For the past several years, I’ve been putting together ABCNJ’s Annual Directory in Adobe InDesign. It was a nice tool to use, especially for the type of data I needed to include, and had several features I required to make the layout work 1. Before the 6.0 redesign I’d been using Apple Pages for this book, as it handled what I threw at it better than anything else 2. When the 6.0 version ripped out features I needed for my project InDesign filled the hole, but I was never happy with it.
I hated the subscription model, particularly because it meant that when we were done paying through our publishing cycle I couldn’t open my own project. If I wanted to reference a way I’d laid something out, or check out my master pages, I literally would have to pay for another month of access to read my own file. This made zero sense to me, and so for the past several years I’ve been looking for an alternative. This summer two contenders hit the market.
The first was Mellel 4.2, which added the type of table support I’ve been wanting for years from this application. It was still a bit clunky for the type of project that is our directory, but Mellel’s ability to handle long form text, combine with seriously improved table support, really made it a contender. And the way Mellel handles text styles is as good as any application I’ve ever used 3
But then Affinity Publisher arrived on the scene, and I fell in love. It’s table support isn’t as robust as Mellel’s 4, but as a frame-based application it’s much better for complex layout. Affinity Publisher boasts master pages, a good table of contents generator, and a fantastic assets manager to store elements which will appear throughout a project.
This isn’t to say Affinity Publisher is not without flaws. For example, it’s Master Page support is rather quirky. Master pages for documents which have facing pages 5 can be set up in a left-right spread, which is perfect. Text boxes may also be set up in master pages and will be able to have text entered when applied to a page, which is wonderful. But problems arise when a single page, which uses master page spread, is added above existing pages in a project. All the pages move down, as they should, but they don’t repaginate. That is, if a left page is moved to the right, it will keep it’s left page settings, instead of being reformatted for the right side of the document. And these attributes will only be changed when the master page is reapplied. Unfortunately, while this gives a page the correct layout, if text has been added to a text frame that was part of the master page it will be erased when the correct master is applied. That’s a major headache. It also does not have footnote support at present, which makes it less than ideal to layout my novels 6.
I’ve gotten around this glitch by creating separate Left and Right masters for my current project, but even then Affinity Publisher really does not want to allow for the creation of a single right page master, it keeps trying to reset the margins as though it were on the left. Eventually it works, but it’s finicky 7. Thankfully I spent a good deal of time poking the software before I began laying out the 2019 directory, so I was able to work around some of the roadblocks as I put together my workflow. At present I have to say I’m faster putting this project together in Affinity Photo than I ever was in InDesign.
But for such a quirky piece of software, why do I love it? It has to do with the name of the suite, Affinity.
At present there are three applications in this suite. First came Photo, which is comparable to Photoshop. Then came Designer which fills the same niche as Adobe Illustrator. Each of these applications received excellent iPad apps, which is what sold me on the suite.
But something had always interested me in these first two apps. Affinity Designer possessed a “pixel” persona, which gave it some of the abilities of Affinity Photo – like pixel brushes or selection tools which functioned the same way they did in Affinity Photo. In some ways, Affinity Designer was like having one and a half applications for the price of one.
And then Affinity Publisher came out and the real reason the suite is named Affinity became apparent. While each of the applications has their own set of tools and capabilities, the file format generated by each of the three applications is exactly the same. It was always possible to open an Affinity Photo file in Designer 8. Features which weren’t supported in the other app wouldn’t necessarily display, but they also wouldn’t be altered by any changes made in the other app. In Affinity Publisher, this ability has jumped to a whole new realm.
In the upper corner of the Publisher UI are three buttons – each with an icon representing an app in the Affinity Suite. When one of these buttons is selected, the tools and studio become the corresponding app. This means if I want to apply an adjustment layer to a photo I added to a publisher document, I can do that right within Publisher without having to round-trip the graphic. While a user has to own all three of the apps for this to work, the way these personas function is huge. I no longer have to open up an item in a separate interface, do edits, and then update the in-document asset to see my changes. Now I just click a persona and make the changes I want – while seeing them in real time. For that type of flexibility and power, I’ll put up with a ton of quirks.
Affinity Publisher is not yet on iPad, but it is coming. In the meantime, Publisher files can be opened in Affinity Designer on the iPad and edited as normal, using a page manage which has been added to the app.
- True table headers being the most notable. ↩
- I don’t own Word, and don’t have much of an inkling to own Word. ↩
- Actually, its better than most. Being able to create variants for each style is worth the price of the software alone. ↩
- Affinity Publisher tables can’t do calculations, for example. Mellel can do some simple calculations, though it’s got nothing on Pages. Pages really does handle tables right. ↩
- Usually different headers on the left and right, as well as a wider inside margin. Among other things. ↩
- But that’s another story. ↩
- In fact, I finally gave up and created a two page master spread, and left the left page blank. ↩
- And vice versa. ↩