Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX 2013 review

Ben Pitt
16 Sep 2012
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

Excellent value and a fantastic photo-editing, design and DTP tool


As technologies develop they tend to get more complicated and rarely get faster. This is especially true for creative software, which often strains under the weight of new features.

Xara has never suffered this fate. A key selling point has always been its unwaveringly fast performance. Not only do adjustments appear on screen as soon as they're made, it constantly updates while adjustments are made. That's useful when dragging the mouse across the colour wheel to change an object's colour, and it's incredibly liberating when adjusting properties such as bevel, drop shadow or 3D extrude.

This latest update brings some welcome improvements without compromising this efficiency. The Designs Gallery (Xara's bank of clip-art and design templates) has lots of new content, and because it comes directly from an online database it's easier for Xara to add further content.

Xara's Online Gallery

There's a strong collection of templates and clip-art hosted from Xara's servers

Text Styles mean it's now possible to save combinations of font, colour, justification, emphasis and spacing to apply elsewhere in a document. It's one of the more straightforward implementations we've seen, and it behaved impeccably when we tried to trip it up. As an example, an Update Style command rippled changes throughout the document, but when we applied a style to a paragraph and then changed its colour, updating the style elsewhere changed its other properties but not its colour. The only disappointment is that there isn't a central database of styles, so it’s not so easy to reuse them in other documents.

The Shape Eraser Tool provides a new way to edit objects, taking chunks out of them using freehand strokes. Using it on a vector shape edits it destructively, and slicing straight through a shape creates two discrete objects. However, using this tool on text or grouped objects creates a non-destructive opacity mask. There's a Softness slider to give a feathered edge to eraser strokes, whereupon the tool always works non-destructively, regardless of what's being edited.

Xara's Shape Eraser Tool

Using the Shape Eraser Tool on simple shapes; bevels and drop shadows update as you erase

Once created, this opacity mask is a little awkward to edit, as it's only possible when you view it in isolation. However, you're not limited to making, deleting or modifying the eraser strokes. The full range of editing tools can be used, from gradient fills to bitmaps. Opacity masks aren't new to this version, but the Shape Eraser Tool provides a more direct way of getting started with them.

The Shape Eraser Tool is a useful addition, but it seems a bit miserly that the Shape Builder Tool, which adds rather than subtracts areas from a shape, is reserved for Xara Designer Pro X (£249 inc VAT). Ultimately, we prefer the Smear, Twirl, Repel and Attract tools recently added to CorelDraw X6, which sculpt vector shapes like putty.

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