Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7
A useful application that combines image editing, drawing tools, web graphics, Flash animation and desktop publishing.Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 is an update to an application that has been popular in Europe and North America because it combines a suite of useful functions at an affordable price. Providing integrated bitmap and vector handling, it enables users to edit image files, create publications for printing (cards, calendars and photo books for example), develop Flash photo galleries or multi-page websites and produce simple animations for exporting as GIFs, SWF or AVI video files. . . [more]
Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 is an update to an application that has been popular in Europe and North America because it combines a suite of useful functions at an affordable price. Providing integrated bitmap and vector handling, it enables users to edit image files, create publications for printing (cards, calendars and photo books for example), develop Flash photo galleries or multi-page websites and produce simple animations for exporting as GIFs, SWF or AVI video files.
This application first appeared for Windows 15 years ago but Version 7 has been significantly updated with an improved workspace, tabbed document windows, context-sensitive commands and a new gallery system containing flyout panels that open as the mouse pointer is passed across a gallery bar and can be docked and grouped to suit users’ needs. Flyout bars are also used to group some tools together.
At heart, Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 is an illustration package with some image editing capabilities, rather the reverse. As such, its main competitors appear to be CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator, both of which are more expensive. Photographers looking for a desktop publishing program with good text handling and basic image editing plus the ability to create basic websites and animations should find it worth a look.
The program applies edits non-destructively, making it easy to undo changes to photos, even if they have been saved. It works by tracking all edits performed and saving details in a Master file. When you open the image again, these edits are re-created from the original master, enabling you to make further adjustments without changing your original shot.
The user interface is reasonably intuitive, although it can take you a while to find some controls, particularly when you’re not sure which tool icon contains them. A well-stocked Help section is accessible but its search facilities aren’t particularly good so you must be clear about the information you require. Clicking on the Help tag opens a drop-down menu listing all topics covered. This is usually the fastest way to find specific topics.
Image Editing Controls
When you open an image file, it’s automatically sized to be 500 pixels wide for you to work on. This speeds up adjustments quite dramatically. However, the program always stores the full resolution image unless you chose to import reduced resolution images when asked during import.
The image editing tools are pretty basic and split between the toolbar above the main document window and the left sidebar. Slider adjustments are provided for brightness, contrast, saturation and colour balance, along with a sharpening tool and a button that lets you compare the changes you’ve made with the original image. Clicking this button switches the effect on and off.
The editing tools are circled in red in this screen grab.
The final button is a histogram, which acts a bit like a combined Levels and Curves control. You can adjust brightness and contrast with sliders on the baseline of the graph and control contrast by manipulating the shape of the curve.
Using the histogram to change image brightness and contrast.
The photo editing tool in the left sidebar, provides various ways to enhance and crop images. The flyout bar carries tools for cropping, cloning, red-eye removal, content-aware resizing, brightness levels adjustment, panorama creation, perspective correction and an Exif metadata display.
Perspective correction: the top shows the original image, while below it is the result of perspective correction in Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7.
Other tools in this strip include the selector tool, drawing tools, shapes (rectangle, ellipse and ‘star’), the text tool, fill tool, shadow tool, bevel tool, plug-in, 3D, zoom and mask. Each tool has its own flyout sub-menu.
The masking tool enables you to select part of an image to work on. The mask is shown as a pink semi-transparent layer. You can draw shapes onto the mask to mark areas for working on or areas that need to be protected.
We weren’t able to find dodging and burning-in tools and no eraser was provided. If you want to lighten or darken an area, the mask mode provides the only option – and you can’t feather the mask. No ‘healing’ tools appear to be included, either.
Using the masking tool to isolate an area requiring brightness adjustment.
However, you can use the cloning tool and its ‘magic erase’ function to replace unwanted objects within a selected area. Simply draw a freehand line around the area you want to erase and either select an area to replace it with or click the magic erase button in the clone tool info-bar and the program will do it for you.
Using the clone tool to replace an unwanted object.
You can use all the normal drawing tools on the selected shapes on the mask layer and adjust the mask shape outline with Freehand and Shape Editor tools. Clicking anywhere on the non-pink parts of a picture will select the objects under the mask. Deleting objects from the mask simply requires a click anywhere on the pink area then pressing the Delete key.
Photo Groups are made up of a base photo object plus any number of other objects on top. They are used to keep a photo together with one or more vector objects which modify it in some way. For example, if edit a photo with the red eye removal tool, the result is a Photo Group containing the photo plus the elliptical shapes that remove the red eye effects. Usually Photo Groups also have a ClipView around them, which clips all objects in the group to the bounds of the base photo.
