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Xara Photo & Graphic Designer: The $89 Photoshop-Killer?

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer ($89, seven-day free trial) is an all-in-one tool that can edit photos, 2D and 3D graphics, animation, text, and page layouts--for online or print media--seamlessly, without switching programs.

At first glance, Photo & Graphic Designer seems like a program with a bit of an identity crisis: Is it intended for a novice home user to whip up basic page layouts using adapted templates, or a professional illustrator who's creating detailed artwork from scratch? Xara's Photo & Graphic Designer unexpectedly hits the mark for both the novice and the power user.

The seven-day trial incorporates all of the features of the $89 program without the add-on content pack that includes 281.12 MB of clipart; royalty-free photographs; and templates for brochures, business cards, CD labels, calendars, certificates, greeting cards, photo albums, presentations, scrapbooks, animated banners, Web pages, and more. Most of the content pack templates are geared to the novice user, and indeed they are simple to manipulate: Add your own text and graphics, and publish as your own.

For more experienced users, the page layout aspect of Photo & Graphic Designer can seem a little lacking at first. After all, where are all the complicated settings and technical names for things? When manipulating text, Photo & Graphic Designer works somewhat more like a word processing program than a typical page layout program like InDesign or Quark does. For example, leading has been renamed to "line spacing"; and paragraph indents are set using a sliding triangle on the ruler rather than a number attribute in a dialog box. Layers are semi-automated, but they're a little counter-intuitive, especially to an Adobe user. That said, most of the features you'd find in InDesign are here, with the exception of support for PANTONE® and CMYK color separation. Print design gurus may want to look at Xara Designer Pro 7 for these, and a few other high-end power-user features.

Directly comparing Photo & Graphic Designer's photo editing tools with Adobe Photoshop, the industry standard, leaves Adobe in a cloud of dust wondering what hit them. There are a few things to learn; it's difficult to find basic commands like rotate and resize if you're used to looking in the menus rather than on Xara's infobar; and Xara's focus on the novice sometimes gets in the way of doing things manually, easily. But whether you're a novice using the automated tools, or an expert doing pro-image manipulation, Photo & Graphic Designer really shines. For a novice, seamlessly blurring a chosen area of your image takes three mouse clicks; red-eye removal is a preset transparent circle that you place over the red part of the eye; you can even automatically correct perspective and "magically erase" parts of your photo, although the results vary widely from useable to poor depending on the image you start with. For a pro, Xara Photo & Graphic Designer does everything Photoshop can do, often with many fewer steps involved.

All the features of Xara Web Designer 7 are incorporated into Photo & Graphic Designer, including templates, widget support, and hosting. Again for the power-user, some of the higher end features like navbar and popup creation, webinar and Web presentation support, and sitemaps are missing, but are included in Xara Designer Pro 7.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer's coups de grâce, however, are the addition of standards like repeating items--regardless of whether you're designing for print or Web, placing text, images, or graphic elements in the same place on the same page every time involves one right click of the mouse--and automatically saving a native .XAR file, your original (untouched) image, as well as your exported .PDF, .HTML, .JPG, or .PNG files. Frankly, it's just smart, and the more I use Xara Photo & Graphic Designer, the more features I discover and the more I love the program, whether I'm creating a logo, manipulating images for a website, or preparing a print brochure for a client.

If you are considering splashing out about $1,000 on Adobe Creative Suite Standard (Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign bundled) or pretty much any other photo editor, illustrator, or page layout program, try out Xara's Photo & Graphic Designer first. The staggeringly affordable Photo & Graphic Designer is worth your time and the price of a few antacids while you learn. Plus, with $910 change in your pocket, you may never look back.

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