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Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review

Xara Photolooks
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £70
inc VAT

A valuable update to an excellent editor that’s ideal for designers on a budget


OS Support: Windows XP/Vista/7/8/8.1, Minimum CPU: Intel Celeron, Minimum GPU: N/A, Minimum RAM: 500MB, Hard disk space: 300MB

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer is a graphic design application that brings together vector illustration, photo editing and desktop publishing in a friendly, home-oriented interface. It can’t match the power of dedicated applications such as Corel Draw or Adobe Photoshop, but we always appreciate software that does a simple job well. Xara is well equipped for a wide range of design projects including logos, flyers, posters, newsletters, web graphics and video overlays.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10’s best asset is its responsive performance. Designs adapt instantly as controls are adjusted instead of after they’ve been adjusted, which makes editing extremely quick and intuitive. The uncluttered interface and low price makes it much more appealing for home users than most rival packages.

The most impressive new feature is a bundled third-party plug-in called Red Giant PhotoLooks 2. It uses a range of colour correction filters, blurs, flares and tints to give digital photos a film-like quality, and the results are polished and atmospheric. We’ve seen this plug-in included with video-editing software, but only as a cut-down version with limited scope to customise the presets. This one allows full control, including creating chains of filters from scratch.

Xara Photolooks

^ The PhotoLooks plug-in pushes the boundaries for stylish photo effects, and there’s a huge amount of editing precision

There are drawbacks, though. For one thing, the plug-in wasn’t installed when we downloaded the demo of Photo & Graphic Designer and then entered our serial number. It only became available after installation by heading to the Help menu and selecting Download content installer. It’s almost as if Xara doesn’t want users to find this new feature.

The plug-in also took a toll on performance. It was quick to adjust settings in the pop-up editor, but it took around 10 seconds to apply the effect to a 16-megapixel photo. When we subsequently cropped the photo the effect had to be applied again, which resulted in another 10-second wait. Cropping sometimes changed the appearance of the effect, as the centre points of vignette and selective focus filters were moved. We were able to move, duplicate and resize processed photos without delay, but undoing these actions resulted in further waits. It’s great that all photo edits are applied non-destructively, as it means they can be tweaked or reversed at any time. However, it looks like the underlying data management could be better here.

The new Shadow and Highlight controls are simpler, with sliders to boost the darkest parts of rein in the brightest parts of photos. It successfully brought out the details in bright clouds and dark undergrowth without making the photo look over-processed. Along with various existing colour-correction controls, it’s a fast, effective set of tools for improving photos. It was already possible to colour correct a limited area of a photo by defining a mask. Now it’s also possible restrict changes to a narrow range of colours; to change flowers from red to yellow or to reduce the brightness or saturation of a garish coat, for example. Using both the spatial and colour-based masking in tandem makes it easy to isolate and colour-correct complex-shaped objects in a photo.

^ Isolate colours in a photo and apply colour correction just to those areas

The panorama stitching tool has been updated, and it no longer requires photos to be sorted into the correct order first. It had no problem stitching our four-by-two grid of photos but it can’t handle more than eight. Export is a little clumsy, as it’s hard to know what export resolution to use to match the source photos. We recommend using the free Microsoft Image Composite Editor instead, as it’s more flexible and can handle hundreds of photos for gigapixel panoramas.

^ Panorama stitching is a single-click affair. We’ve also used the Highlights control here to bring out the details in the clouds.

There’s also a new Insert menu for adding pages and various content to a document. This includes SmartShapes, a collection of vector graphics that come with handles to vary their shape in more sophisticated ways than via the usual vector drawing controls. For example, arrows include handles for their start and end points, thickness, head size and a central point to create curved arrows. Pie Segment makes it easy to create segments of a circle. The various text boxes and speech bubbles automatically resize to fit the text contained within.

^ SmartShapes provide handy shortcuts to creating vector graphics such as curved arrows, speech bubbles and pie charts.

The Insert menu also includes an option called Font Awesome Symbol, a collection of simple icons that are perfect for web graphics and app design. They include 252 generic symbols such as a speaker, power and home icon, plus 81 brand icons including YouTube, Twitter, Android and Windows.

^ Font Awesome Symbols include lots of icons commonly used for websites and apps.

Previous updates have tended to focus on new photo editing tools, but this time there’s more of a balance. The SmartShapes and Font Awesome Symbols aren’t particularly sophisticated in themselves, but these are exactly the kinds of features we can imagine using all the time. There’s still room for improvement here and there. We wish it was easier to search the Design Gallery that houses clip-art, and the Object Alignment dialog box is fiddly to use. We’d love to see something along the lines of CorelDraw’s Smear tool for modifying the shape of vector graphics using brush strokes. In practice, though, Xara’s superior performance is just as valuable. With a vastly lower price, it’s the obvious choice for home users who want to produce professional-looking designs.

System requirements
OS SupportWindows XP/Vista/7/8/8.1
Minimum CPUIntel Celeron
Minimum GPUN/A
Minimum RAM500MB
Hard disk space300MB
Buying information
Price including VAT£70

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