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Designer Pro 6

Price $299 | Company Xara | Web www.xara.com

The perennial problem faced by any graphics artist is what software package to plump for if you have a variety of needs. Working with vectors, retouching photo elements for use in collages, painting characters, creating 3D landscapes or even knocking out web graphics – all of these tasks require different tools to do the job properly.

Xara’s products have never suffered from this, though. Unlike Adobe, Xara doesn’t see the need to develop separate vector and bitmap creation environments. With Designer Pro, it takes this commitment one step further by producing a genuinely useable graphics editor that blends Illustrator, Photoshop, bits of Painter and even parts of InDesign into a single software release.

The headline features are clearly aimed at designers and artists, so we see several new Photoshop-like tools and functions in this update. There’s an Enhance bar for making quick tweaks to lighting, colour and contrast, but the ability to mask and feather layers, as well as the content-aware zoom and perspective correction tools, all take several powerful lessons from Photoshop’s recent CS5 update.

At its core, though, Designer is a vector-drawing tool. Here, its updated toolsets, new opacity masks and fill features make a real difference to the creative process. Its plain drawing tools are fast to select and very responsive. Working with a tablet makes it easy to sketch a vector outline freehand, then make quick edits to its curves and edges.

Other than these areas, Designer Pro 6 benefits from a very useable new web editing function for creating basic pages and animated elements, as well as a stack of document templates developed to help with common physical and digital projects.