Web designReview

REVIEW: Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 9

With Fireworks no longer being developed by Adobe, is Xara's new tool for Windows worth looking at for web graphics creation?

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Xara’s graphics tool could have been a contender. Before Adobe Fireworks came along, it was very briefly the go-to app for web graphics creation. Combining bitmap editing and vector graphics in one package, early versions followed Firework’s growth step by step. Owned by Corel in an early incarnation, it’s had many names - CorelXARA, Xara X and Xara Xtreme. It currently has the unwieldy name of Xara Photo and Graphic Designer.

Now that Adobe has officially decided to cease development of Fireworks, could the original web graphics app finally step back into the spotlight?

All rounder

If you’re encountering the software for the first time, you’d be right to be a bit confused about its purpose. Xara Photo and Graphic Designer has evolved into an all-purpose image-editor that’s part drawing app, part photo manipulator and part desk-top publishing program. That’s reflected in this version’s new features.

A set of standard drawing tools, shape creation, stroke and fill settings make Xara equally adept at illustration jobs as photo editing

New photo tools included photo healing and background removal tools. Image masking features have also been introduced. Design additions are mainly UI improvements, with a faster re-colouring of groups for example. Support for web fonts using Google’s font collection is the real stand-out for serious designers.

Web features

We can’t cover up the fact that Xara Photo and Graphic Designer, though good in parts, is not as advanced as dedicated photo editing, vector drawing or design tools. You won’t replace Photoshop or InDesign with it. However, it does retain the web image handling strengths that were its original USP, and it’s these we’re most interested in the final analysis.

By simply combining bitmap editing with design and drawing tools, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer is already a great app for a variety of web tasks. For banner and button design, page prototyping, logos, icons and headers - this is genuinely all you need. There are frame by frame animation tools too, with GIF or Flash output.

Falling behind

Xara was the first application with built in image slicing - and it still has that feature. There’s support for Image Maps, automatic image optimisation and link embedding. You can even export complete designs as HTML.

One useful, curious feature. With Xara you can import text and graphics from any site online. Here we’re reverse engineering about.me for inspiration

But the majority of these features are legacy tools. There’s little in the way of CSS support. You can output to SVG or CSS formats for graphics, for examples. Automatic HTML output is rarely good, but here the code generated - though accurate - is messy.

If you’re new to image editing and design, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer is a good all-rounder. It also remains, after all this time and many name changes, a strong web graphics creation and editing too. We wish it had continued down this path further, though, as some of the support choices - Flash, but not CSS shapes, for example - are starting to look anachronistic.

Key info

  • Developer: Xara
  • Price: $69.99/£59.99
  • Works with: Microsoft Windows XP or newer, Intel Celeron or newer, 500MB of RAM, 300MB of available hard-disk space

Words: Karl Hodge

Karl Hodge is a journalist with a wealth of experience in technology, with a particular interest in interface design and development.

Our Verdict 7/10

If you’re using Windows, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer will do a good job for you - for a price that’s just a little more than one month’s subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud.
  • Photo, drawing and design features all in one place
  • Great price for so much functionality
  • Image slicing, image optimisation, SWF and other web specific features
  • Feels like many web features are legacy tools.
  • Workflow sometimes clunky and confused
  • Cheesy templates

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