Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Adobe Indesign CS2 Review - Spectacular!

I have been putting the Adobe Indesign CS2 product to the test lately, in a rather heavy way. I have been using it to create a 240-page, multi-chapter, commercial recipe book with full-color photography throughout, a comprehensive index, and all of the types of things you would expect in any book you would buy at Borders/Barnes/Amazon/etc.

I was completely new to Adobe Indesign when I began; in fact I have absolutely no background in desktop publishing per se, but was willing to invest the time and effort to learn. I started by reading the Wiley book entitled "Adobe InDesign CS2 Bible" (896 pages, and quite comprehensive - a good book). And, as I went through the book knowing that my ultimate goal was to use InDesign to produce a commercial book, I placed Post-Its throughout, noting the chapters/pages of interest that I would likely need to focus on when I started into using InDesign. This proved very useful! I find myself being able to quickly jump to a particular topic via my quick-indexes.

So, I followed the advice within the book, placing a lot of effort on setup. This was an invaluable step - saving tons of time down the road. I set all the global preferences/settings, and then focused on creating my master pages and spreads, along with the Styles I would be using throughout my book (I brainstormed ahead of time, and created styles for everything I knew I would require; styles for: Chapter Titles, Book Title, Recipe Names, Directions-text, and a whole slew of other paragraph/chapter styles.) I chose a few color-swatches to create for things I knew I would use color to accentuate as well.

When it finally came time to really start putting the power of Indesign CS2 to work, wow was I impressed at what this software can do! When it comes to laying out a magazine or book (or anything simpler), this desktop publishing software seems to have thought of nearly everything, and makes what looks difficult seem quite easy to implement.

To sum up my impressions of the product, I'd have to rate it a solid 9.0/10.0 rating.

Some of the features I really got into:
  • Master pages/spreads - oh my god are these things handy and hugely productive!
  • Flowing of text between frames, and around graphics objects, and so on.
  • Graphics: I love how the "size" of the graphic is disconnected from the *visible-size* of the graphic. Meaning, where I have recipe pictures that have been taken with a particular aspect ratio that is different from the size box I want to display them in, I define the size of the box that will show the image, and the true image sorta slides around "underneath" that box to where it is optimal for me. There are all sorts of neat ways to size images as well, but it is the ability to control what part of that image "shows" (i.e., prints) that really rocks!
  • Styles - and I am not talking about styles like MS Word - these are mega mega powerful. You can control basically anything related to text formatting. Some of this will be a bit of typography specific, but things like kerning, leading, skew, baseline shifting (oh - and baseline alignment just rocks for multi-column / multi-page professional look!), vertical/horizontal scaling, tracking,... the list goes on.
  • Indexing - I read things recommending an add-in product, but I am very much pleased with the included Indexing capabilities and TOC abilities. Very powerful, very flexible - though, the indexing operations require you to manually decide what all to place in the index, it is still quite useful and powerful.
  • Styles - specific to fractions: yes, for creating a recipe book that really looks professional, you need to be able to make a custom "one-third" that does not look like this "1/3", but a true fraction that matches other fractions included in a character set. I custom created all of the oddball fractions that were used for baking that are not in a normal character set, and they look completely like the real thing.
  • Objects - yes, objects! For an object-oriented-programmer type like me, hearing that InDesign supported objects, which implement basically visual inheritance, was enough to get my attention. And, it works quite well. When you create your styles, you can create child-styles based on another style. A bit rough to quickly explain, but well worth looking into.
  • And much more! I hope to write a more comprehensive review of Adobe Indesign CS2 capabilities and power in the future and post on my company website. For now, this will give you a good intro I hope.

The only significant complaints I had about InDesign CS2 (that prevented a 10/10 rating, and lead to the 9/10 instead) were:
  • Inability to quickly copy complex table-styles (embedded styles within table) to other table objects; though, "Smart Styles" from WoodWing gets the job done with a $200-250 add-in (I just wish CS2 had this built in!)
  • For some reason, the Version-Cue software that is closely coupled with InDesign (for version-control) stops responding when I want to save another version - until I reboot!
  • Annoyance #1: when I first start InDesign, I can scroll through pages in my document simply by using my Wheel-Mouse, but then it stops working until I shutdown InDesign and restart. Also, the scroll-bar in the "Pages" tool-sidebar just stops scrolling through pages - sometimes until I restart the application, other times it starts working again at a later time for no apparent reason.
Aside from those (somewhat minor) complaints, the Adobe Indesign CS2 software is simply spectacular. I find myself thinking: wow, if I only had something like this 20 years ago, I could have been cranking out some darned good looking reports, sales and marketing material, books, etc. etc.

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