iStudio Publisher review

A promising start, but there are better budget offerings available.

17 Sep 2009
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
(about £45)


The market for budget Mac page layout applications has been forlorn for years, but iStudio Publisher is joining Apple's Pages and clutch of other rivals in what has suddenly become a highly competitive arena.

And this newcomer has enough innovative features to ensure it's taken seriously in its new surroundings.

The program looks like a clumsy hybrid of word processing and illustration programs. Its toolbar is dominated by layout options and object rotation tools, while a Toolkit on the left houses text, image and drawing tools. Below this, a Shape Library includes an array of polygons, curves, arrows and callouts that can be quickly added to a document, while fine control over page elements is offered through an Inspector palette. Given the plethora of palettes, accompanied by chunky icons, it's a relief that you can hide different areas of the layout through a panel at the bottom of the screen.

If you have experience of QuarkXPress or InDesign, iStudio Publisher's approach to layout will take getting used to, but its approach is often better. Rather than create text or image boxes to hold relevant content, Publisher uses its shapes - created either from the Shape Library or using the Toolkit's Line, Bézier Curve or Freeform Scribble tools - as containers to hold any type of content. To add text inside a shape, you select the Text tool and click inside the shape. Flexibly, the same container can hold bitmap images, PDFs and EPS files at the same time just by turning on a checkbox in the Image Inspector palette and importing an image. You can even add text around the same shape's border.

The Inspector palette houses the program's real power. While you can create text boxes and select text using familiar Toolkit tools, the palette is where you tweak text elements and set how it wraps around an object, although we couldn't get a text wrap to follow a Photoshop clipping path. You also adjust document settings such as page margins here, and add shadows and opacity to page elements through easy-to-use sliders.

We were impressed by the way Publisher will happily cope with native Photoshop files, yet disappointed that you can't drag and drop images or PDFs from the Finder. More glaringly, we struggled to drag shapes from one page to another, although we were able to copy and paste them.

Publisher has some surprisingly polished features. One example is the way keyboard shortcuts can be assigned to many commands; another is the way you can zoom documents up to a pixel-precise 5000%. We also like the way you can specify in the Inspector the resolution at which to output any selected image, from 72dpi to 600dpi or retaining the image's own dpi settings.

Export functions are adequate. Documents are saved in Publisher's native file format, but you can export to PDF, albeit with no built-in control over file quality or resolution.

For every fresh idea introduced though, there's a matching hole. In particular, we found it lacking when dealing with text. The essentials such as tracking and leading (Publisher calls it line spacing) are present, but missing are a spell checker, Find and Replace and support for paragraph or character styles. You can't create drop caps, nor is there a baseline grid. Master page support is basic: you can only apply a single master page per document. Elsewhere, we missed layout guides when arranging elements, although the grid view, combined with the option to turn the cursor into a mouse crosshair, do help. Many of these flaws could be expected in the first version of such an ambitious program, and if the exceptionally detailed product roadmap is to be believed, they'll be addressed in future versions.

Consumers will miss the quality of the clip art or templates offered by rival BeLight Swift Publisher and Pages, and the inability to integrate directly with iPhoto. For these reasons, and the absence of high-end features, iStudio 1.1 wouldn't be our choice for either professional or home user. But it's a decent debut and Publisher's ambitious plans mean it's worth keeping an eye on.

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