Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 review

Price when reviewed

Xara has been a little-known design secret for 15 years, offering exceptional speed, power and value for money. The main problem recently has been that the program looked its age. At last the embarrassingly shareware-style 90’s interface has gone and, with an attractive dark-grey theme, newly-designed icons, flyout tool choices and dockable panels, the renamed Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6 (XPGD 6) looks as well as acts the part.

The biggest practical change to the interface is seen in XPGD 6’s replacement of the former Objects gallery with the new Page and Layer Gallery. As its name suggests this now provides hierarchical page and layer-based handling, complete with thumbnail views of all objects. The gallery also offers a new Solo mode that lets you quickly isolate objects, groups or layers to work with.

When it comes to drawing power, Xara’s core strength has always been its amazing speed. This makes it a snap to work with incredibly complex drawings, but it also helps in common tasks. In particular it makes it possible to work interactively and in real time with advanced effects such as graduated transparency, bevelling, 3D and now fully-live blends.

Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 6

This interactive real time handling is extended this time around to include the most basic and important task of all: adding shapes and paths. In rivals such as Illustrator and CorelDRAW, objects and paths are indicated as wireframes as you draw them and are then formatted when you release the mouse. With XPGD 6, objects are filled and paths are stroked as you add them.

The difference this approach makes is striking, especially as there’s now reworked support for pressure-sensitive tablets, enabling live, solid, variable-width rendering of creative brush strokes as you draw them. Xara now also offers another very effective route to real-time formatting. Simply select an existing object or path and you’ll be able to automatically apply its formatting to the next object you draw.

Other enhancements to Xara’s core vector handling include a new sketch mode that turns off automatic line joining, a dedicated Straight Line tool with advanced arrowhead support, some tweaks to node editing and a tracing mode that automatically follows the outlines of high-contrast objects in underlying images. The Text tool has also been enhanced with support for bullets, numbered lists and indents, as well as find-and-replace. And you can now apply powerful vector-based opacity masks through simple cut-and-paste.

Bitmap handling

These are all major advances, but the changes to Xara’s bitmap handling are even more significant. Again, Xara’s sheer speed comes to the fore here, allowing the program to deal with artwork containing multiple copies of high-resolution images that would reduce rivals to a crawl. However, there’s no point dealing with more resolution than necessary, so you can now automatically resize images down on import and optionally optimize them at 1:1 when your layout is finalised.


Software subcategoryGraphics/design software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?yes

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