Review - Xara Designer Pro v9
In this review for Xara’s Designer Pro X9, I will begin with my customary summary of what’s new. Do keep in mind that I wrote an extensive review of their Web Designer X9 earlier this year. Designer Pro X9 is their all-in-one program including all of the wonderful tools found in Web Designer, Page & Layout Designer, and Photo & Graphic Designer. These programs have all received upgrades as well. For me, as I use Xara in so different ways, owning the all-in-one product makes the most sense. Those new to the program or seeking a specific set of tools have those options available.
One thing I discovered very quickly, because I had decided to opt for their new 64-bit version, was that none of my Adobe Photoshop plug-ins would work within the program! In hindsight, this makes total sense as those were all written for 32-bit programs. It did take me by surprise at first, so I do want to pass that warning on. I should add that, as I have older versions of Xara programs that are 32-bit there’s no difficulty in my using them within those. Eventually I suppose 64-bit versions of some of those more popular ones will come out. The good news, for me anyway, was because I had chosen to go with Designer Pro X9, all of its wonderful photo tools were available to me.
What are those Photo tools? The first one I choose to test out was the ‘Healing’ tool, intended to remove facial imperfections. This is actually an upgrade for their Magic Erase tool that has been around for a while. Many new controls over a photo (or image) have been added too. Then again, do not make the assumption that these are limited only to photo optimization sort of tasks.
One good example would be when creating a custom seamless tile such as the one shown. The technic for doing this has been around for many years, but it is made even easier with these new tools. For those who’ve not done this before, here is how this is done: 1) Create a square or rectangle in the size desired for the end tile. 2) Apply whatever background color or texture is desired for the background. A simple background normally works best for these, while keeping in mind Xara’s anti-aliasing function so as to avoid those funny ‘white’ boarders. 3) Add in whatever items are intended to make up the image (hint: make use of the Background Erase process discussed next where appropriate). 4) Select all items and convert it to a bitmap. 5) Draw a horizontal line across this image and slice it in 2. Repeat with a vertical line to make 4 pieces. 6) Swap those 4 pieces from corner to corner so the outside corners of your square (or rectangle) are now meeting in the center. Nudge them around a bit until they line up perfectly. Group them together so they stay where you want. 7) Make a new bitmap image. 8) Disguise the join area by using either the new Healing tool or bring in new objects. 9) Once you are pleased with the tile make sure you select anything new added to before making your final bitmap copy. Export that out as either a JPG or PNG and you’re done.
The Background Erase process was a bit more complicated to test out but again worked very well. In essence, you split your photo into two sections; the part that is to be preserved and the part that is to be erased. By all means, take your time in setting up the two masks so they ‘hug’ the shapes involved. I found this worked well even for an image that had a somewhat complicated background so long as care was taken in setting up those masks. VERY COOL tool! Checking out Xara’s site for their What’s New in Photo Tools, I see there are quite a few more I will have to test out.
Taking a quick look at the changes for Page Layouts, here are a few I’d like to mention. Support for Google fonts is now a given here, as it is in their Web Designer tools. Last time I checked, there were over 800 different typefaces available there with free licensing. Even better is their built-in preview that probably ties back into Google’s built-in interface. I’m not quite ready to toss out my collection of font CD’s, but I can see that day coming soon!
Text areas can now be split into columns. Then there are the text flow, page numbers, page and column break controls, etc. These improvements are so impressive; this aspect of Xara now makes it my recommended program for clients wishing to produce their own newsletters and brochures. Due to the fact I have been using Xara for over 15 years, I feel confident in stressing their high degree of color control in the print process. When I take into consideration all of the different printers I have own myself over those years, as well as print shops, Xara has consistently done an excellent job in matching what is shown on the screen to what is printed. By all means, do check with a print shop in advance for how to create an optimal master to obtain the best results.
Real World Usage
Within most reviews I write, I like to include something on actual usage of the item in question; particularly when talking about software with the versatility of Xara. For this review the subject I’ve chosen a short sewing project revolving around an organizational bag for all of the cables and so-forth accompanying my new laptop. The finished bag will go inside the larger bag holding the laptop itself and will be 15” x 11.” This bag will close with a zipper, but this will appear a few inches down from the top thus helping (I hope!) to keep things inside it even when opened. Discounting the space used by that zipper still provides a 21” by 15” surface area for some sort of quilting design.
I’ve long admired Celtic work in quilts, and the small size of this bag makes it ideal starter project. The key to Celtic work is bias tubes of fabric, so they can curve around in the desired manner. Backgrounds for this kind of work can vary from plain, to pieced background, or even swatches of fabric appearing under the tubes in the manner of applique. In drafting the knot within Xara, a thickened line is used to represent the tubes using care to keep the curves smooth. Once I was happy with the overall design, an additional page was added to contain a half-sized copy of the design for printing. This will be used to trace the knot pattern on the background fabric to help in positioning the bias tubing.
With all of Xara’s wonderful tools, creating a good preview of a proposed sewing or quilting project is quite easy. The folded up fabric is scanned thus creating a bitmap image that could fill the shapes used in the design. This really helps me in choosing what fabrics to use to achieve the look desired. This practice is also of great help in building the documentation to go with an item. For example, Xara is also used to create the labels attached to the back of my quilted items. Labels and/or documentation have become increasingly important for anything that could become treasured family heirlooms through many generations. This is also a nice way to provide washing and/or care instructions to help preserve that item.
In closing, I have to stress yet again Xara’s versatility, fast performance, and color management. Every new version offers nice improvements all within an easy to understand user interface. From the time I first saw the program demonstrated in 1995, I knew it was much more than just an illustration program. An opinion I still hold to this day!
Xara Designer Pro X9- Xara Ltd. www.xara.com. Software requirements: Microsoft® Windows® XP, Vista®, 7, 8; Intel® Celeron® or newer, or AMD® Sempron® or newer; 500MB of RAM; 300MB of available hard-disk space. Price: $299, with significant discounts for those owning other Xara products or upgrading from previous versions.
Irene M. Kraus does custom web programming and multimedia productions while acting as a writer on various subjects. She heads up Computer Erie Bay User Group (CEBUG) based in Erie County, Ohio, and owns Design Works Internet and Kraus Kreations.