Xara X1

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Xara X1

Bottom Line

Although not a high-end product, X1 is a powerful program that'll let you create polished vector drawings in minutes, even if your creative skills are limited.

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Even if you're an experienced digital illustrator, you may find Xara X1's ease-of-use a refreshing alternative to Macromedia's FreeHand, Adobe's Illustrator or even Corel's CorelDraw. In addition, it promises to be up to 500 per cent faster than other leading vector software and its photo and bitmap-handling tools are second to none.

There's no symbols feature for repetitive graphics or a spelling checker for text, but it's still excellent value for money.

Targeted at print and Web designers, Xara X1 supports real-time bitmap anti-aliasing, offers smoother feather and shadows, pressure-sensitive brush stroking and multi-stage graduated fills as well as real-time interactive transparency controls.

This aggressively priced package comes with full 32-bit alpha channel bitmap support and CMYK for print illustration work including onscreen plate preview.

Xara X1 is packed full of video tutorials, wizards and a context sensitive help system. Its clean interface is also free from the excess of floating palettes and dialogue boxes that plague high-end tools. Thanks to Xara's NavBar tool, image-slicing capabilities and Dreamweaver integration, you can easily create Web-ready graphics or animated GIFs as well as prepare vector art for animation in Flash format. What's more, all Xara's features and tools work in real-time - updates are shown before you release the mouse button to make them permanent. For instance, drag the eyedropper tool on an image and the colour of your selected object alters continuously.

You can create and export frame ani­mations to multiple PNG files to be imported into Adobe Photoshop or ImageReady as layers or frames for further editing.

Other new tools include Picture Editor, which you can use for basic photo-editing operations such as cropping, rotating, enhancing and sharpening. You can also adjust contrast, brightness, sharpness/blur and saturation.

Unfortunately, there's no support for third-party filters, but this is promised as a free update later in the year. There's also no local pixel editing (painting or retouching), unlike Macromedia's Fireworks which lets you paint on artwork as easily as you draw.

Photo and bitmap handling is still faster and more powerful than any other vector graphics application, however. In addition, almost anything you can do to vector shapes you can do to bitmaps.

Images files (such as JPEGs, GIFs, TIFFs and so on) are embedded in a separate Xara file, cutting down on file size in the process. For instance, an uncompressed 20MB photograph would double in file size every time you copy it. As a result, you may end up with a file that's as big as 60MB. Xara uses a proprietary "zero-memory footprint" approach, which means that each new copy and edited copy requires no additional memory or file space. This technology makes Xara X1 an ideal platform for creating compositions that mix native vectors and imported bitmaps.

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