Service Review: W3 Markup
In an effort to force a more regular schedule of posts, this will be the first in an official series of review posts where I'll review books, products and services that I manage to get my hands on. Every Friday I'll try and post a new review.
First up is W3 Markup. W3 Markup is an HTML slicing company that can take a Photoshop or Fireworks file and produce the HTML and CSS to go with it. I've used them a few times now in two different capacities. The first was to take HTML/CSS that I had already produced and convert it into a WordPress and Movable Type template (which I'll be releasing sometime in September). The other times was for traditional slicing work.
Most slicing services don't put much effort into the order process. It's usually a simple form with a file upload field and that's it. Or, if the company is just one or two guys, email is usually the option. Not so with W3 MARKUP. They have one of the most complete and thorough ordering forms I've seen. The form has plenty of options to ensure that you have the features you're looking for when getting your stuff sliced, from sIFR use to image replacement techniques to liquid layouts.
There is a downfall to having all these options, though, and it's that feeling of being "nickel and dimed" for every change. Which, if you're quite particular, can bump up the cost considerably.
Parts of the order form are confusing, such as the use of "(X)HTML 1". I know I'd take XHTML 1 but I don't think I want HTML 1. The lack of HTML 4.01 Strict on the list is also disappointing. Mind you, a quick mention on the order form has been sufficient to receive it. I'm also not a fan of having to pay extra for using a strict DOCTYPE (in fact, it should be the default).
They support credit cards and PayPal (my preference). The order process was really smooth and a follow up email is received within 24 hours to confirm the order and clarify direction.
After the ordering, all communication takes place through their project site with email notification whenever a new message is posted.
My only quibble would be to move the comment form to the top or change the order of the comments. It was troublesome at times to reply to something and having to continually scroll from the bottom of the page (where the form was) to the top of the page (where the most recent comment was).
For multiple projects, you can review your order history and the status of each one.
I've mentioned in past reviews that the best way to get the results you want is to be very specific about what you're looking for. Luckily, most of these things are covered in the order form, but if they're not, be sure to mention them.
Ultimately, I've been happy with the results. They did a great job with accommodating my requirements with the WordPress and Movable Type templates, providing good feedback along the way. The slicing work hasn't been perfect (no service I've used has been) but I've come to realize that I have to accept that other people code differently and if I'm looking to save myself time, I have to live with that.
Issues I've had with the code have including specifying widths on elements that didn't need them specified (which ended up breaking some stuff in IE6), being less than semantic with some class names (left_col, right_col instead of sidebar, content), and a heavy usage of DIVs when a simpler approach could have been taken. These issues were minor, though, and were easy enough to fix.
They have also been on — or even exceeded — delivery time, which is fantastic. For example, I had requested 2 days but did so late in the night. I was surprised to find the final deliverables ready within 36 hours.
I've done a couple previous reviews of HTML slicers and the results have been similar: decent work but different from how I normally work and there's invariably a few things that need adjusting.
Overall, I'd definitely use W3 Markup again. Part of freelancing is focusing on certain things and I can save time by outsourcing my HTML production work.
Slicing is one of my favourite parts, so I doubt I'll give it up to another company. But great review Snook, will use them if pushed for time on a project.
On a side note; I think I'm being too strict with myself on naming conventions in css. Yesterday, I used sidebar as an id and felt bad about not coming up with anything better as sidebar does connote that it's at the side.
Next time try http://www.xhtmlizers.com, I'm pretty sure you'll get at least the same quality for a better price, and without having to check millions of options that here are already included.
It would be interesting to compare this kind of service head-to-head with doing it yourself. When you factor in the communication, tweaking, checking code, and fixing things that annoy you, is it really that much more efficient?
This is a really interesting approach to slicing, we tend to take care of everything in house, but given clashing projects and deadlines it's something I will definitely consider using in the future. Thanks for the article, very useful to know these kinds of services exist.
I've used PSD2HTML and XHTMLMagic. PSD2HTML provided high quality, but was way too slow sometimes - they kept on telling me they have abnormally heavy workloads, which is great.
Definitely recommend you try out xhtmlmagic. They get it done fast. Also, unlike the other slicing services I've seen, they upload and display your HTML, so you don't have to download, unzip, open, and check every time.
Why don't you work with a freelancer(s)? It should be cheaper, with tighter communication, and more consistent coding quality. Nobody cares about their craft like a freelancer.
Disclaimer: I do a lot of PSD->XHTML/CSS work, and love it :)
@Kevin Crawford: I have and do work with freelancers but they're usually not cheaper or not by much, and they're often not available because they're just as busy as I am.
It seems to me that in the long run, paying a trusted freelancer an hourly rate rather than paying a set rate per page should work out to cheaper and more fair pricing. But you're right, $240 is tough to compete with if you just have them do 1 template and you populate the content.
I suppose that these vendors are alright if you want reliable availability and turn-around, but I still think that freelancers offer a lot of benefits and it's easily debatable whom is best. How about this--can I offer 1 free project for a review? ;)
I think a decent webdesigner with some good basics of photoshop should be capable of doing the slicing themselves. Allthough I don't exactly know what price you have to pay when hiring someone to do it. In some cases it might be attractive.
@ Thomas, I am agree with your point. one having some basic knowledge could convert your PSD file into xhtml/html but would he be able to maintain the quality that a professional service provider could provide...
as far as pricing is concerned, there are few companies like xhtml.pixelcrayons.com that provide the slicing services at an affordable price(starting price $99 only)