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Is there a way to determine, or at least hazard a guess at, which page layout engine was used in the preparation of a given print publication?

I've spend awhile looking at some quirks in the Times Literary Supplement's page layout.

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Wondering if you are able to add a bit of extra info, e.g. do you mean which software application or something more specific - e.g a particular kind of composition algorithm? And is the question specific only to newspapers as the question title suggests? – e100 Jan 7 '11 at 11:55
Could you post some visual example? Not everyone has the possibility to look at the newspaper that is sold in america :) – Littlemad Jan 7 '11 at 11:56
@Littlemad: it's British, but agreed. – e100 Jan 7 '11 at 12:41
@e100: Well, I guess "page layout engine" could mean a Linotype machine... Seriously, if you are trying to guess from looking at paragraph layout, you will be making inferences about composition algorithms, whilst if there is a nice list that I have never seen of which papers use which software, it will be by application. I care more about newspapers than magazines, but I see no reason why my qn should be construed narrowly. – Charles Stewart Jan 7 '11 at 13:17

Just by looking at the final page layout? I don't think there's really any easy way to tell in most cases regardless of the type of publication. I think that if a layout engine has been refined to produce good layouts and a human has cleaned up the results (i.e., Xtags with QuarkXpress), then it would be all but impossible to tell.

Science and math technical publications that use a LaTeX variant have a distinct look but that's really only because of the specific set of fonts that are required to use it. But my company's math books have fairly sophisticated layouts done in LaTeX or Framemaker (though the latter is rare these days) that typically start as InDesign templates. Only the production staff would know there was a difference because of the rare compromise that sometimes happens.

I say that from my experience of creating marketing materials in InDesign with only Applescript (drop in an XML and the script handles the rest including layout cleanup). Even after porting the templates from Quark to InDesign, the results are indistinguishable from each other beyond the fact that my script doesn't make as many layout errors as the designers did when they were doing it by hand.

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Tex supports all OTF fonts, in its Xetex and Luatex variants. I've not quite been able to parse "layouts done in LaTeX or Framemaker ... that ... start as InDesign templates" - do you mean the copy was produced in Indesign and then typeset in Tex? – Charles Stewart Jan 7 '11 at 15:33
Tex supports all OTF fonts, but the STM publishing I've seen still needs the distinctive, technical fonts for formulas that OTF don't support or an OTF simply lifted from LaTeX (why re-invent the wheel?). I've been doing this for so long I can spot those fonts a mile away. Copy is produced in LaTeX, design templates made in InDesign, and the whole thing merged together in composition in LaTex; think high-end (college-level) math text books. It isn't done that way all the time, but it can be done with good results. – Philip Regan Jan 7 '11 at 16:11

If you see optically aligned fully justified columns of text it's highly likely they've been set in InDesign. Quark can do it as well nowadays but they didn't for much longer than InDesign.

Multi-line composer is something Quark still hasn't got. Not that I would know. So narrow columns (like in newspapers) of text seem to have less rivers of wordspacing. They seem more uniform if they're set in multi-line composer. It does its job brilliantly. It's somehow based on the old URW's algorithm from the 80' that's based on Gutenberg's work on the bible.

But more than that I think it's not possible to tell.

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Excellent observations. I'm still hoping that there are places you can go where hardened industry professionals just know what's going on with this and that publication. The microtypography behind Indesign is discussed in Han The Thanh's Phd thesis, Micro-typographic extensions to the TEX typesetting system, which is available as a 118 page PDF. – Charles Stewart Jan 12 '11 at 22:35
@Charles Stewart: Why would you need such information? I don't think there's anything that would set things apart so dramatically between different layout design software that you could tell for certain. It's usually easier to tell when some designer has done their job because of their particular design/layout approach. – Robert Koritnik Jan 17 '11 at 7:46
I'm interested in building a portfolio of page layouts as a pain test for doing the same in Context, which is Tex-based typesetting software. It's of interest to me which software was used to put it together, but I guess I don't really need the information. – Charles Stewart Jan 17 '11 at 7:51
@Charles Stewart - for a question this specialist and in-depth, might be a better forum. – e100 Sep 1 '11 at 17:51
@e100: I wouldn't be so sure. I've been a member there for years and I think that for a Q&A type of questions Stackexchange is a much better choice. But you could open a debate about this on – Robert Koritnik Sep 1 '11 at 19:42

I think your question really is missing the words "by a careless typesetter" somewhere in there. For instance, InDesign assigns leading as a character attribute, unlike Quark. The leading of any given line in InDesign is therefore the largest character in the line. Since that would include the hidden paragraph mark at the end of the last line, if the leading of the last line of a paragraph is larger than all the rest, then you can pretty much bet that that text was set in InDesign. By a careless or rushed typesetter/designer.

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Interesting about the ¶ character... – Farray Sep 16 '11 at 16:43

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