Professional designers tend to use expensive software packages and these can produce stunning results. But for individuals or small businesses that just need to create flyers or edit the odd photo, they represent overkill and come packed with features which may never get used.
Can a more modestly priced package produce decent results in the hands of average users? Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 11, the latest version of the company’s graphics package costs under £50 and we were keen to see how it measures up.
Installation and features
Installation is straightforward though it’s worth taking the custom option as it allows you to opt out of installing a system clean-up tool. Once up and running you’re presented with a smart interface with grey borders. The main editing space is in the centre and there’s a layers pane to the right.
Editing tools are on the left, select one and it changes the context sensitive toolbar below the file options at the top, colour selection tools are along the bottom. So far, so straightforward, if you’ve used any kind of paint or graphics program before you’ll be on familiar ground. That’s not to say this is a basic offering though, dive into the menus and you’ll find there are plenty of sophisticated options.
New in this version is the ability to create Art Brushes, these let you stretch a vector shape or bitmap along a line to create interesting effects. New blend modes and transparency types offer plenty of opportunity for experiment. Improve text handling adds an auto correct feature, easy replacement of one font with another and the ability to copy styles from other files including imported PDFs.
The text handling makes this a useful tool for designing and experimenting with things like logos and letterheads. There’s a gallery of templates for things like calendars, CD labels, brochures and vouchers if you’re not confident starting from scratch. It’s a good photo editor too, you can easily adjust things like brightness, contrast, colour and so on with slider controls. There’s an automatic enhance mode if you’re feeling lazy though the results from this are a little variable sometimes giving an over exposed look. There’s all the other stuff for fixing photos like red-eye removal, clone tool, cropping, etc. You also get the Photolooks 2 plug-in – previously sold separately – that lets you create your own effects.
Files can be synced via Dropbox and Google Drive allowing you to work on the same task on multiple computers. You can save your work in all of the popular web formats as well as PDF and export directly to Facebook and Flickr.
If you’ve grown beyond the capabilities of free graphics tools but don’t want or need the full fat sophistication of Photoshop then Xara Photo & Graphic designer is a good choice. It’s a competent photo editor, though you’ll get better results experimenting with the settings than using the automatic enhance feature. Text handling features and a selection of standard templates make it a good choice for small businesses who want to produce smart looking documents without the expense of employing a designer.
Photo & Graphic Designer 11 is available for £49.99 and you can give it a go with a trial version from the Xara website.