When I started this review I asked myself a question, If you don’t know what features you will need, how do you know what to buy?
I worked for 22 years in publishing, I think then I am well placed to be able to give my opinion of Xara Page and layout editor. True I have more familiarity with professional grade software, however, knowing what features you will need is often more important than what something can offer. I hope this opinion helps you make the right choice.
I contacted MAGIX to request a copy of the software they now publish and thankfully they are proud of what they do so they were happy to send a copy over but please remember that I am not tied to any company, if a piece of software is not up to par I will tell you. I am happy to say, however, that I will not have to complain about Xara page and layout editor a great deal as its surprisingly full-featured and versatile.
When I was researching this review I compared primarily to the competition in this tier, namely Microsoft Publisher and, of course, Adobe InDesign and immediately Xara Page and Layout Editor has an edge, more fonts. More fonts are better, you want more fonts and Xara Page and Layout Editor has 600, Adobe InDesign has 500 and the poor cousin Microsoft Publisher has a paltry 60. OK, you can add fonts but so what, I want things to be easy, I want things to be done for me and so should you.
The next benefit that was not apparent initially was the dark colour theme. I found it to be very aesthetically pleasing, however, other than cosmetics I thought nothing more of it. That is until I had to spend some time writing a review on a bright white word document. I never realised how much I squinted until I hadn’t had to for a little while. I have subsequently been using dark themes on any software I am able to.
So there are benefits over the competition but it also doesn’t have as many template options as some of the competition, this is something you do want, templates make home publishing faster and lets be honest, most of us using the software will not be trained designers so a little help from the pros will give our work a sheen we couldn’t achieve alone.
The included templates are very well done and far better than a lot of the competition. The slick design of the interface is extremely intuitive and I personally found the feature set incredible for something that is not a professional software. Professional grade software doesn’t really deal with templates. There is a reason you need to train to use them and so they would be far too confusing for most home users but they obviously offer far more fine control, conversely, many home software packages are full of poorly made templates and offer very little control, however, Xara Page and Layout Editor sits nicely between the two with the added benefit of superb templates which are well designed and thought out but still allows you fine control over your work.
The toolset is very good and you have full CMYK colour optimisation for printing and you can import MS Word documents and even Photoshop PSDs which I have not seen in any other home publishing software aside from InDesign. This is personally a must and I wouldn’t be able to use a software that didn’t allow me to do this. I was able to bring in and align the text of all different shapes and sizes and could use the guides for shaping to get everything exactly where I wanted it. The control is remarkable for a software that costs £49.99 especially when you consider this sort of control is mostly reserved for professional desktop publishing tools.
Xara Page and Layout Editor is certainly not perfect. If you are working with a lot of pages you would normally create your master page, the content that would appear on every page is then delineated by it. Not so in Xara Page and Layout Editor, this means that you have to select every element and mark it as persistent. You may think that is a good idea, that this could even streamline your workflow as you wouldn’t need a master page, which is the intention I am sure, however, the moment you have many different elements that would ordinarily only be editable on a master page now being editable on any page, remembering what is and isn’t persistent becomes a chore in itself and leads to a very messy and cluttered workspace which I had all over three different monitors.
I also wasn’t able to easily add tables and graphs which is an odd thing to omit from any desktop publishing software. If you wanted to add a table, for instance, you have to draw the border and then manually position the text boxes for each cell, whilst this is not complicated to do it is a chore that shouldn’t be an issue. The solution for graphs sees me using Photoshop and importing the images and this is a feature I think a lot of people would like to have seen included.
These faults and omissions aside the design tools on hand are second to none, there are text and image effects like extrusions and 3D-bevels as well as gradients and quick shapes but the most surprising addition is the integrated vector-graphics editor. You can import a vector logo or use a stock logo included with Xara Page and Layout Editor and manipulate it exactly how you want, use one of the superb business card templates and within a flash, you will have a professional business card. In fact, with the included templates you could be creating a brochure, calendar, invoice, newsletter and a whole lot more.
If you are creating flyers for your band or party or something a little more creative you may find the tools limited but as I have previously mentioned, you can import from Photoshop so there is very little your mind can conceive that you cannot do with Xara Page and Layout Editor.
The text is equally well handled with spell check and formatting styles at hand and while there isn’t a fully fledged word processor there is very little you will “need” to do that you cannot achieve easily. Using the style guide you can change the size, font, colour spacing, kerning and more with a single click over the entire document, this is fantastic if you just want to see, how things would look a certain way without a lot of effort. Something I found out a little late was the ability to program the auto correct to make typing easier. Using abbreviations of words you commonly type or even programming a symbol you can have Xara Page and Layout Editor automatically substitute the abbreviation or symbol for your ascribed word.
There is a great community online who will help you get the best from the software and it is well worth joining the forum to learn more about the tools at hand, the more you know, the better the software will work for you and there are a superb amount of tutorials and videos available to help when you get stuck and I even found the troubleshooter tool to actually shoot a trouble I was having.
To sum up, Xara Page and Layout Editor is a great choice for anyone who needs a desktop publishing solution. I would recommend it over any other similarly priced tool provided you have other software especially if you want to work with graphs and tables a great deal. Xara Page and Layout Editor is a well packaged, well thought out and easy to use desktop publishing software that is worthy of your consideration.