Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX 2013, formerly known as Xara Xtreme, is a multi-faceted application that offers photo/bitmap and vector image editing, as well as some text and page layout tools for DTP tasks.  

Xara’s attractive Swiss-army knife approach is matched by affordable pricing, particularly as it has a number of existing tools that compare favourably with those found in the more recent versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite applications. More software reviews.

New in this edition is the Color Select/Erase tool, which as the name suggests can select or erase (make transparent) parts of photos based on colours. Because natural objects are seldom the same overall colour this isn’t a one-shot process – you’ll need to make a few selections using the tool to cover all shades and hues of your target colour.  

Helpfully multiple markers can be positioned on the image and then moved (or deleted) if the selection begins to bleed into unwanted surrounding areas. You can then click to delete the selected area or use the ‘Make Soft Mask’ button to restrict subsequent adjustments made using the Enhance Photos tool (such as brightness or blur and so on) to affect only those selected areas.  

It thus offers an effective and quick method of selection without the need for messing about with colour channels; but we did encounter a couple of program crashes while using this function. 

The Soft Mask and Color Select tools also let you tint selected parts of the image by using the new hue adjustment feature, another timesaver, which offers a colour palette and strength slider for controlling the effect in real time. 

In another new feature, the Magic Erase button allows for ‘content-aware’ cloning, offering a way of patching an area using surrounding material (an effect similar to Xara’s existing content-aware scaling).  

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX 2013: Color Select/Erase

The selection markers for the Color Select/Erase tool can be resized by dragging on their arrows and the spread of the selection can be adjusted using the Color Tolerance and Fade slider

It’s very quick and effective, so much so that if you’re moving in the direction of a Photoshop upgrade, consider this as a cost effective (and compatible) alternative to some of those new content-aware features.

The Eraser itself has an interesting set of abilities when it comes to vector objects. With the Softness setting at zero you can use it as a hard-edged eraser to nudge the outline of the vector shape inwards, or by swiping it across an object you can create two separate shapes - clicking and holding the mouse on an object will punch a self-contained hole object in it.

Increase the softness setting and you can make the edge of an object transparent, with the slider value determining how soft the edge will be.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX 2013: Soft Erase of vector shapes

The non-destructive vector-based Soft Erase function means you can, for example, still edit text or adjust a 3D extrusion, after the erase has been applied. The affected object becomes an 'Opacity Mask Group' in the Page & Layer gallery, where eraser shapes can also be further edited

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX 2013: Text support

Text support is further enhanced with the introduction of Text Styles. This ability to apply consistent text formatting is a fairly standard feature of modern DTP packages, so it’s surprising that it’s taken Xara this long to implement it. Nevertheless it’s a welcome addition, as are the live previews that present how selected text would look as you mouse over the list of styles in the menu. 

There are some web-based features too, such as increased integration with Adobe Dreamweaver for round-trip editing of images and an enhanced ability to import content from a web page.

The improvements here concern the reproduction and positioning of graphics and text, and the result is pretty faithful, although due to copyright laws this might be of limited use if it’s not your own material.

Flash is also well supported; adding to the ability to export animations as Flash files, you can now drop Flash files onto web pages that you're working on. 

In addition most flavours of the SVG vector animation format can now  be imported or used in web authoring with the application.

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX 2013: Specs

  • Windows XP/Vista/7
  • 700 MHz Intel Celeron or AMD Athlon processor or greater
  • 500MB memory
  • 300MB drive space
  • Windows XP/Vista/7
  • 700 MHz Intel Celeron or AMD Athlon processor or greater
  • 500MB memory
  • 300MB drive space

OUR VERDICT

There are several low-cost (but worthy) graphics applications on the market, ranging from the free (GIMP), to those like Serif Draw Plus that occupy roughly the same price and feature category. The latter in particular offers many similar features to Xara’s cheaper app, though it doesn’t quite match the speed and bitmap editing power in evidence here. While the new features alone can’t really be said to warrant an upgrade from previous versions, they do enhance an already strong package.

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