Xara 3D 6

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An improved interface, new design options, better integration and sheer speed make Xara 3D a pleasure to work with – but its range is strictly limited..

xara 3d 6

Xara, the company behind Xara 3D, is the developer of Xara X 1 the most efficient, creative and affordable 2D drawing package available. The same focus on speed, productivity, usability, creativity and value is apparent in the company’s 3D offering, Xara 3D.

But it’s important to keep things in perspective. At just $45 you can’t expect a full 3D modeler and you certainly don’t get one. Instead Xara 3D concentrates almost exclusively on handling 3D text. When you create a new file, it automatically appears with dummy text in place. Once you’ve replaced this with your own, Xara 3D’s speed becomes apparent by the interactivity it enables. You simply drag to reposition your text, shadows and lighting within 3D space, fully rendered and in real time. And now you can drag to manage the depth of extrusion and bevel too.

xara 3d 6

Xara 3D 6 provides a new interface and new design options.

This hands-on approach makes the whole process of creative experimentation intuitive and enjoyable, but you can’t make all edits directly on your graphic. Previously, other settings such as the choice of bevel type (there are now no less than 27 on offer), were handled via a series of idiosyncratic and ugly docker panels, but the interface has been completely reworked. Now the redesigned Option Bars – Colour, Extrude, Design, Bevels, Shadow, Texture and Animation – are all neatly docked down the right of the screen and are selected in turn by clicking on their title. It’s a lot neater and more streamlined than version 5, but it does mean that you are now limited to having just one Option Bar open at a time unless you undock them.

Apart from the new interface, the other immediately noticeable change is that the default 3D text is now surrounded by a default 3D oval border. This is part of a general move to incorporate a shape with your text to create a combined design. Beside the basic standalone text, there are four new options to choose from - Button, Board, Board with Holes and the new default, Border – depending on whether the text is flat on the object, embossed on it, drilled through it or surrounded by it. As you’d expect with Xara 3D as soon as you select an option the document window updates instantly and, as you have exactly the same formatting control over your object as you do for your text, you’ll be producing striking logos or web buttons in no time.  

Xara 3D 6 provides the most common and useful object shapes – rounded rectangles, ovals and so on – from a dropdown in the new Design Options Bar or, using the Design Picker you can choose from a number of more advanced options – spheres, crosses, splats and so on. You can also load your own files in XAR, WEB, WMF or EMF format and, when you register, Xara provides a free copy of its Webster 2 application (as sold for $49) to help you create them. Much the most convenient option is available to Xara X 1 users who can now simply copy and paste their vector shapes into Xara 3D. Even better, you can also copy and paste your 3D designs back into Xara X 1. The results look excellent – right down to partially transparent shadows – though this is only possible because the 3D object is pasted as a rasterized bitmap.

Once you’ve got your basic design looking the way you want it, you can bring it to life with the Animation Options Bar. Again this provides the most common options from a dropdown – rotate, fade, pulsate – while more advanced options – combined effects, individual character animation and so on – are available from the Animation Picker. There’s no keyframing capability so effectively you’re stuck with the preset animations on offer but there’s no question that these can be striking - particularly now when many of the animations involve different effects for the text and object. Especially impressive is the way that Xara 3D lets you interactively reposition text, object, shadows and lighting and even resize bevels and extrusions as the animation is playing onscreen!

Ultimately of course your 3D design or animation isn’t much use within Xara 3D itself so the final production stage is to export it. Xara 3D supports output to all the main web bitmap standards - JPEG, GIF, PNG and animated GIF - as well as to BMP format. Particularly impressive, especially at the price, is the program’s support for vector Flash SWF output although shadows and textures are automatically dropped and you can expect some pretty enormous file sizes depending on your choice of bevel.

For video-based output the choice is simple: AVI. However, with this latest release you can now choose any codec that you have installed on your system such as Cinepak or MPEG-4. This provides much greater flexibility and efficiency, but it does mean that, if you’re planning on distributing your AVI, the end user will need to have the same codec installed on their system for playback. You can also save your animation as a SCR screen saver though, as these are based on embedded AVI, the same advice regarding distribution applies.

xara 3d 6

When exporting animations to AVI format, you can now specify any installed codec.

3D by its nature is a demanding field but, with its simple approach, Xara 3D makes it child’s play to produce impressive results. Its range is strictly limited to logos, titles, shapes and buttons, but for many users this clear focus will be seen as another advantage.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Xara X
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Xara 3D
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Xara WebStyle
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System Requirements: Pentium 500 MHz or higher, 64/128MB of RAM , 50MB of hard disk space, Windows 98, Me, 2000 (SP2) or XP, 16-bit display

Tom Arah

April 2005


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