Xara Xtreme 4 review

£52
Price when reviewed

When Xara first appeared, back in 1995, it transformed the world of computer-based illustration. What made it revolutionary was that it was the first program fast enough to mix vector and bitmap handling in real time, enabling drawing software to move into new photorealistic and artistic territory.

While it failed to conquer the mainstream, Xara’s sheer speed, and the creative strengths that flow from it, have won the application many loyal fans over the years. So what does this latest release add to the mix?

Xara has always stood out both for its bitmap handling and for its emphasis on interactivity and in Xtreme 4.0 the two are finally brought together in the form of a new interactive Photo tool. In Enhance mode you can use this to quickly change a selected bitmap’s brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness and, Xara being Xara, all changes happen in real time, complete with live histogram feedback. Switch to Clip mode and you can quickly crop your photos and there’s also basic red eye removal. You can even load RAW digital camera files and merge photos to create panoramas.

Without features such as direct pixel manipulation, Xara Xtreme is still a long way away from being a dedicated photo editor, but its rapid and efficient bitmap handling makes it ideal for certain types of creative composition, especially as only one copy of an image is ever embedded in the file and all changes remain live and re-editable. Such non-destructive compositional handling comes into its own when applying bitmap filters to artwork and Xtreme 4.0 now offers over 40 Photoshop plug-ins via its Live Effects tool including new art, colour and deformation options.

Below the Photo tool is another major addition: the Extrude tool. Over the years other drawing apps have added basic 3D capabilities in which you can add apparent depth to vector objects, but it’s always been a complex and laborious process. Now with Xara Xtreme 4.0 you just drag on the object’s edge and it extrudes. Dragging on its fill rotates it around its axis in 3D space and, impressively, all this happens in real time.

Go to the properties bar and you can set a whole host of other parameters such as bevel type and you can also manage lighting in real time. Without features such as sweeping and lathing there’s not the control offered by a dedicated 3D modeller, but Xara Xtreme 4.0’s great achievement is the way it makes the move from 2D to 3D illustration seem so natural. This feeling is reinforced by the way that Xara’s extrusions can be combined with other effects such as bevels and shadows, while live effects such as melt deformations even update as you rotate the object.

Alongside vector and bitmap handling, a design application needs to be able to handle text. For most of its life this has proved Xara’s biggest weakness but the last release finally added most of the necessary core capabilities such as the ability to create column-based layouts. Now, Xtreme 4.0 builds on this platform with improved font handling including enhanced support for unicode and underlining, plus a visual font menu.

Far more impressive and eye-catching, however, are Xara Xtreme’s new live text capabilities. With the new ‘liquid text’ feature you can set objects to repel underlying text, then watch as the text runaround updates in real time as you move the object around. With the new live font preview, selected text updates in real time as your mouse hovers over a font name in the font menu or as you drag on the interactive size slider.

Details

Software subcategory Graphics/design software

Operating system support

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

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