We are CGR are big fans of Xara's products. Just take a look at any of our gazillion reviews around the website (fine, there are just three) - and they've all been very enthusiastic and positive. Last year I had the opportunity to review Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 11 which satisfied my early logo designing needs. Though I had been quite adept with Adobe Illustrator by that point, the WYSIWYG nature and low pressure on my GPU, it was only natural I veered toward Xara to act as the stepping stone when I first started my professional logo design career.
However, due to the ubiquity of the Adobe brand, and every academia's insistence on teaching the much more popular Illustrator, I quietly retired Xara's much more friendlier Photo and Graphic Designer package. It's not that I think Adobe's products are better than Xara's - they might be, but this is not the sort of discussion I want to encourage in my review. My dependence on Adobe Illustrator is more out of the awareness of the brand name here in Pakistan than that that of allegiance. I'll be more than happy to make the jump if necessary, but till the time comes when computer academies start adding Xara to their official curriculum, all I can do on my part is recommend rising graphic designers to learn Xara's products as a viable alternate.
The latest addition to the family, Photo and Graphic Designer 365 (or V12) is an improved and updated version of the aforementioned 11. Don't worry, the UI / UX is the same, as are the shortcuts and practically everything else - it's just some of the jagged edges of 11 have been given smoothed out for a slightly enhanced experience. Xara's products are well-known for their practicality; as such 365 should be able to run even on the most modest home computer. I have a fairly powerful machine - and it should be, otherwise how the hell am I going to play GTA V and Metro: 2033? - and I'm able to run a wide variety of Adobe products with ease, sometimes simultaneously. Naturally 365 gave zero problems to me, but there's a good chance the average household has that one common computer with less-than-enviable specs. Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 365 is perfect for that machine.
Right off the bat the canvas is populated with tutorials detailing some of the more impressive features of the software. Scrolling past the myriad of photo effects one can apply non-destructively (meaning, the original properties of the initial subject are not lost while making the edit) and the smart text wrapping features, what caught my eye was Chart SmartShapes. This incredibly sexy wasn't available in the previous version of the software, and I cannot stress enough just how much of a heaven-send this is for me. As a graphic designer who has to design the occasional infographic and/or any piece of design where charts are implemented, I see this as a huge relief. Oh, and the icing on the cake? Xara allows you to export your project, et al, in .ai format (Adobe Illustrator). This alone is literally the reason that solidified my love for this program. Granted, a much more flashier chart can be easily vectored in Illustrator, but since this is Chart SmartShapes we're talking about, you can virtually create a simple chart within all of 35 seconds.
Staying true to their drag-and-drop, easy-to-use nature, Xara allows you to, well, drag and drop a simple chart of your choice onto the canvas and, after a double click, change the percentage by the movement of your mouse. If your eyes aren't widening right about now then it's clear the ingenuity is obviously escaping you. Stuff like this always makes me giddy with joy, and while it's 100% true the shapes are very primitive (for now - Xara promises to expand upon this), the fact that you can export it in the .ai format means there's nothing stopping you from making small edits over at Illustrator and then pasting it all over your design. It doesn't matter whether Illustrator allows for a more flexible and professional editing process - the fact that you can change numeric values seamlessly via a slider in 365 is stuff of OCD-satisfying dreams. I guess it's one of those inexplicable things, you know.
Now that I've talked about one cool new feature from the Graphic Designer half of the software, let's go to the Photo aspect. Beyond the usual effects and filters one expects from such a program, the photo grid option is the main show-stealer. Guaranteed to go down as a hit among photo editors / composers, the photo grid does exactly what it implies: it allows you to create attractive grids from selected photographs. There are two modes - smart and static. The former automatically re-sizes photos and arranges them accordingly the more you add into the grid; and all this is done with nary a drop in quality of resolution. The latter does not do this: it stays rigid and depends entirely on your input for arrangement. This mode is reserved for the more advanced user.
In conclusion, 365 is a neat package that's only going to get better. I highly recommend this software for the budding graphic designer and for the casual photo editor who wants the best in an editing / arranging software that is not Adobe and is not a bane on your GPU. For a detailed look about the other features of the software, take a look at my review of Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 11.
Article by Hamza