PROS / Xara's dark, modern interface is sharp and snappy, and it offers plenty of powerful features and high-quality designs.
CONS / The template selection isn’t as diverse as you'll find among the some of the competition.
VERDICT / Xara Page & Layout Designer is a capable, feature-rich take on desktop publishing software. So long as its template library meets your needs, it's a superb option.
Desktop publishing applications can be divided into two broad categories: high-end professional software meant for career designers, and simple, family-oriented programs with user-friendly interfaces. Professional desktop publishing software programs may be powerful, but they're often confusing and don't offer templates to help you kick-start your projects. Cheaper programs, on the other hand, tend to be packed to the gills with templates, but those templates are often of poor quality and might not give you the fine control you'd want.
Xara Page & Layout Designer 11 falls between these two extremes. Beneath its sleek, modern interface, the program boasts both beautiful templates and an appreciably rich feature set. There is more than enough here to keep at-home designers happy, earning it our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.
Layout & Publishing
Page & Layout Designer's publishing tools are, for the most part, top-tier. The program provides full CMYK color optimization for beautiful printing; can import Microsoft Word documents and Photoshop PSDs; and offers custom guides and proportional snapping – the latter of which is both useful and comparatively rare. These tools will allow you to align text of all shapes and sizes in a uniform way using horizontal and vertical guides that will snap images and text into place. Such features are more common in professional software than the average desktop publishing software.
That standard is slightly weakened by Xara's master page half-measure. Instead of using master pages to delineate content that should appear on every page of a document, Page & Layout has you individually select objects – text boxes, pictures or shapes – and mark them as persistent. At first glance, this removes the need for master pages and would seem to streamline your workflow. Once you start handling many different page elements, however, keeping track of which are persistent and which aren't can get confusing. Additionally, where elements on a master page can't be edited except when you're specifically working on that master page, Page & Layout's persistent objects can be edited from any page you might be working on, cluttering your workspace.
Xara has a hyphenation system that helps the text flow. The program will automatically insert a hyphen in a long word at the end of the line so the text flows naturally from one line to the next, improving the overall look of the page.
The graphic design tools at your disposal in this software are full-featured and impressive. As with most desktop publishing packages, you'll have access to photo correction tools and a variety of text and image effects, from 3D bevels and extrusions to quickshapes and gradients. The program even has an integrated vector-graphics editor, perfect for manipulating Xara's stock logos the way you want them, or for creating a new logo for your business from scratch. The one notable absence is a lack of Photoshop-style filters – you won't be able to posterize your pictures or apply such special effects as ripples and blurring. Then again, if you're looking for a sleek, professional look in your publications, those types of effects are usually out of place.
Typography & Templates
Like all the best publishing software, Xara's Page & Layout Designer gives you access to a bevy of critical text-handling features. It doesn't offer a dedicated word processor, but most of the functions you'd want a word processor for – spell-checking, applying formatting styles or adjusting the kerning between letters – are still possible from the main view. The feature you’re more likely to miss is the integrated support for tables and graphs, which is also absent.
From flowcharts in a science fair poster to financial graphs in a company newsletter, tables and graphs can describe complex ideas with clean efficiency. Tables may not be necessary additions to every publication, but many professionals will find this a significant omission. If you want a table in your next newsletter, you'll have to draw the border and manually position text boxes for each cell. Likewise, charts and graphs are best made in graphics programs and imported as images.
While Page & Layout Designer has a decent selection of templates, we would have hoped for more diversity. The quality of the templates it offers – including brochures, business cards, calendars, invoices, newsletters and more – are top-notch. But if you're trying to build a new resume, the program can't help you, nor does it offer support for Avery's line of labels and print-ready cards.
From the auto correction screen you can program the software to automatically expand abbreviations of words you use often, so you can type more quickly. For instance, you can tell it to expand DTP software to desktop publishing software automatically. You can also program symbols to represent specific words that the program will automatically replace with the word the symbol represents. If you then decide you don’t want it to autocorrect anymore you can stop if from doing so with the simple check of a box.
Help & Support
Xara’s help and support options are somewhat limited. One of its strengths is a diverse, professional website with all kinds of helpful information about the different products it offers. There are a wealth of tutorials and a great FAQs section to help you get better at using the website. You can also access informational videos on YouTube. You can access customer support via email, but unfortunately there is no telephone or live chat support if you need help in real time.
The best desktop publishing software should be modern, powerful, capable and easy to use. Xara's Page & Layout Designer 9 hits every mark in those areas, solidifying itself as one of the strongest contenders in our lineup. But it has its weaknesses – we wish it offered a wider variety of templates, and its lack of support for tables and graphs is a tremendous oversight – but taken as a whole, Page & Layout offers exactly what we look for in a great, at-home publishing tool.