Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 6 review
Xara Photo & Graphic Designer is the new name for Xara Xtreme, the drawing and image editing package. To go with the more explanatory title, this version gets a clearer user interface, adopting a fashionable dark grey look. Although some of the icons and buttons still feel a little dated, it’s a great improvement.
We’ve always liked two things about Xara: it’s fast, and it puts most of the controls you need right up front. The one remaining requirement for ease of use was a straightforward way to access the elements in your artwork, since drawings can quickly get too complex to edit just by clicking on items. This was addressed by Xara Xtreme 5’s Object Gallery, which has now developed into the Page & Layer Gallery, listing every object and its attributes in an easily navigable tree. You can now easily select individual objects to edit it independently.
Xara’s photo editing tools are adequate for basic corrections, though limited compared to dedicated image editing programs. At long last, you can now apply tone curves, an essential tool for adjusting lighting. There’s also a perspective correction tool, which looks for straight lines that have been skewed by poor geometry in the camera lens – most noticeable in buildings. It then distorts the image to bring them back to square. As a one-click fix it worked very well for us, though we’d have liked to be able to adjust the effect.
Content-aware scaling, a feature first seen in Adobe Photoshop CS4, lets you squeeze the less important areas of a picture, like empty landscape, while preserving features such as people or buildings. Introduced in Xtreme 5, it now gains an option to apply it as a ‘zoom’, enlarging the salient features within the photo. We found it often failed to identify the appropriate areas to preserve, even in shots that Photoshop had no trouble with, but worked fine when we selected such areas manually.
Probably more significant is the ability to apply enhancements within layered areas, a bit like Photoshop’s Adjustment Layers, using masked Enhance and Enhance Transparency. While playing with transparency settings we also noticed that all sliders, as well as drop-down menus, can now be operated with the mouse wheel without having to click on them first.
Vector drawing additions are less conspicuous, but tool tweaks make it even easier to draw different kinds of lines, including symmetrical Bézier curves and single lines with heads and tails, such as arrows. Shapes, and even complex brushed strokes, now appear instantly as you draw, rather than showing as outlines until you release the mouse button – a further impressive display of the program’s speed, with no lag even on our modest laptop. Drawing on a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet varies line width in real time.
At £69, Photo & Graphic Designer is excellent value. Its nearest competitor is Serif DrawPlus X4, a very different but comprehensive drawing program that similarly includes photo and animation tools. DrawPlus lacks Xara’s advanced image manipulation tricks, but does allow you to use CMYK and Pantone colours and to export your work in PDF/X formats. Xara reserves these features for Designer Pro 6 (formerly Xtreme Pro), which has also been upgraded with extra web design tools. At £249, though, it’s more in the price bracket of CorelDRAW Graphics Suite.
The lack of these features means you’ll be reliant on a helpful printer if you want to get your Photo & Graphic Designer artwork output onto a printing press. In particular, the lack of support for spot colours (such as Pantone inks) means you can’t easily create artwork for screen printing, though there are possible workarounds. Such limitations also reduce Xara’s credibility as a rival to Serif’s similarly priced PagePlus desktop publishing software, even though its text handling is unusually good for a drawing program.
Still, with drawing, photo editing and DTP in one very affordable package, not to mention thousands of bundled images, textures and fonts, Xara is a more attractive option than ever.
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