Adobe InDesign CS6: Features, pros and cons

InDesign CS6 is a substantial new version with a number of impressive features. What’s particularly interesting, if unsurprising, is that the majority of these are directly related to digital publishing and the task of re-purposing designs for different media.

Unfortunately, the Folio Builder tool at the heart of InDesign's tablet publishing capabilities wasn't yet available in its CS6 incarnation when we vent to press. We were assured it would be available with the ship- ping version of the suite when it arrived on an unspecified date in early May, but that it was on a 'different release schedule'. Folio Builder only comes into play when you export for digital devices; we were able to test all of InDesign CS6's features up to that point.

Liquid Layout is one of the most eye- catching new features. This lets you set items on a page (or even the whole page) to behave in specified ways if the page is resized. For example, an item can be 'pinned' to one side of the page, or set to resize in width or height along the page, or picture con tent can be set to fit its container automatically. Using the Page tool, you select objects and apply their behaviors, then drag the page corner to see how they'll change. This is just a preview, which snaps back when you let go; you can use the Document Setup dialog or the new Alternative Layout controls to make the change for real.

There's an extensive range of options for responding to changes to page dimensions or content - so extensive it borders on confusing at times, it must be said. This is by no means an instant way to convert layouts for different devices: everything has to be set up in advance, and you're still likely to need to fine-tune individual pages. But it does work, and can also be useful to repurpose designs for multiple print destinations - for example, customizing adverts to fit.

One very handy new trick is the ability to resize text boxes according to the content that flows in. You can vary height only, width only or both, or opt to expand while keeping the two in proportion.

The Content Collector tool is another useful new feature. It's like a multiple-object copy and paste: click one by one on objects to add them, then go to another page, layout or document, switch to the Content Placer tool, and click to place the items. A 'Conveyor' option can automatically collect everything that's selected or everything on all the pages in page-level sets. Unlike with copy and paste, when an item is placed it's removed from the collection: one in, one out. Placing things in a different order requires fiddly cycling through the one-dimensional list. It's a handy feature as long as you don't collect too much at once.

Align To Key Object is a small but very useful new trick. Select a number of items, pick this new option in the Align panel's Align To list, then click on the item you want to be the 'key object'. It will get a thicker highlight border. Now choose an alignment button - for example, Align Left Edges — and everything moves around to align, except the key object. It's an addition any user will have wished for who's ever used Align and see the wrong item move around.

If you've ever tried to set up PDF forms using Acrobat Pro, get ready to be impressed. And if you've always shied away from that task, pay close attention. InDesign CS6 has form-creation tools built in, and it's actually significantly easier to produce forms in InDesign and export them as finished interactive PDFs than it is to set up forms in Acrobat.

Text frames can be converted to text field objects, given event behaviors, and made 'required' or not. Buttons and other form elements can be created, even using custom graphics for the different states of radio buttons and check-boxes. This is handled in the Buttons and Forms panel, where the selected, unselected and rollover states can be set up and where actions can be assigned to events such as release (for mouse-based Systems) or tap (for tablets).

Accessibility options, for making forms easier to use in screen readers, art' simple to enable; the tabbing order can be customized and the various form objects given meaningful names. Finally, 'Submit'-style buttons can be given actions such as resetting the form or sending it to a URL (such as a form- processing script) or an email address.
As you can imagine, tweaking can end up taking a while, but this is a much easier way than any other to make functional PDF forms.

One curious thing about InDesign CS6 is the behavior of zoom factors. In general, it tries harder to match the physical size on screen to the physical size of your finished product, so an A4 page at 100% is A4 size. But when you're working in pixel rather than physical dimensions, as you will be for iPad layouts, '100%' view presents the non-Retina iPad's 1,024 x 768 pixel 'page', for example, at 1,836 x 1,378 pixels on the Mac — thoroughly misleading both in size and appearance. The same problem shows up with other digital publishing presets, and in fact any document with its dimensions specified using pixels.

This is annoying enough in Acrobat, recent versions of which similarly changed the scaling to attempt to match real-world sizes, and in doing so made it impossible to design a PDF sized specifically for screen use. It makes even less sense in a digital publishing context that's entirely about designing something for a specific number of pixels.

Overall, InDesign CS6 is a strong if' not groundbreaking upgrade that provides yet more support for cross-media layout work. The new features are useful and in some cases exciting. The pp is getting a little bloated these days with tricks that take time to master, but it still feels familiar, and as a powerful and flexible page design and production workhorse, it tackles the challenges of modern publication design in some increasingly interesting ways.

Price: £667.20 including VAT
Seller: Adobe
Requirements: OS X 106.8, 1GB RAM
Pros: Flexible Liquid Layout resize controls, Content Collector tool, PDF form creation
Cons: Growing complexity, Odd pixel scaling


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