Xara Photo and Graphic Designer MX 2013 review
New erasing and masking capabilities and text styling add to Xara’s extraordinary creative power
Review Date: 5 Jun 2012
Reviewed By: Tom Arah
Price when reviewed: £58 (£70 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Ease of Use
The name might be a bit of a mouthful, but in the style of the famous Ronseal ads, it leaves you in no doubt as to what the application is all about. As the name clearly spells out, it’s a multipurpose workhorse capable of handling just about any creative project you care to throw at it, from vector-based logo design, to bitmap-based photo enhancement and even multipage desktop publishing projects.
What isn’t so clear from the title is how eye-wateringly quick Xara is. It has the fastest graphics engine in the business, and it was this ability to render advanced vector and bitmap effects in real-time that made Xara stand out when it launched back in 1995.
It’s still the secret of the program’s success today, and it’s clearly demonstrated by the new Shape Eraser tool. This lets you simply drag around the edge of a shape to move the outline inwards, and drag within it to create holes. The beauty of Xara’s processing speed is that the tool remains completely responsive even if the object being edited has complex formatting such as a bevel, drop shadow, graduated transparency, or even all three.
By default the Shape Eraser permanently changes the path of the vector object it’s applied to, but the tool can also work in a very different mode. Using the Softness slider, erase effects can also be applied as an opacity mask. This lets you vary the transparency to produce soft fades, and the best part is that it acts non-destructively, so masks can be removed or fine-tuned at a later date. It also means freeform transparency effects can be applied to objects such as text and bitmaps that themselves remain fully editable.
Painting out areas of an imported bitmap with the Shape Eraser can be handy, but even more useful is the ability to fade out or remove particular colours entirely. This can be done using the Photo tool’s new Colour Select/Erase option, which gives fine control through adding sample points to an image, each of which has its own colour tolerance and fade setting. Being able to manage bitmap transparency like this directly within Xara greatly increases the creative options when working with compositions.
As with the Shape Eraser, the Colour Select/Erase tool has another trick up its sleeve. Rather than erasing a selection, it can instead be turned into a soft mask, and with this done, Xara’s various enhancement controls can be used to change brightness, contrast, saturation and so on. With this latest release, selections can also quickly be recoloured by setting a target hue and strength. It’s another big boost to the creative options on offer.
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