Xara Xtreme Pro review

£199
Price when reviewed
Xara has always stood out for the astonishing speed of its vector handling, as well as the sheer hands-on creativity this enables. On top of this, in its last release the price was slashed to ensure it also provided astonishing value. However, the new Xtreme Pro sees a move into high-end territory and the original price restored.

For your money, Xtreme Pro now supports multipage documents. Hidden at the bottom of the Edit menu is a New Page command, which lets you navigate between pages using the up and down arrows in the status bar. There are no advanced options, such as the ability to set up master pages, but you can create double-page spreads and reorder pages with ease. You can also quickly duplicate the existing page or spread.

Multiple pages aren’t just useful for experimenting; they’re essential if you want to produce print-based publications. That’s why Xtreme Pro’s Text tool has been enhanced, with new ruler-based control over margins, tabs and indents, plus the ability to link textboxes to create column-based layouts. Xara claims this “brings Xtreme Pro into the DTP arena”, which is true to an extent. However, without key features such as master pages, text runaround and style-based formatting, it can’t realistically compete with dedicated DTP apps. On the other hand, the ability to apply a drop shadow, graduated transparency, or both, to your text in real-time is impressive.

As well as opening up new print-based opportunities, Xtreme Pro offers new Flash-based animation capabilities. Don’t get too excited, though: to begin with, Xtreme Pro makes no attempt to support the advanced features that make Flash stand out, such as audio, video and scripting. Moreover, the Flash SWF format doesn’t support those features that make Xara’s graphics stand out, such as brush strokes, feathering and advanced fills.

But while Xtreme Pro’s Flash output is inherently simple, sadly the same can’t be said for the process of achieving it. Rather than taking the opportunity for a fresh start, Xara has chosen to extend Xtreme’s existing awkward frame-based animated GIF capabilities – and made them more awkward still. In particular, to set up automated tweens you need to explicitly name those elements you intend to animate, copy the frame they’re on, then control the frame properties if you want your tween to take anything other than the default half second. Notable omissions include any way to create non-uniform, non-linear animations or to choreograph multiple effects. There’s no internal preview either. Work within its limitations and it’s possible to create, say, a simple Flash-based banner ad with Xtreme Pro, but it’s unlikely you’ll do this more than once.

Ultimately, Xtreme Pro’s new Flash output proves less than professional, which puts the focus back onto print. Here, Xtreme Pro’s high-end push is based on bringing back capabilities that were dropped in the bargain-basement Xtreme release. In particular, the support for Pantone colour libraries has been reintroduced, along with the ability to print colour separations and to view the individual colour plates onscreen.

Handling separations locally like this is useful for proofing, but nowadays most colour-separated commercial print is output from PDF-based digital masters. Here, Xtreme Pro’s revamped PDF capability comes into its own, most notably in terms of full PDF/X prepress support. Xtreme Pro’s PDF exporter also now offers full vector transparency support, giving PDF another role as the natural exchange format when taking images into Illustrator. Alternatively, Xtreme Pro can now export to layered PSD format for further Photoshop processing, and both PDF and layered PSD files can now be imported as well as exported.

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