Universal Graphic Design Tool Box

The other thread on UX/UI software has me thinking about graphic art software and why this whole industry is repackaging different ways of doing the same thing. Mr-B used a tool analogy that I want to pick up on to describe what I think is the problem.

Let’s say you are a carpenter, each carpenter tool does one thing. It makes sense for you to have a tool box where you can have any tool of any brand that you need, readily available. That’s the way the graphic design software industry could have gone maybe 25-30 years ago. But instead something else happened. We were sold tool sets instead of individual tools. The tools (graphic processing features) are all attached to each other like a giant multi-tool or Swiss Army knife. Now if we want a new feature, we have to buy the entire tool set.

It seems nonsensical until you consider the practicality of having separate graphic design tools as plugins. Why would a for-profit business (like Adobe) go through the trouble of making a universal “tool box” software when they could make way more money selling proprietary tool sets? They wouldn’t. Once a company has a reputation for selling the best tools, they can always sell different tool sets to newer generations of graphic designers, like the UI/UX set. Even better if you can get the entire industry believing that everyone else worth doing business with must have the latest greatest tool set. You can even monopolize work flows.

What would it take to change this? There would need to be an open-source standardization movement to develop graphic processing (Application programming interfaces) APIs that were forward compatible. Those APIs and plugin standardizations would make up a “tool box” system, almost like a “Graphics OS.” It would take more cooperation between programmers and graphic designers. It would take the kind of altruism that’s more prevalent between programmers than what we see between graphic designers. It would take the kind of altruism we see on this Graphic Design Forum.

It wouldn’t be a graphic design program to end all programs. Instead it would be more compatibility in file sharing at less cost. You wouldn’t need to buy an entire set every year or 2. You wouldn’t need a subscription either. Every now and then, you would probably need a new tool box if new tools (plugins) were not compatible. But that wouldn’t cost nearly as much as a new set or a subscription overtime. And most of your old tools would be compatible with the new tool box, so you wouldn’t have to replace them.

What am I missing here?

You are missing the capitalistic angle. I see you mention altruism. Unfortunately that doesn’t make the world go round.

All this development takes time and money.

If you actually look at the nuts and bolts of Adobewares, the programs themselves are nothing more than shells housing a whole bunch of plug-ins. And as with plug-ins in the real world, when Adobe adds a new one, it breaks other ones already existing. There is no reason for Adobe to hold back fixes or updates on their modules except for that one all-important thing, to keep the money flowing. I don’t particularly need any of their new updates, CS6 works fine for me. But I’m a print vendor. I have to keep up to date or I lose money too.

It would be a relatively simple matter to implement an open source type of shell where developers add in new capabilities. The trick would be making it all work together, extensive R&D, and in a perfect world, no push to release until it is at least 90%+ ready to go (nothing is ever 100%.) The next trick would be to make it industry compatible, which would mean getting many many output services of all kinds on board.

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I too admire the open source attitudes of programmers. The Adobes and Microsofts of the world have never been able to beat down the desire of programmers to fix and improve the tools programmers use themselves.

Internet servers largely run on Linux. The software behind the web is usually Apache and PHP. Server apps running on all this and built from it, like Drupal, Joomla and Discourse (this forum’s underlying software), are all open source. Even the front-end stuff, like HTML/CSS and Javascript are totally free. The whole thing is a vast community effort from programmers wanting to improve their own tools and winning against the commercial efforts of software companies. It’s really a cool thing.

Design software is another matter, though. Yeah, there’s Inkscape and Gimp and a few other not-so-great open source graphics apps, but they’ve never really taken off. I think part of the reason is because graphics applications are typically not the main tools actually used by most programmers, so they don’t have a huge interest in improving them.

Designers (like me) not really being programmers ourselves and being what we are, tend to get sucked into the whole Adobe whirlpool while occasionally reaching out of the vortex for the latest shiny object. Then Adobe comes along and pulls us back with a new addition to its CC Swiss army knife.

