Text to Box: One Of Quark’s Little-Known Gems

2006
Nov
07

A simple way to get round the need to send a font along offers flexible design possiblities

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Recently this author had to deal with sending a file in QuarkXPress 6.5 to a service provider so that they could create a sign.

It was a simple layout–really, just text. But, as it often happens, the service bureau didn’t have the fonts and neither did I; the artist provided me with the XPress layout file only, uncollected. The fellow at the service bureau didn’t really want me to send along the font files either; he suggested instead that I send the text as outlines.

And how do you take that on in QuarkXPress?

Text to Box-Our Hero!

The solution is actually quite direct, and I find that not a lot of people talk about it or use it. It’s found on the Style pulldown, and it’s has a sort of awkward name: “Text to Box”.

But it’s well-named. Text to Box is exactly that: a functionality that takes text you specify and converts it into a QuarkXPress Beziér picture box, which can then be filled with an appropriate color. The box is no longer editable as text, but it’s not connected to any font file, thus breaking through this designer-service bureau stumbling block.

It is a Beziér picture box, with all the features and functions of one; it can not only be filled with color but also a picture, and, as Pariah Burke showed in this very inspiring how-to, filling each separate letterform with its own image. Pretty nifty.

Basic Boxing

The basic operation of Text to Box is quite straightforward:

  1. Using the content tool, highlight the text you’ll want to convert
  2. From the Menu Bar, do Style>Text to Box

That’s all there is to it for the basic function.

You will now, however, find that you seem to have two copies of the text you just boxed. The original text is still in place, but a new copy–one which has a big “x” through like traditional picture boxes, and all the Beziér handles highlighted, will appear, typically below the text box in the layout. After that, of course, either text or new text-box can be deleted, changed, copied, pasted, filled with color or “Get Picture” command, or put on another layer and hidden. The box can also be stroked for even more design effect, using options in the Frame page of the Modify dialog box.

Moving the new text-box about is done the same way a regular picture-box is, by choosing the Item tool, mousing over the box until you see the cursor change into the four-way pointer, then dragging.

Shapes of the letterforms themselves can be altered with the handles along the edges of the letters, which is something that would come in handy for logo designers, for example.

Advanced Boxing

The basic Text to Box leaves you with an integrated picture box with discontinuities, not unlike a word-shaped mask. The letters can also not be moved about independently; they are all parts of the same box. Also, the word-shaped box can’t be scaled up and down, like text can be.

This can be worked around using a simple keypress:

  1. As before, highlight the text you want to convert
  2. Do Menu Bar>Style>Text to Box, this time holding down the OPT key on the Mac or the ALT key in Windows

The text will change to a discontinuous picture box, as before, but something different has happened: it has not been replicated down the layout, leaving the original text untouched. Also, if you try to move the boxed text, you will find that, first off, you can’t do so.

This is because the text has been converted in place in the text box you originally generated, and, more, the object has been anchored inside the text box. This anchored object can now be scaled up and down by the traditional method of holding down CTRL-SHIFT-OPT < or > (or live dragging with the mouse). It still can’t be edited as text, of course.

Break It Up, You Guys

For those who find the integration of letterforms into a single yet discontinuous picture box irritating, never fear, you guys, there’s hope! This trick, however, only works on type that has not been converted to an anchored object (that is to say, the basic method).

Once you’ve selected your boxed text, do Menu Bar>Item>Split. The Split menu itself has two items, which work in notably different ways:

  • All Paths: with boxed text, this has the effect of breaking all letterform box shapes into discrete boxes–they are no longer unified. Counters in the letterforms become holes in the boxes.
  • Outside Paths: Will break out the letterforms into separate boxes as well as creating boxes out of the counters. On the minuscule “e”, for example, the counter becomes a half-moon shaped object that can be moved off the “e”-shaped picture box, leaving no hole behind.

Doubtlessly many design possibilities leap to the fore, but the best example of what this can allow you to do can be seen at the tutorial mentioned earlier in this article.

It’s The Paths To…What?

So, it’s been established: we have this quite nifty little feature in QuarkXPress called Text to Box which allows us to convert our text to, essentially, paths, and play cool boxy games with them. But what is all that good for?

As mentioned before, one of the biggest benefits of a Text to Box functionality is that you can quickly solve problems associated with sending fonts to a service provider. In applications where your precise postioning is crucial, such as situations where print layouts are designed with strong headline art, delinking the font and its metrics from the appearance of your aligned type can prevent unexpected shifts of type–not every similarly-named font has identical metrics, and having metric-independent letterforms can prevent unwelcome surprises down the road.

This font-file independence pays off in very many ways, not just between designer and service bureau: exporting files as PS and EPS files and importing them into other applications on other machines becomes much less error prone.

Just one last word of warning; Beziér text boxes require a great deal more infomration than simple picture boxes or text, so the more complex the outline, the more work your platform is going to have to do moving them around if you need adjustment, so if you do this with heavily serifed or decorative fonts like Papyrus, prepare to be patient as the application catches up with you.

However, in the main, it’s a clever and powerful feature in QuarkXPress, and if you like playing with type, this will be right up your street.

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