Adobe CS6 InDesign review

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Published:  May 10, 2012
Tim Cruickshank
Adobe CS6 InDesign review

The latest article in our Adobe CS6 review series – preceded by Adobe CS6 Photoshop review and Adobe CS6 Illustrator review.

InDesign has had a pretty radical shift over the past few versions of the Adobe Creative Suite. What was once the ‘go to print production’ program is now much more. Before I get into the review I should tell those of you that are unfamiliar with InDesign exactly what it does. Or at least what I have previously used it for…

InDesign traditionally started as a print specific program. It was developed from another program called PageMaker and was exactly that – the final step of a print document before it went to print. A program you would use to put all of your artwork and information together into a document or book ready for print. InDesign CS5 saw a huge shift from, what was still primarily, a print specific program to a digital publishing platform. It always had the capabilities to do digital work, as files were exported in PDF format and even interactive PDF format, allowing the use of HTML, Java and other programming languages. I guess Adobe noticed that people were using InDesign for a multitude of digital purposes, from presentations to iPad apps, so they decided to support the digital side much more in CS5. With the release of CS5.5 it became very easy to create interactive documents for iPad and other touch platforms.

InDesign interface

So! What’s new in CS6? Not much… the end. No no no, I kid I kid, there are a few things I can go over. The first thing you might notice are the new tools… new tools that do things we don’t really need new tools to do. I won’t jump the gun here and say they are useless, they just seem a little… well let’s just say there are probably a few other things they could have focused on before introducing these new tools. And it as though it’s the same tool split into two! What the hell Adobe?! Who knows, this could come back and bite me in the ass in a year or so when we are all using these new tools all the time.

Content Collector

The first new tool is the Content Collector Tool and it… collects… things? And the second tool is the Content Placer Tool, it places the things you collect within the collector tool. And thus a glorified ‘Copy Paste’ tool was born. Alright I’ll apologise, the tool has a purpose. It is just a ‘Copy Paste’ tool, but it makes copy and paste much better. It helps you copy a bunch of things and store them, I guess the same way a clipboard would… but the point of it is to copy and paste content between documents (I’ll talk a little more about this soon). Basically I’m trying to say that I don’t really like the tool, much the same way as you just don’t like certain people when you first meet them. But like all things I don’t enjoy instantly, I’ll probably end up loving this tool, I did the same thing for the iPad and girls.

So what was this ‘between documents’ business I was going to talk about? Well what I was referring to wasn’t the way you would think at first. Traditionally you had to create multiple InDesign documents for different layouts of the same content, the best example is portrait or landscape orientations for a document/app on an iPad. Well now you can use a feature called Create Alternate Layouts, but before I detail that I’ll talk about a set of controls that assist when creating an alternate layout, the ‘Liquid Layout’ controls.

Liquid Layout

The Liquid Layout controls are going to be missed by most people, simply because the Create Alternate Layouts feature is more obvious. I don’t think you’ll be able to appreciate or use the alternative layouts properly if you dismiss liquid layout controls, so let’s have a look at them. The best way of putting it is, by defining some rules to your content they are able to intuitively move/resize when a document changes. I guess an example would be to say that by ticking some settings you are able to fix an element’s position and size relative to the page. You can give an image the properties to resize itself if a page gets smaller, but keep its position relative to the top right corner, or you can make a textbox resize its height only and keep its position relative to the bottom of the page. I think that explains what it does… this is why I think it’s important to use these controls before using the Create Alternate Layout feature. What is the point of creating an alternative layout if most of the work isn’t done for you?

Alternate Layout

This is the biggest feature of the CS6 release. Alternate layouts within the same document (WAH!?). They keep emphasising that the best use of this feature is for iPad portrait and landscape layouts. I agree that perhaps the switching between documents for this application is quite a common problem but I think the biggest use will be changing a document size after content has been placed. Now if a client comes back and says, “Oh sorry, you know what… we need that book to be 15mm higher…”. Now, rather than changing the document size and re-aligning all of the content, we can just apply an alternative layout and have our content align itself! This is where I see the feature coming in handy.

Form Menu

The interactive capabilities of exportable PDF’s have become more powerful, now you can create forms and complex buttons within InDesign. This allows you to customise and match styles all inside InDesign and not at a later stage.

Text Frame Menu

This is pretty cool – you can now give a text frame properties to change its size depending on content. So if you set it to have a variable height, it will extend vertically as you fill it with more text. It really is just a few settings to make the actual content control easier as you are filling in the document.

Align

Finally! This new feature needs to be in every single Adobe product! You can now align objects relative to other objects, not just page or selection. In other words you can use the position of a key object to align another object. This option has been needed for so long… glad it’s here now.

Greyscale colour proof options

The last feature I’ll talk about is the new ability to choose a series of greyscale colour proof options. This is another one of those things that Adobe seems to think is a big deal (and maybe 10 other people) but just doesn’t seem major update worthy. It just gives you a preview of your document with various different greyscale colour values… oh and you can export a PDF as greyscale too. I can see the merit if you are creating a document for… a newspaper? In only black and white?

Well that’s it for InDesign CS6, a few things seem like they have potential but are just a little… clunky, and there are a few things we probably didn’t need and plenty of things missing that we do need. It seems as though the humble print designer has missed out yet again with InDesign – they have been given a few new features and enhancements, but most of them apply to the digital design side anyway. I agree that digital publication is huge and does need the tools, I just can’t help but feel that print is getting a little neglected… sorry to end the review on a downer, but print is special and Adobe should never forget that.

Thank you to my brother Kristian Cruickshank for providing the photography images used in this review.

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