I’m still of the opinion that Adobe’s acquisition of Macromedia should never have happened and that Adobe should be broken up into smaller, more competitive companies, but that’s a subject for another tangent.

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I hope you are wrong, but I might be naive. :worried:

Maybe Quark should develop the “tool box” concept and try to make money from it just to get back at Adobe.

Quark has too much old baggage.

Speaking of Macromedia, some x-Macromedia developers have teamed up with x-Adobe developers to build a niche on technical publishing. The company is called MadCap Software. At some point, they might expand. Maybe they could make money from this concept if Quark can’t.

The baggage is all new now :wink:

For example, QuarkXPress 2018 is first to fully supports color fonts. ALSO and ESPECIALLY for print:

Or can create a single PDF that is tagged (accessible) and complies to PDF/X-4 and can be archived (PDF/A): http://www.planetquark.com/2018/03/02/pdf-compliant-to-pdf-a-and-pdf-x-4/
I have not seen that by anybody else.

The Print Engine is by callas with Adobe’s PDF libraries now.

Or natively understands PDF and can make them into editable objects.
That’s a component Quark wrote itself, the Xenon image engine.

QuarkXPres also adds JavaScript based on V8, one of the fastest and most modern ES libraries around.

It’s not the Quark of the 90’s anymore. Did you check it out recently?


We need to find the Richard Stallman of graphic design.

I’d rather color type myself. I’ve never seen the advantage to color fonts for professional designers (or really for much of anyone else other than for emoticons). :thinking:

Quark’s ownership has changed hands so many times, it’s hard to keep track of its latest priorities. From my outsider’s perspective, the current parent company, seems more like a Corel sort of entity that picks up software products that have fallen on hard times and, then, tries to keep things afloat just enough to turn a profit.

There’s also this gigantic up-front investment of $849 along with the, more or less, yearly upgrade fee of $180. Over the long haul, it’s a comparable price to a stand-alone subscription to InDesign. But hardly any designer is going to subscribe to the Creative Cloud to get Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere, AfterEffects and whatever (including InDesign), then pay an additional $849 for a copy of QuarkXPress. That’s an awfully tough sale to make. QuarkXPress would need to be lightyears ahead of InDesign to make that a cost-effective purchase.

An equally big problem for QuarkXPress to overcome, in my opinion, is the baggage that PrintDriver mentioned. It shouldn’t be relevant given that so much has changed, but the old Tim Gill-owned Quark of the 1990s was rightfully despised by every designer who ever had the displeasure of dealing with it.

Of course, new designers don’t remember that Quark. Even so, there is still a stigma to overcome of horrible customer support, price gouging and lack of innovation. I remember when QuarkXPress was the up-and-coming PageMaker killer — we all wanted a copy. Somewhere along the line, that changed, and bringing back that coolness and image of innovation is, well, a tough row to hoe. Quark would probably need to reincarnate Steve Jobs to pull that one off.

Honestly, though, I’m a strong critic of Adobe’s monopoly and ransomware schemes, so I’d be tempted to switch back (used QuarkXPress for over a decade). But the price tag is awfully steep just to get a comparable alternative to something that already comes with Adobe CC.

And there you have it, Matthias. If Quark were to be a “tool box” system for open-source graphic processing plugins, then designers wouldn’t need Adobe software to complete the Quark investment.

Quark has offered a Competitive Upgrade now for about a year and it’s still running: Upgrade from InDesign, Photoshop, Lightroom, CorelDraw or similar packages to QuarkXPress for $399: www.quark.com/switch
Currently you get QX2017 with it and a free QX2018 once available.

I think I already posted my list for a non-rental suite in the old forums once:


That’s a list of multi-tools (Swiss Army knives). I’m talking about a system for open-source plugins for a single (tool box) software app. It’s not just about owning the software. It’s about not having to get a whole new set of tools just to add one tool to your collection.

How hard can it be? It would only need to work off a handful of formats, PNG, SVG, X3D and PDF. It would import and export all other known formats. Quark could even own the combined native file format as long as it kept the plugins open-source.

