Sneak Peek: InDesign CS3

Sneak Peek: InDesign CS3

2006
May
19

Adobe uncharacteristically takes the wraps off new features of InDesign CS3–a year early.

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Adobe uncharacteristically takes the wraps off new features of InDesign CS3–a year early.

This week, Adobe presented selected members of the press with sneak peeks at upcoming products–and permission to publish that information. Still nearly a year until the release of Creative Suite 3, permission to publish about features such as those you’ll read below is unprecedented from the company nearly as famous for it’s strictly enforced “no comment about unannounced software” policy as for the software itself.

My esteemed colleague, David Blatner, beat me to press with an overview of the InDesign CS3 features we were both shown. Read David’s post on the new InDesignSecrets blog, but return here to fill in the details of InDesign CS3’s Object Effects, attribute-level transparency, and vastly improved content placement features.

In my briefing with Adobe’s Chad Siegel, senior product manager InDesign and InCopy, I learned about the new features (including things I can’t yet tell you), and, more importantly, actually saw them in use. Unfortunately, because the user interface of InDesign is still very much open to change, screenshots are not allowed. You’ll have to take my word that these features work.

Multi-Asset Place

Among the most tedious and time-consuming tasks in page layout is placing assets–external images and text. In prior versions, InDesign eased the process by allowing drag-and-drop of images and textual files from the desktop, Mac Finder, Windows Explorer, Bridge, and other file- or asset-managing systems. Images, for example, could be dropped into InDesign en masse by dragging from Bridge; those images would all drop into the same location in the document, to be positioned later. It saved some time, but not as much as the new multi-asset place.

Instead of choosing a single external file via File > Place, in CS3 you’ll be able to select an entire folder full all at once. Doing that, loads the place cursor with all of those files, ready to be placed sequentially. The cursor will show a count of the lined up assets, and a live preview of the next one on deck. Previews show thumbnails for to-be-placed images and the first few words of textual assets like Word documents. Clicking in a pre-existing frame or drawing a new one places the first asset and loads the next into the batter’s box. It’s really something to see, and makes filling a layout with assets fast and smooth.

Frame Fitting Options

Working alongside the multi-asset place is another forehead smacker: Frame Fitting Options. Instead of one at a time setting the cropping amount or fitting style of images placed in InDesign CS3, you’ll be able to define a default fitting style–none, Fit Content to Frame, Fit Content Proportionally, or Fit Frame Proportionally. After setting the option, every subsequently placed image (or frame) will automatically fit its frame (or content) to match your setting. When placing a selection of images that require cropping, four-way crop measurement boxes also allow you to preset how much to chop off the top, bottom, left, or right, and from which reference point the cropping should occur.

Attribute-Level Transparency

Although we won’t see Illustrator’s Appearance palette in InDesign CS3, we will see the foundation for it in separate transparency and blending mode control for a frame’s fill, stroke, and content. In the revamped Transparency palette, each frame or object now has selectable entries for all three, which can be individually targeted and adjusted with the opacity slider. The background color of a text frame, for instance, can be set to 50% transparent while the text itself remains completely opaque. Even better, each attribute can have its own blending mode independent of, or in conjunction with, an overall object blending mode that effects the fill, stroke, and content simultaneously. For example, consider a placing an image inside a colored frame, and setting the image blend mode to Screen such that it blends with its own container, and then, in a compounded effect, the container and its content is blended into other page objects with an Overlay mode.

Each attribute entry in the Transparency palette lists its blend mode and opacity percentage, so you’ll never be left wondering what you or your predecessor did to achieve that marvelous (or hideous) effect.

Photoshop Effects

In addition to independent transparency and blending mode control, object fills, strokes, and content will each have access to Photoshop effects.

In a dialog virtually identical to Photoshop’s Layer Styles, InDesign CS3’s Transparency Effects dialog enables Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Outer Glow, Inner Glow, Bevel and Emboss, Satin, Basic Feather, Gradient Feather, and an all new Directional Feather for objects. Like Photoshop’s Layer Styles, Transparency Effects lists the compoundable effects in separate panes with all the options one might expect–including Photoshop’s intuitive angle dial, an altitude measurement box, and a global light option. Each object attribute has an independent list of effects. There are identical effects available for the entire object and individually its stroke, fill, and content.

During the demonstration, Transparency Effects were used to bevel and emboss just the stroke of a text frame, leaving the fill and text flat. Then, the frame was resized to show a smooth and instantaneous redraw of the object and its effects. Once applied, Transparency Effects do not hinder modification of the object. In fact, the effects may be removed or themselves modified, and they can even be instantly copied to other objects.

Again taking a cue from Photoshop, when Transparency Effects are applied to objects or attributes in InDesign CS3, their entries on the Transparency palette display a stylized f icon. That icon can be dragged from one attribute to another–say, from the fill to the stroke–to move or copy the effects from one to another. In a stroke of productivity genius, the f icon can also be dragged to other objects on the page, instantly applying effects to those. Styling an entire spread of objects will take seconds!

Object Styles, of course, now track the new features, but the drag-and-drop method is even faster when working with just a few objects on the same spread.

These effects–and many more to come–are enabled by the inclusion of what Adobe called a “headless version of Photoshop” in the InDesign code. In terms closer to layman’s, large sections of Photoshop CS3 functionality are being pulled into InDesign CS3 by including the actual code written by the Photoshop team rather than via the hit-or-miss emulation we’ve often seen used in the past to bring features of point product into another.

Tidbits

Of course, InDesign CS3 and all of the Creative Suite 3 will be Universal Binaries for Intel-based Macs, and will be Vista-optimized for Windows. In fact, the current builds of the applications are already running on these platforms!

At the same time Adobe showed us InDesign CS3, they previewed a new technology, code-named “Apollo” to Publish.com. You can read about that here.

Renewed Commitment

The point of attribute-level transparency and effects is, of course, doing more with live, editable objects in InDesign without the need to import Illustrator or Photoshop artwork. Although Adobe promises a much tighter integration between the Creative Suite point products–including those brought into the fold by the Macromedia acquisition–there is an equal focus on refining the line between applications. Each iteration of the major applications have brought closer relations and content sharing between them, but Adobe is also trying to find the right mix of what each application should do natively. How much should InDesign do internally before requiring the assistance of Illustrator or Photoshop, is a key question asked throughout the ongoing development of InDesign CS3. From what I’ve seen so far, Adobe is coming up with some excellent answers to that question.

In addition to showing off some cool features we’ll definitely see when InDesign CS3 ships in the 2nd quarter of 2007, Adobe made it clear that they have big plans for the future of publishing–in all media. Although the details are still hush hush, look for some truly amazing ideas to arise from the combination of Macromedia technology and Adobe ingenuity. Although Macromedia walked away from print publishing workflows, Adobe has found new ways to use their technology to the benefit of print publishing, as well as, of course, to Web, motion, and mobile publishing.

Although all my questions couldn’t be answered at this early date (it’s still Adobe, after all), I’m excited about what I’ve seen so far. And, cool as they are, the InDesign CS3 features aren’t half as enticing as what Adobe won’t let me say… Yet.

Note: The “InDesign CS3″ logo at the top of this article is an artist’s rendition, and is not related to Adobe’s planned InDesign CS3 branding in any way. Illustration by Vadim Litvak

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