Xara – Xara X review

compact illustration package for Web and print graphics
Photo of Xara – Xara X
$149 equivalent ($69 upgrade for existing users) + VAT

For the last few years, Xara came under the auspices of Corel, but now, as before, it’s published by the company of the same name, Xara. This means that the full product name is Xara Xara X, which sounds like an ‘adult’ film star but is actually an accomplished yet compact illustration tool.

By compact we mean that it’ll run comfortably on low-end systems, even lowly Pentium-class machines. This is a bonus, since to us it represents good programming; something that’s often lacking in favour of the ‘bolt it together and let the processor do the work’ approach. It means that when you manipulate images and text using the program, your changes are updated almost instantaneously.

Xara is a vector illustration tool, which means that your illustrations are built up using line-based objects, each of which remains editable even after the image is complete. So if you don’t like the colour or shape of those eyes, you can just go back and change them later. The program will handle bitmap images too, though, and you can use them as Fill components, backgrounds and other image elements.

The main tools on offer are quite simple in concept, but so well executed that you can create some clever effects with them. Transparency, Fill, and Blend are probably three of our favourites, particularly the latter, which effectively acts as a morphing tool to smoothly blend one object into another. Combined with the transparency tool, it’s the basis of vector images like the one shown in the screenshot (not our work, we hasten to add; it’s part of the clip-art supplied with the program).

You can also do the clever stuff that you’d expect from more expensive applications, like running text over a curved line, using weighted controls to manipulate freehand lines, adding bevels and shadows to image objects, user-definable brush-stroking, object clipping and so on.

The user interface itself isn’t always perfect; sometimes we had to fiddle around to find what we wanted, and the pop up messages didn’t always tell us what we wanted to know, but once you understand the concept (which takes a couple of hours), it becomes surprisingly easy to create good results, especially when you combine several of the tool effects on one object.

Any problems? Only one that we experienced. We tried to blend a complex composite object into a line of text, and the program got halfway and then died – a repeatable bug. That aside, Xara was well behaved, and we managed to create some impressive graphics – especially animated GIFs and Web buttons – with less effort than usual. Give us a week or so and we’ll sort out the rather sad logo on this site…

Company: Xara

Contact: 01442 350000

Xara X comes with bags of clip-art, some useful tutorial movies and Web 'themes', plus a selection of photos, fonts and Fill textures. It's functional rather than muppet-friendly, but because every object you create remains editable, and because the various tools are cleverly integrated together, even users without an artistic licence should be able to generate impressive graphics for the Web or for printed documents, with a little practice.