How do you upgrade from a subscription based Indesign/Photoshop/Lightroom?

And I’ll say it one more time, PDF and wide format printing are not yet compatible. Most designers just will not have the profiles, let alone understand scaling math.

But the day is swiftly approaching where designers and clients just don’t care enough about the quality and color of their output where PDF will be just fine, I’m sure.

I’ve used Photoshop for every large format printing that I’ve ever done. I’m thinking PDF is necessary for multi-page and multimedia display.

If you used photoshop, your stuff was popped on profile with no additional color matching except for maybe a contrast check, and your text was most likely rasterized (unless fonts were provided and the printer told to use them.)

Most wide/large format is not that loose. Yeah, we print from photoshop on quite a bit of the extra large stuff with over a 10’ viewing distance (or if being used on camera with a very hefty blur) but a lot of times even that is dropped into an InDesign printing template to mark grommets and bleeds for finishing. Only then does it go to PDF, with the proper profile embedded for the print machine and media it is being printed on.

If ordering something large (48"w x 96" or longer on a Lambda or 70" x 120" on a Lightjet) for high end office decor or for an interpretive exhibit for a science museum, it’s being done in RGB at a perceived 3000ppi (though limited by GIGO rule) with all text and vector elements laser sharp (these are laser exposed photo paper) it would be a shame to send that as a photoslop file. The profiling of imagery is specific. Being an RGB print process, the CMYK formulas that work in press printing are going to be inaccurate (hence the need for “swappable” Pantones) and the machine may be controlled by a RIP with it’s own custom and proprietary profile, because each of these machines is ornery and its room environment and film processing unit predicate how it produces color in the final print.
You send a PDF for that and you will pretty much get what you get. Some PDF editing can be done in PitStop, and there are shops out there that will open your PDF in Illustrator - and can do that properly - but it’s all a time suck (read that as System Time charges at $$$ per hour.)

None of this says a “native” file can’t be sent, but printers will see, “missing plug-in” more often than not. This used to happen all the time with Quark back in the day, because plug-ins were needed in order to make that software more “functional.” Early on, there were a whole series of plug-ins for InDesign as well. Doesn’t happen so much any more except occasionally with Photoshop.
This kind of open software will open that door again.

What goes in, goes out?

I suppose all plugin-dependent aspects of the imagery would need to be flattened to a generic format upon export. Of course that would push many of the problems that you deal with back to the creator of the file, but that might not be a bad thing.

Several years ago when it started to become common to send PDFs to offset printers instead of the packaged files, a printer told me that he’d rather get PDFs because of the very reason I just mentioned. Instead of wasting time and money in prepress fixing a problem, he now had a good reason to send it back to the customer saying you’ll need to fix the typos, inadvertently included spot colors, rouge RGB JPEGs, corrupted fonts, etc., yourself.

The rather unique sorts of things you deal with, that an average customer can’t be expected to know, would still require some effort on your part, but the plugin-specific stuff in Designzombie’s proposal would all arrive, I would think, in a generic equivalent.

GIGO = Garbage in, Garbage out.
bad rez in, bad rez out no matter how high quality the printer.

Pushing designs back to the designer is often not an option. This is a “want it now” world where everything is last minute and, “Just make it WORK!!!” is what is more often heard.

I’d certainly be happy to play in DesignZombie’s world. I work in a unique place where output is important and a $50 plug-in is not going to break the bank. Especially if there was more of a guarantee that the plug-ins had been properly vetted and meshes with the software.
Not all in the print industry agree with that line of thought though.

It’s a fantasy for now, but it could easily become a reality if enough people recognized the value. It doesn’t take that many people to start a movement. I’d market it myself if I had the time and resources.

The first existing software company that takes advantage of this opportunity could become the next industry leader in graphic design software. They wouldn’t have the monopolization power that Adobe has, but they would command far more respect and support from the industry.

Easy: Screenshot of your subscription portal page or of your subscription bill, yes.

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