Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review

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Xara Photo & Graphic Designer has been available in various guises for almost 20 years. Although it isn’t as well-known as its Adobe- and Corel-branded rivals, this is a design package that deserves to be taken seriously.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review: features

Its greatest strength is its speed of operation. Whether it’s auditioning fonts, colour-correcting photos, warping vector graphics or positioning virtual lights to 3D shapes, the workspace updates instantaneously and constantly as adjustments are made. It doesn’t have the depth of features of its pricier rivals, but with a solid set of vector-graphics and bitmap-editing tools, plus basic desktop publishing and web design abilities thrown in for good measure, there aren’t many design tasks that are beyond its reach.

Its vector-drawing features have felt a bit neglected in recent updates, so it’s great to see them getting some attention in version 10. There’s a new Insert menu that’s home to various new features. SmartShapes is the collective name for a variety of arrows, pie segments, text boxes and speech bubbles, all of which dispense with conventional Bézier curve controls to provide more contextual editing controls. For example, arrows have handles to adjust their start and end points, width, head size and centre point, with the latter producing curved arrow shapes. The pie segment shape includes handles to move either or both of the radius lines, and to resize around the centre of the circle, rather than the centre of the resulting shape. The text panels and speech bubbles resize automatically to fit the text; the latter also include handles for the size, shape and position of their tails.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review

These simple tools make common tasks much simpler and quicker than before. In previous versions, making a pie segment involved creating a circle, drawing a triangle over the top, painstakingly lining them up and using the Subtract Shapes command to create the shape required. We’d have liked an option to enter specific angles in the pie segment shape, and to have a few more templates for the text panels and speech bubbles, but it’s a great start.

The Insert menu also includes Font Awesome symbols, a set of 439 icons covering video transport and page navigation buttons, brand icons and a host of other symbols that should help to make web, app and print design projects look bang up to date.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review: Content Catalogue

The other new feature nestling in the Insert menu is the Content Catalogue, a cloud-based version of the Design Gallery that was included with previous versions. Annoyingly, the Design Gallery’s (admittedly clumsy) search facility has disappeared completely in the Content Catalogue, leaving users to browse by category. It’s also disappointing that the content is unchanged; the 3,000 vector clip-art images don’t cover a huge amount of ground – searching for common terms often drew a blank. Besides, most of the images would look more at home in a parish newsletter than a professional design project. Still, we’re hopeful that the selection and quality on offer will steadily improve now that it’s hosted online.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review

Photo editing is another key part of this package. The implementation is more in keeping with desktop-publishing software than dedicated bitmap editors: photos are imported into a page-based project and subjected to a range of effects and editing tools, which are applied non-destructively and so can be altered or undone at any time.

Colour correction now includes Shadow and Highlight controls for bringing out details in the darkest and brightest parts of photos. It’s also possible to apply colour correction to a limited range of colours. Tolerance and Fade controls help to create precise masks. When it proved difficult to limit the effect to the desired area, we were able to combine colour-based masking with the existing lasso and marquee mask tools to isolate complex shapes quickly and precisely.

Xara now bundles a copy of Magic Bullet PhotoLooks 2, a suite of sophisticated filters that specialise in creative colour processing, blurs and glows. Think of it as an upmarket version of Instagram filters. There are 108 stylish presets, plus full control over dozens of individual filter modules.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review

It’s a valuable addition, but performance takes a hit. Applying the plug-in took anything from 10 to 30 seconds, depending on the size of the photo and complexity of the effect. We were able to move and resize processed photos without further delays, but undoing these actions, cropping the image or using the native colour-correction controls resulted in further lengthy delays while the plug-in was reapplied.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 review: verdict

Xara’s non-destructive photo workflow is welcome, but the desktop-publishing approach means it’s not ideally suited to working with bitmap images that need to be opened, edited and saved in their native format and resolution. This, and the relatively basic handling of RAW files, mean we’d prefer to stick to a dedicated image editor such as Adobe Photoshop Elements for some tasks. However, Photoshop Elements and Xara Photo & Graphic Designer slot together to form an extremely capable graphic design suite, and for a fraction of the price of Adobe and Corel’s professional packages. For a mere £70, Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 10 is an absolute bargain.


Software subcategoryPhoto editing software

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