off the side of the page.
Even better, it does all this checking in the background while you work, even if the Preflight panel is closed. (In-Design displays a little green light in the document window when there are no errors, or a red light when it finds one.)
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
We just don’t have space to cover all the features in this short overview, but we would be remiss in our duty if we didn’t at least mention a few others that we’re so happy to see in this version.
Rotate Spreads. You can rotate one or more spreads of a document by 90- or 180-degrees. Very useful for making cal-endars or viewing rotated text!
Power Zoom. The Navigator panel has been removed and replaced with the Power Zoom mode. Get the Hand tool (hold down Option/Alt-spacebar) and hold down the mouse button for a moment and InDesign zooms back to show you the whole spread, along with a red navigation rectangle. Drag that rectangle someplace else and let go of the mouse button and you zoom right back in on that new location.
Smart Guides. Taking a cue from Illustrator, InDesign CS4 now has smart guides that show up whenever you create, drag, or resize an object. For example, you can drag one frame below another and quickly align it to the left, center, or right side of the frame above it based on the smart guides that appear. Or, you can drag one frame between two others until the smart distribution guides indicate that there is equal space among all three objects. Very smooth, very power-ful.
Tables in Story Editor. Our list of features wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a feature that we (and many others) have been craving for years: Seeing table data inside the Story Editor window. The problem is that Adobe blew their whole “nice UI” budget on the general interface and gave the challenge of coming up with a clever way to show tabular data inside Story Editor to an intern who hadn’t actually ever used InDesign before. At least that’s what it looks like to us. Oh well, maybe they’ll make it prettier in CS5.
Speaking of CS5, hang on to your hats… If the sun keeps shinin’, the Earth keeps spinnin’, and Adobe sharehold-ers keep expectin’, then we’re putting our money on the Summer of 2010. In the meantime, however, we have a lot of exploring to do in this new, and very welcome upgrade.