Xara Photo & Graphic Designer is a versatile graphics package which comes packed with editing, illustration and design tools.

A capable photo editor can optimise your image automatically, or gives you full control over brightness, contrast, sharpness, saturation, temperature and more. There are strong core features (crop, resize, fix red-eye, shadow/ highlights adjustments), many advanced tools (content aware zooming, photo healing, bitmap > vector conversion), 60+ built-in Live Effects and Photoshop plugin support, while professional options like layer blending, feathering and vector masking help ensure you get precisely the results you need.

The program's illustration abilities start with a host of shape, line and freehand drawing tools. 3D extrusion means you can drag any shape to create a properly lit and rendered 3D version. You're able to customise the results further with transparency, feathering, shadow, bevel and contour tools, or use the blend tool to blend from one shape to another (just drag and drop). There's a lot to learn, but fortunately editing is easy - even freehand work can be tweaked later.

Text features are impressive. You can position and rotate text as you'd like, make it follow a curved path, apply any of the other effects as required. The desktop publishing-type feel continues in the Designs Gallery, where you'll find templates for calendars, greetings cards, invitations, CD/ DVD covers, more. A bundled clipart library also helps, and powerful print and various export options (including PDF and PSD) make it easy to share your creations with others.

Version 11 brings gorgeous Art Brushes, a new technology which smoothly stretches bitmap or vector brushes in real-time along a freehand path. There are new brushes to emulate paint, chalk or watercolours, or of course you can create your own as required.

Dropbox and Google Drive sync means that if you edit a file on one computer, you can have it automatically updated on all your other Photo & Graphic Designer installations. Which, as a side-effect, means you also get every modified version of the file backed up online, making it easy to revert to some previous edition later.

Elsewhere, you get new shape editing tools, smarter blend mode and transparency types, a "font replace" tool for text documents, improved PDF import/ export, configurable text expansion (type an abbreviation and have it expanded automatically), and more.

Finally, you get two bonus extras from the MAGIX range. Photolooks 2 is a powerful plugin, previously sold for $199, which can create custom colour and lighting effects. And 12 months free access to MAGIX Online Album Premium gives you 100GB online storage space, and your own domain, ready to share your finished creations with the world.

Verdict

A hugely capable design tool which comes packed with high-end features, yet remains generally very easy to use and is amazing value for money.