Xara Photo And Graphic Designer MX 2013

10/18/2012 3:37:19 PM

New erasing and masking capabilities add to Xara’s extraordinary creative power. It’s an incredible bargain for occasional designers.

Price: $89 - Upgrade $45


The name might be a bit of a mouthful, but it leaves you in no doubt as to what Xara is all about. It’s a workhorse capable of handling any project you throw at it, from vector-based logo design, to bitmap-based photo enhancement and multipage desktop publishing projects.

What isn’t so clear from the clunky title is just how eye-wateringly quick Xara is in practice. It has the fastest graphics engine in the business, and it was this ability to render advanced vector and bitmap effects in real-time that made Xara stand out when it launched in 1995.

Description: New erasing and masking capabilities add to Xara’s extraordinary creative power.

New erasing and masking capabilities add to Xara’s extraordinary creative power.

It’s still the secret of the program’s success today, and it’s demonstrated by the new Shape Eraser toot. This lets you drag around the edge of a shape to move its outline inwards, and drag within it to create holes. The beauty of the speed is that the tool is responsive even if the object has complex formatting such as a bevel, drop shadow, graduated transparency, or even all three.

The Shape Eraser permanently changes the path of the vector object it’s applied to, but the tool can also work in a very different mode. Using the Softness slider, erase effects can also be applied as an opacity mask. This lets you vary the transparency to produce soft fades, and the best port is that it acts non-destructively, so masks can be removed or fine-tuned later. It means freeform transparency effects can be applied to objects such as text and bitmaps that themselves remain fully editable.

Painting out areas of an imported bitmap with the Shape Eraser can be handy, but even more useful is the option to fade out or remove specific colours. This can be done using the Photo tool’s new Colour Select/Erase option, which gives fine control through adding sample points to an image, each of which has its own colour tolerance and fade setting. Being able to manage bitmap transparency in such a way directly within Xara greatly increases your creative options.

The Colour Select/Erase tool has another trick up its sleeve. Rather than erasing a selection, it can be turned into a soft mask, and Xara’s various enhancement controls can be used to change brightness, contrast, saturation and so on. With this latest release, selections can also quickly be recoloured by setting a target hue and strength. It’s another big boost to the creative options on offer.

Improved publishing

The new Xara also significantly improves its handling of text-based publications. First, the Designs Gallery provides a wider range of templates and clip-art, all server-based and regularly updated. The Pages and Layers gallery has been enhanced so you can select more than one page tar copying, deleting and reordering. Using the Text tool, objects can be pasted into your text flow as inline graphics.

On the text front, the highlight is Xara’s style-based handling. Previously, each paragraph had to be formatted individually; now styles can be used to apply consistent formatting quickly. Change the formatting, then update the style and all similar paragraphs will be updated. There isn’t the precision of a publishing program, but it’s fast and effective, especially as Xara uses its speed to offer live previews.

Description: The new Xara also significantly improves its handling of text-based publications.

The new Xara also significantly improves its handling of text-based publications.

For those looking for even more power than what is on offer with the standard software package, Xara provides Xara Designer Pro X (US $299), which builds on the standard version with advanced capabilities such as support for multicore processors, colour separation and PDF/X export. This new version of the software also adds updated Pantone libraries and a Shape Builder tool, which is essentially the reverse of the Shape Eraser, allowing you to paint on an existing shape to enlarge it.

These days, the main focus of Designer Pro is web design and this sees a number of advances. Before, the position of elements on o page had to be adjusted as you added or edited text, but now the page can be set to automatically lengthen, with expanding text areas pushing down other objects. Fonts can be embedded for display in most browsers, and there are widgets for handling charts and MP3s, and all the JovaScript-based widgets are resizable.

Xara Designer Pro X provides all you need to create not only design- intensive commercial print but websites as well. It’s impressive integrated power, but we still feel uncomfortable with the whole idea of a code-free web-authoring package. For occasional designers and those focusing on graphics, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer MX 2013 provides the same extraordinary creative engine as Designer Pro and even more extraordinary value.

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