Xara Designer Pro X9 review
A considerable refinement of an already excellent all-round design package – a tempting alternative to Adobe’s all-powerful CC suite
Review Date: 3 Sep 2013
Reviewed By: Tom Arah
Price when reviewed: £195 (£234 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Ease of Use
Whether you're into photo editing, vector illustration, page layout or web design there's one name that dominates: Adobe. However there is an excellent all-round alternative to the Adobe flagships that is generally, and shamefully, overlooked - Xara Designer Pro.
What makes Xara Designer Pro (XDP) stand out is its extraordinary graphics engine that enables allows users to freely combine object-based drawing control with pixel-based creativity within a multi-page environment, and manipulate it in real time. In the latest X9 release, there's little in the way of new drawing capabilities, so the focus is on boosting bitmap power, starting with improved JPEG processing and an optional 64-bit version for superior handling of photo-heavy compositions.
Also new are the Photo Region and Masking tools that let you quickly mark up areas of an imported bitmap that you want to edit or preserve. In fact, the previous X release already offered much of this power, but the new approach is more intuitive and accessible.
It's also designed to work with a new Erase Background command, which lets you quickly rough out areas of a photo you want to keep and those you want to lose, and then intelligently creates a mask accordingly. Being able to create reasonably sophisticated cutouts like this directly within XDP greatly boosts productivity when working on photographic compositions.
Once you've isolated the region that you want to work with, it can be enhanced, say by changing brightness or hue or manipulating levels, with the various flyout options available from XDP's Photo tool. A useful new option here is the Photo Heal tool, which in a similar fashion to Photoshop's Magic Erase, allows the quick removal of blemishes and spots. Again, you could probably have achieved similar results with XDP's existing Clone tool, but X9 makes the process simpler and quicker.
X9 also sees some significant reorganisation with the previously separate Live Effects tool, now rolled in as another Photo tool flyout, complete with an extended range of non-destructive filters including sepia and thermal imaging effects. However, the additions are a mixed bag at best and with just one slider to control each effect they are unlikely to see serious use. If you're using the new 64-bit version this isn't even an option as only 32-bit filters are supported.
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