Still excels for speed of use, but the new features aren't as polished as existing ones
We’ve been fans of Xara’s graphic-design software for many years. It started life as a simple, elegant and incredibly responsive vector-drawing program, offering similar tools to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw but with a shallower learning curve and a lower price. Successive updates have seen it expand to incorporate photo-editing and desktop-publishing functions. It can’t compete with Photoshop or InDesign, but its low-cost, all-in-one approach makes sense for home users who want to design web graphics, logos, diagrams and printed documents.
Photo editing has been the main focus for development in recent updates, and the same applies to version 9. The new Photo Heal tool works in a similar way to Photoshop Elements’ Content-Aware Fill, and lets the user define unwanted objects in a photo using brush strokes. The software then automatically clones from other parts of the photo to cover the unwanted area. As with Photoshop Elements’ implementation, its success depends heavily on the source material. Irregular textures such as vegetation worked pretty well, but it failed to make sense of more recognisable items such as animals, people and man-made objects. Unlike Photoshop Elements, it also had a tendency to create vague smudges with considerably less detail than the rest of the photo. Besides, the Magic Erase feature introduced in version 7 (Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 review) does almost exactly the same job but also includes options to feather the selected area and specify the source area for the clone. It tended to give better results.
The Lomo effect gives vintage colours with a single click
There are 11 new photo effects, including trendy vintage filters such as Orton and Lomo, a Fake HDR effect for accentuating contrast and a curious Little Planet effect that wraps a photo in on itself to create a sphere hanging in space. The ability to customise these effects is limited, though, with just a single slider for each one. That’s fine for the simpler effects, such as Sepia, but others felt restricted.
The Little Planet effect lives up to its name
As an example, the Colour Splash effect creates a greyscale image but preserves just one colour. That colour is selected using the slider, but a colour range width and a feather control would have given much better control, and produced more elegant results. The Tilt Shift effect for blurring the top and bottom of the frame let us define the width of the sharp central area, but it lacks any control over the blur strength. It’s also disappointing that this effect fades between sharp and blurred versions of the image rather than using a progressively stronger blur. Tilt Shift and a few of the other new effects were slow to update as we adjusted the slider. Perhaps that’s forgivable considering the complexity of these effects, but Xara has previously always managed to deliver lightning fast performance throughout the software.