Paul Diamond Blow's Huggy Talk
Tips, tricks, and advice for graphic designers.

Indesign CS3 vs. Indesign CS5
Considering an upgrade from Indesign CS3 to Indesign CS5? Read this comparison first...

by Paul Ace Diamond "Huggy" Blow

At my job working for a book publisher, we have been using Adobe Indesign CS3 for our page layouts for the last few years. I have been very happy with Indesign CS3, however, in the last year the powers that be decided to upgrade to Indesign CS5. I was hoping that the CS5 version would be even better than CS3, but in some regards it is actually a downgrade. Here, in this article, I will compare various features of both versions.

Speed and Performance
Indesign CS3 is a simple program to use and does not require massive amounts of RAM to get speedy performance. Indesign CS5, however, has added many bells and whistles which quite frankly can get annoying and slow down the program. CS5 is very memory hungry, so you will need a lot of RAM to get the best performance on your computer. The worst new feature of Indesign CS5 is the "live redraw" function which by default is set to "immediate" in the Preferences. With "live redraw" turned on you will find that Indesign CS5 is slow and clunky when working with images, especially with lots of images in your layout. (More here for how to change CS5 live redraw settings.) In fact, it is how Indesign CS5 handles images that makes it slower and clunkier than CS3. Nod goes to CS3

Working with Images
I work for a book publisher specializing in comic books, classic comics, and comic book artists. This means all our books are image heavy. My favorite feature of Indesign CS3 is the ability to load multiple images and then plop them into the layout one by one. (In previous versions you could only load one image at a time.) With Indesign CS3 you can also put an "FPO" image on each page (on the master pages, actually) scaled at a certain percentage, then load multiple images, and replace each "FPO" image with the images you have loaded. The images will then replace the "FPO" images retaining the scaling percentage you have given the FPO image. This has made my job a lot easier over the last few years and I love it. However, with Indesign CS5, this no longer works. Replacing FPO images at the same scale only works if you load and place the images one at a time, which is a big step backwards.

As far as image previews in Indesign CS3 and CS5 go, set at the "typical" display setting (which gives you the best speed and performance in Indesign) color and grayscale images appear sharp and clear in Indesign CS3. In Indesign CS5, color and grayscale images look the same as in CS3 unless you import a large sized graphic, which will look like dog crap (see example below) unless you set the display setting to "high quality," which, of course, slows down the program. As far as black and white bitmap images, they appear with much more detail in CS5 at the "typical" display settings -- which is a plus -- but after you have loaded many bitmapped images into your layout the program slows down drastically, especially when trying to click through the Pages pallette to turn the pages in your layout. In some of my Indesign layouts which contain 200-300 pages of nothing but black and white bitmapped TIFFs, it can take as long as 30-60 seconds just to turn a page in Indesign CS5. Turning such pages is instantaneous with CS3. Nod goes to CS3

LEFT: Indesign CS3 at "typical" display with a large graphic image. RIGHT: Indesign CS5 at "typical" display with the same image.

Working with text
Working with text has always been a breeze with Indesign CS3, and with Indesign CS5 there are a few improvements, mainly the ability to span text across columns, and the ability to balance columns of text, neither which could be done with Indesign CS3. Aside from that, working with text is basically the same in both versions. Nod goes to CS5

Special features
Many of the new features added to Indesign CS5 seem to be for web publishing -- which I never use -- but one new feature of Indesign CS5 that I do use is the Smart Guides. Smart Guides allow you to align blocks of text or images with each other without having to use the document grid or drag in extra guidelines. As you move items around on your page, you will see green "smart guides" lines appear which help you line up the item you are moving with other items on the page. This is a very handy feature, but I usually only turn it on when I need it, otherwise it can be quite annoying to see these guide lines when moving items. CS5 also keeps track of "errors" in your Indesign file. The "errors" can be anything from images that haven't been updated to text boxes with overflowing text. With Indesign CS5 you can also have one layout with different sized pages. In the real printing world, however, a printer will probably reject any layout with different sized pages. Nod goes to CS5

Font handling
With Indesign CS3 you must have all the fonts used in your layout loaded with your font management program or you will get the "missing fonts" message. With Indesign CS5, as long as all the fonts used in your layout are in a "Document fonts" folder (in the same folder the Indesign file is in) the fonts will automatically load when you open your Indesign file. Those fonts, however, will not be available to any other Indesign file unless they have the same "Document fonts" folder. There is one bug with "Document fonts": if you package up your Indesign CS5 file and send it to someone else, any text that has been given "all caps" or "small caps" formatting may not display as caps on their computer. The only workaround is to take the offending font out of the "Document fonts" folder and load it manually. Nod goes to CS5, but they need to fix that bug.

Creating PDFs
It has always been a breeze creating PDFs with Indesign, and the only change here in Indesign CS5 is that now running out PDFs is a "background task" -- that is, it will run out the PDF in the background so that you can continue working in Indesign as it runs out the PDF. If you weren't aware that running out PDFs is now a background task, you would probably think that Indesign simply failed to run out the PDF or you may have no idea when the PDF will be finished as there is no automatic progress window that opens up when exporting a PDF. You can open up the "background tasks" window (Window>Utilities>Background Task) to watch the progress of your PDF. Also--unless your computer is loaded with RAM--trying to work in Indesign as it runs out a PDF in the background is so slow and clunky it is painful. Slight nod goes to CS5

Final analysis
As far as speed and performance, Indesign CS3 is the clear winner. As far as working with images, Indesign CS5 is a downgrade, not an upgrade. If you work mainly with text or use Indesign to create web pages, you may find Indesign CS5 to be an improvement. Finally, even though Indesign CS5 contains some useful new features I still find CS3 to be the superior version of Indesign and I still use it for 90% of all my Indesign projects.

Author Paul Diamond Blow works as a production artist for a major book publisher with over ten years experience in the field. He is a Photoshop wizard, an Indesign samuri, and a sweetheart of a guy..