Feature: Xara could be the best-in-field photocomposition tool
Most of the images used in a photocomp have already been edited and finished - you can make both bitmap and vector corrections but the bulk of the work is done outside of Xara Xtreme, especially for bitmap images. On the vector side, Xara certainly holds its own until you start to do complex transformations or merging of vector objects, then Corel Draw or Illustrator are the primary tools of choice.
Drop Shadow - The screenshot at the left shows the effects of the drop shadow tool in action. By just sliding the mouse in a due South direction I have moved the drop shadow into a new position to represent a new external light position of top right. This required no dialog - simply dragging my mouse around brought equivalent and immediate shifts in the position of the drop shadow. So I knew by trying a few movements the exact new positioning of the drop shadow. No trial and error setting dialog forms and then triggering the drop shadow as in other programs like Canvas and Illustrator and doing this 3-5 times until you get the precise results desired. In short, Live Dynamics is a wonderful time saver and as we shall see it permeates Xara Extreme's interface.
Well just check the screenshot at the left. The arrow line with the blue tip is the transparency control. Swing it right or left and the transparency immediately shifts accordingly (and with big 4-6MB bitmap images just as fast as the .4MB image here - trust me on this). Move the arrow in and out and the transparency moves in and out as well. Want to move the starting point for the transparency ? Just move the base of the control arrow (opposite end from the blue tip) and the base line moves too. Or just start again by dragging and dropping anywhere in the image. Huge time saver.
From the screenshot, users have two drag and drop controls. The red double-arrows control the size of the bevel edge. Grab or click on any one of the arrows and drag it in or out - watch as the bevel edge increases or decreases in size accordingly. Likewise, the center white arrow with the blue square tip, control the direction of the incident lighting. Swing that arrow tip around and the incident light follows so you can easily highlight any bevel edge. This automation allows a designer to check out the different ruffle, rounded, point, and other bevel edge designs very quickly to see which works best. Again, very handy.
In sum, given already the blazing speed of operation of Xara even when using 10-30MB fill files, Live Dynamics just adds to the overall speed getting radical photo-finishing done in Xara Xtreme.
Fourth, Live Effects adds Adobe plugins to Xara's repertoire - Adobe plugins provide a wide range of filters and effects that run the gamut from 3D projections -> Right Hemisphere through natural painting -> Virtual Painter to dramatic tilings -> Terrazzo. The following screen shot at the left shows the use of the Virtual Painter 4 plugin with with some Xara Xtreme text objects which have been beveled and drop shadowed with an image. Notice the original text design below the Silk Screen subtitle in the screen shot.
What this means is that Adobe plugins and heir effects can be applied to any Xara object - text, bitmap or vector. This is very nice because it means that users can apply a whole stack of plugin effects to any object in a Xara image. The only fly in the ointment - the pulldown with list of effects applied has a bug - sometimes it shows all the effects applied; other times you have to delete the top effect to get at the underlying effect to change or delete it. Live Effects screams out for a mechanism like Photoshop CS's Filter Gallery with effect layers that can easily be added, deleted, changed in order of application, etc. But having the full power of just about any plugin be applied to vector as well bitmap images - that is very nice indeed.
So these are some of the key features that makes Xara Xtreme a must for photo finishers. And we have not mentioned yet such features as high quality PDF export, Bitmap tracing to vector images, and animation creation. But Xara screams for two major improvements. The Bitmap Photo Editor is just okay - with all the rapid development of bitmap/graphic libraries and programs, Photo editor could use some beefing up the arena of masking, color corrections, and image transformations. Second and perhaps even more important, it would be nice to have a better Layer dialog that keeps track of all the bitmap, vector, group, and text objects in an image so that for complex renderings one could more quickly navigate to and operate on the different objects.
However, the bottom line is that Xara Xtreme offers so many unique features (Live Dynamics, Live Effects, ultra-fast rendering), cumulative ease and speed of operation, and finally great value (a $100 price and ability to run in Windows and Linux) are so good that photo-finishers should add this to their toolkit right away.
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