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Review: Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7

27 May 2011, Mike Williams

Equipping yourself to deal with all your graphics needs typically requires an entire library of programs: a drawing tool, photo editor, desktop publishing application, web graphics package, Flash animation tool, and so on.

Or alternatively you could just install Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7, which crams all this functionality – and more – into a single,  easy-to-use package.

Would you like to correct a few photos, for instance?  Open the Photos toolbar and you can crop, rotate or resize an image; tweak brightness, contrast, saturation, temperature, blur or sharpness; fix red-eye; adjust levels; apply perspective correction, and more.

You might also get creative with a range of interesting special effects. These are generally very configurable, so for instance there’s only one “turn your photo into a painting” filter, but it allows you to tweak paper, transparency, brush, size, direction and colour, so there’s plenty of scope for variation.  And while there still aren’t that many effects on offer here, support for Photoshop plug-ins means it’s easy to add more whenever you like.

There are several more unusual, smarter functions. Like content-aware scaling, for instance, which allows you resize an image while preserving the proportions of its most important content (you might use this to reduce an empty area of landscape, say, without affecting the people in the image).

And new to this version is the Magic Photo Erase tool, which makes it quick and easy to remove unwanted objects from your photos. Just draw a freehand line around a particular person, say, then click Magic Erase and the program will automatically replace them with a background sampled from the surrounding area.  If the object was in front of a regular geometric pattern – a brick wall – then the results generally aren’t great. If the background is more natural, though, perhaps a field or a beach, then it’s usually recreated well, and on balance this is an excellent addition to the package.

Drawing, design and web work

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 also does well at vector graphics, and in a click or two you can be drawing lines, curves and shapes, with your choice of line styles, brushes, arrow heads and tails, and more.  Support for pressure-sensitive tablets means the width of any line will vary according to the pressure you apply, for a very natural feel.  And your freehand lines can easily be smoothed out after drawing them to produce the look you need.

Your desktop publishing needs are catered for by a good selection of templates in the program’s Designs Gallery: calendars, greetings cards, business stationery (invoices, headers, quotes and so on), CD and DVD covers and labels, photo galleries and more.  There aren’t always a lot of these – the Photo Calendars includes only 5 templates for 2011, 5 more for 2012 – but they’re well-designed, and easy to customise.

Web development tools start with a host of template buttons, icons and headings, which can also be tweaked in a variety of ways. Check the Web Properties of a button, say, and you can define links, pop-up images or layers, mouse-over effects, meta-text and more.

You’re also able to create simple animations, exporting them as GIFs, Flash (SWF) or AVI video files.  These are only basic – you create key frames, the program creates the in-between frames for you – so there’s no support for Flash scripting, embedded audio or movies.  They’re straightforward to create, though, and the animations can be very compact in size.

Or, again, you can choose to work at a higher level, with templates to create attractive Flash photo galleries or full multi-page websites.  There are only five of the latter, and working with them is a little cumbersome, but if you just need to create a quick personal site then they’ll probably be good enough.

Whatever your web project, it can be previewed in a couple of clicks. And the excellent preview window now includes icons for Firefox, Chrome, IE, Opera and Safari (as long as they’re installed on your system), so it’s easy to test your work in all the major browsers before you finish.

Pro edition

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 has no shortage of major features, then. But there are also welcome smaller bonus extras, everywhere you look.

The Bitmap Tracer does a good job of converting bitmaps into editable vector graphics, for instance, making them easier to manipulate.

An excellent 3D extrusion tool makes it easy to convert shapes or text into well-lit, nicely shaded 3D versions. You can take finer control over any object by adding custom shadows, bevels or contours (vector-based so they don’t lose quality if you resize them).  And the already useful PDF, EPS and RAW import filters have been enhanced for this version.

But if you still need more, though, you might want to consider the program’s big brother, Designer Pro.  This adds enhanced website creation, complete with web widgets (interactive goodies like Google Maps, YouTube videos and so on); web-based presentations; liquid flow of text around objects; CMYK and XPS support, and PDF export, amongst others.  It’s considerably more expensive than Photo & Graphic Designer 7 ($299 vs $89), but if your main focus will be on web development then it could be worth the extra cash.

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