ClipView lets you use a shape as a ‘window’ that reveals only those parts of the object it contains. You can select the whole collection, just the clipping object or the objects being clipped and feather the edges of the selections to produce a soft edge.
Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 also provides stretching and squashing tools, along with skewing controls that can be applied to photos or other objects. There’s even a warping tool, tagged the Mold tool, which can be used for ‘perspectivising’ (rotating in three dimensions) and ‘enveloping’ (like distorting a rubber sheet).
The Screen Capture utility lets you use the Print screen button to capture f the whole screen to the clipboard. A dialog box lets you choose how much to capture: the full screen, the active window in its entirety, or just the content of the active window without the window border. You can also specify whether the mouse pointer is included in the screenshot and how to handle the captured screen image.
You can also create 3D framing effects for photos with the 3D Extrude tool. Simply import the image and use the 3D tool then use the Extrude depth and shape settings on the top toolbar to set the width and shape of the frame. Drag the image to rotate it and then use Ctrl-Drag or Shift-Drag to alter the bevel depth and Alt-Drag to rotate the extrusion.
3D framing effects.
The drawing tools include support for pressure-sensitive tablets, which lets you vary the width of any line according to the pressure you apply. In addition, freehand lines can be smoothed out after drawing them to eliminate irregularities and produce the look you need.
Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 allows you to paste text from the system clipboard and access a range of text tools for spell-checking as you type, adjusting font size, type and colours and creating new text objects and bullet and numbered lists. There are three types of text object: a single line of text, a column of text or a rectangular text area.
When you click on the Text icon in the side toolbar, the program provides a generous array of fonts to choose from. To enter text you must first create a text area. Then you can type or paste the text into it. The text editor also lets you adjust the size of text areas by clicking on a corner and dragging diagonally.
Within a text area you can make text flow around the object with the repel text tool and apply soft shadows, graduated colour fills and transparency to text. If you want a graphical object to appear next to a particular part of a block of text, you can anchor the object to the text so it moves with it.
The program comes with a suite of pre-set templates covering different types of publications, such as photo albums and collages, calendars, greeting cards, brochures and newspapers, business cards and letters, CD/DVD covers, certificates and vouchers, scrapbooks, presentations, photo frames and animated banners. Templates for text panels and clip art are also provided, along with royalty-free photos to use in publications.
A photo album template shown with the font dropdown menu on the left side of the screen.
Most of these templates are reasonably attractive, although we didn’t find any truly innovative or eye-catching designs. Fortunately, they can all be customised through various editing controls in the software.
Changing the background colour of a text box for a calendar produced using one of the application’s templates.
Xara Photo & Graphic Designer stores the character shapes of all the fonts used in your document. This means if you give someone else your web file, or transfer the file to another computer they will see exactly what you see, even if the correct fonts are not installed on that computer. For commercial printing, Xara can output to both PDF and EPS and multi-page output is supported.
With the ability to export HTML and CSS-based files, Xara Photo & Graphic Designer can also be used for creating basic, self-contained multi-page websites. A range of templates is provided, including some suitable for use by photographers. They provide pre-set buttons and icons plus headings and you can define links, pop-up images or layers, mouse-over effects and meta-text.
Two examples of website templates from Xara Photo & Graphic Designer. In the top example, the original design is retained and the images have been replaced. In the lower example, the design is in the process of being customised.
You can also create simple animations and export them as GIFs, Flash (SWF) or AVI video files. Although there’s no support for Flash scripting, embedded audio or video, there are a few templates for producing Flash photo galleries. These can be previewed with a couple of mouse clicks and you can see how they will appear in all the major browsers (provided they’re installed on your system).
There’s a lot to like in Xara Photo & Graphic Designer and, for anyone requiring a versatile, general-purpose package for drawing, publishing and website creation that also includes some photo editing tools should find it meets their needs. If you’re looking for a dedicated image editor, however, you would be better served by Adobe’s Photoshop Elements (the latest version of which we will be reviewing shortly) or another similar application.
Systems compatibility: Windows XP, Vista and 7 (32- and 64-bit editions)
Disk space requirement: 400MB
Minimum RAM: 256MB
Display requirements: 1024 x 768 dot resolution
Computer interface: Internet access for integrated online services and video tutorials (Up-to-date browser required.)
Languages: English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Polish
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Rating (out of 10):
- Features: 8.5
- Interface Design: 8.0
- Versatility: 9.0
- Ease of Use: 8.0
- OVERALL: 8.5