• Price: 94

  • Company: Xara

  • Pros: Extremely fast rendering engine, and intuitive tools that provide freedom to experiment.

  • Cons: Relatively limited range of tools for drawing geometric shapes, brush styles and special effects.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

This drawing and illustration application has been in a crisis of identity recently. In the last couple of years it’s been called eveything from Corel Xara to Webster. This upgrade bears the name Xara X1.

Regardless of what you call it, the program’s streamlined interface and remarkable speed is impressive. Xara isn’t the most powerful or versatile drawing tool on the market, and it certainly can’t match the range of features found in professional tools such as FreeHand or Illustrator. However, it does provide a good basic range of drawing and illustration tools, and its speed makes it a useful tool for many routine tasks.

The rendering engine in this version has been rewritten to make it even faster than before. It can redraw complex vector graphics extremely quickly, and you can manipulate effects such as graduated fills, shadows, and bevels in real-time. This makes the program feel extremely responsive, and allows you to experiment freely without having to stop and wait for your image to be redrawn.

Many of these tools work in an intuitive way. Adding a shadow, for instance, is just a matter of selecting the Shadow tool and then clicking on an object. The shadow appears on screen immediately, allowing you to position it as required, or to modify the shadow using the options in the context-sensitive toolbar that runs across the top of the screen.

The program does have some rough edges, though. The new Picture Editor, which is touted as one of the main new features, turns out to be an extremely basic photo-editing module that merely allows you to crop, resize, and rotate images, and to alter the contrast, brightness, saturation, and sharpness. Many of the keyboard shortcut commands are rather unintuitive, such as Shift-F7 for the zoom tool. What’s wrong with just pressing ‘Z’?

Xara is no threat to the likes of FreeHand or Illustrator. However, its speed and the simplicity of many of its tools make it well suited to routine and repetitive tasks – such as creating Web graphics. There’s a free trial version available, so it’s worth taking a look to see if its speed will compensate for its relatively limited range of features when slotted into your workflow.