Plugs 'N Pixels, image creation, manipulation and education

Plugs ’n Pixels looks at Xara Designer Pro X365

Xara Designer Pro X365 screenshot

  I’ve been aware of the various graphics and photo offerings from Xara for some years now, but as a Mac user, I never really looked very closely at them (Xara and its parent company MAGIX do not offer products for the Apple market).

  When Xara contacted me recently about their latest Designer Pro X365 (version 12), I decided it was time to put some real effort into seeing what it is all about. After all, Xara has been in the software business in the UK since 1981 so they have a long and established track record in the market.

  Here is an overview of my first experience with DP X.

Xara Designer Pro X365 used on large computer screen

  Outside of the Xara world, I have been a Photoshop user since 1992 and a big fan of ACDSee (formerly Deneba) Canvas since 1996. So I can’t help but view Designer Pro X365 from the perspective of my existing image editing and graphic design experience using these other titles as my main design apps.


  Photoshop is obviously a monster at image editing, and Canvas was one of the first DTP apps to combine image editing, illustration and page layout in a single environment. So how would Designer Pro X365 compare? It remains one of only a handful of graphics apps that allow you to directly work with image and vector objects at the same time in the same document, as opposed to launching separate, dedicated apps for each function and combining the results in yet another.


  Despite my preference for the Mac operating system, I have the capability of running Windows 10, both natively on a home-built PC and as a VM on my actual Mac. So I installed Designer Pro X365 on both of these systems, which was easy enough (you download the software and register with the provided license number). As I write I am using a 2010 MacBook Pro (upgraded to SSD) with dual monitors, and have Windows 10 up on the external monitor and OS X on the built in display (shown above). I can drag items from the Mac side to Windows and save my Xara documents directly to the Mac.


  Even given the age of this laptop, Designer Pro X365 had no problems at all running and performing its various tasks. 

Xara Designer Pro X365 effects example

  My first self-assigned ambitious task (I say “ambitious” because I didn’t yet know where any tool or function was in Designer Pro X365) was to create an illustration combining both vector objects and an image, plus text. Sure, people do this type of thing in Word all day long in every office in the world, but my aim was a bit higher than slapping clip art on the page…


 The subject of the illustration would be the sun setting behind a mountain range with clouds, glowing sky and, in the foreground, a scenic photographic image. I was inspired to create this type of eye-catching scene by the actual views I see during my commute home in the evenings here in LA. Very Hollywood. Plus I’d already done similar illustration work in Canvas using vectors and bitmaps so I knew what overall techniques to use.


  I started by creating the mountain range using the Freehand and Brush Tool, quickly drawing the jaggy tops of the mountain peaks and closing the shape with a square outline before filling it with black.  The result was a vector object with adjustable points along the way (see screenshot below).


  The San Gabriel Mountains out here have multiple receding ranges, so to approximate a more distant range I duplicated the original mountain object (why draw it twice?), flipped and stretched it to hide the fact that it was duplicated then gave it a reddish color (sunset haze). The Arrange function allows you to stack objects in any order you wish, so I kept the black mountains in front.

Xara Designer Pro X365 effects example

  For the sky, I drew a large rectangle and experimented with fill colors (using the Color editor with Fill Tool set to Three Color/Simple) until the gradient looked somewhat realistic (singer John Hiatt calls it a “lipstick sunset”). The gradient was fully editable, and using the arrow handles I rotated and slid it sideways until the colors fit the scene.


  The clouds began their life as roughly drawn cartoony shapes as seen above, before I redrew then using the Shape Painter Tool. They ended up as you see in the final piece once I discovered the FX tool, which allows you to add built-in or third-party plug-in effects to either vector or image objects. The clouds benefitted from Even Waves and Diffuse effects as well as a gradient.


  The photo at bottom was placed in front of the mountain vectors, and using the Eraser tool I removed the original background of the image up to the base of my vector mountains. I used the Orton effect to soften the image, and placed a flipped copy of the sky (at 63% transparency) to approximate a reflection in the water.

Xara Designer Pro X365 Color Editor

  The shadow/reflection of the mountains in the water was done by copying, resizing, flipping, opacity editing and Gaussian-blurring the black mountain object. Finally, the text was typed in, and Redfield’s Craquelure 3D plug-in (included) was applied. The result was exported as JPEG at 300ppi, and I was done! That was fun. I could see doing more illustration work of this sort, even with the added effort of firing up Windows to access Designer Pro X365 (which native Windows users won’t have to do, of course).

Xara Designer Pro X365 finished artwork

  So what else does Designer Pro X365 offer? Since it is Xara’s flagship product, it actually combines the functionality of their other products (Photo & Graphic Designer, Web Designer Premium and Page & Layout Designer), so the answer is quite a lot.


  In terms of image editing, a lot of what you would expect is included, such as basic cropping, cloning, healing, paint-on effects, red eye removal, content-aware resizing and brightness/levels adjustments. Oh, and panoramas and perspective correction! These two tend to be a pain to achieve, so I decided to quickly check these features out.


  And “quickly” is the key word here. For the panoramas, I dragged several separate images at full resolution into Designer Pro X, selected them all and clicked on the Create Panorama tool. A short while later, I had a seamless pano ready for export!

Original images for panorama
Finished panorama

  The same is true for the Perspective Correction tool. Select an image, click on the tool, get the result:

Perspective correction before-and-after
Perspective correction before-and-after

  3D is always fun and Photo & Graphic Designer does a nice job of it, with smooth rendering, the ability to add and edit lighting, bevels, color, etc., after which you can export a JPEG or other format.

3D text example

  Now that the fun stuff is out of the way, there’s work to be done! Designer Pro X365 gives you access to a huge selection of ready-made templates covering every need and style, for print, presentation and web use. Here are a few screenshots showing a small selection of what’s available:

Xara Online Content Catalog
Xara Online Content Catalog
Xara Online Content Catalog

  As you can see, Designer Pro X365 should be able to handle pretty much any image editing, desktop publishing or web design task you can throw at it, with its integrated approach to design. Again, if your needs are simpler (i.e., specifically only image editing or page layout or web design), Xara offers those components separately.


  For more information on Designer Pro X365 and other Xara/MAGIX products, click here.