I have a background in commercial graphics, and architectural illustration. I’ve often pulled double duty in the marketing “departments” of the companies where I’ve worked. While the professional graphics houses used Mac computers, in architectural and engineering companies, Windows based machines rule. Fortunately, most of the big name graphics programs have been available for both Mac and Windows for a very long time, with nearly feature identical implementations on either platform. But, occasionally you’ll come across a great tool that is Windows-only or Mac-only. Such is the case with today’s featured “tool we use” which is for Windows only (unless you use something like Parallels on your Mac).
Back in the mid-1990’s Corel’s graphics suite was the big name contender for graphics on the PC platform. Mac users might laugh, but for about one-fifth the cost of just one of Adobe’s products, you could get a really good photo-editor and a really good vector illustration program – plus a ton of fonts and clip-art. For the PC it was really a great buy and a lot of Windows-based consumer graphics shops sprung-up (t-shirts, signs, etc.). The crazy thing is that you would spend five times that and only get either Adobe’s pixel-pusher (PhotoShop) -or- their vector solution (Illustrator) – not both. On the hardware of that era, it was nice to have this option, but pushing pixels or vectors was very slow for anything big or complicated (Mac or PC). By the way Corel isn’t dead yet!
During that time, a little known UK company came up with a very impressive hybrid vector/pixel graphics software for Windows called Xara (pronounced Zar-uh). What made Xara so impressive was it’s ability to work with tons of vectors AND embedded bitmap images simultaneously with incredible speed and agility. Long-time Photoshop users can attest to how slow simply rotating a 2-Mb bitmap ninety-degrees used to be, taking thirty to sixty seconds to compute. Not so with Xara, which would allow you to rotate such a bitmap in real-time, with dragging, at any angle, with full view of the graphic image, not just a bounding box proxy. Additionally, Xara was a pioneer in anti-aliased graphics for the PC platform. In fact, so impressed was Corel that they bought the distribution rights to Xara – probably intending to buy it out – branding it as “Corel Xara” and giving it away with the Corel graphics suite. Over the next several version of Corel’s vector solution (Corel Draw) we could see speed improvements, probably gleaned from Xara.
Xara is now known as Designer Pro, and is still extremely fast, super feature rich (it even supports photoshop plugins), and still very inexpensive. I have used this gem since it’s first version, buying every update to this day. Even though I have recently switched to Mac, Designer Pro is one of the three software reasons I bought Parallels so I could still run Windows apps, and I use it nearly every day for everything from web-graphics to bulletin and post-cards. I have yet to find ANY software product that matches it, feature-for-feature (and speed-wise). At this time, I still use Photoshop for heavy pixel pushing, but with every release, Designer Pro eats into the reasons I use Photoshop. In preparing this article, I discovered some new features that make a strong case for never upgrading my Photoshop again.
So, what exactly is Designer Pro? In short, it is an illustration app, that allows for hybrid vector and bitmap graphics. But that description does not give Designer Pro the justice it deserves. It is so fast – and it can warp through things that you would need both Photoshop and Illustrator to accomplish. It’s hard to do justice to it without seeing it in action, so please visit Designer Pro’s video tutorial page. I think the new features video would be a big help, but it’s long.
Designer Pro costs $299. If you like it and plan to buy it, please help a brother out and use my affiliate link.
Need something cheaper but still powerful? Try Designer Pro’s little brother, Photo & Graphic Designer, that sells for $89 – here’s my affiliate link for that.
Here is a feature comparison to help you decide. For most of your graphics needs, the “less-expensive” version will be absolutely enough.