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Serif DrawPlus X5 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £82
inc VAT

Masses of sophisticated tools for working in a broad range of graphic design disciplines

Vector-drawing software creates graphics from simple shapes, curved lines and fills, and it’s just the thing for designing logos, web and business graphics, diagrams and neat illustrations. That’s quite a broad remit, but judging by DrawPlus’s feature list, it’s still too niche for Serif. DrawPlus also handles bitmap editing, natural media painting, architectural plans, isometric drawing, desktop publishing and animation.

DrawPlus X5 cutout
The ability to isolate parts of a photo is extremely useful for graphic design and DTP projects

With so much crammed into a sub-£100 program, it might seem optimistic to expect the highest levels of sophistication. However, we’re pleasantly surprised not just by the quality of the results but also by how easy it is to get to grips with the interface.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7 pulls off exactly the same trick, with vector drawing and lots more besides wrapped up in a fast, friendly interface, all for £57 including VAT. It’s been a few years since we last reviewed DrawPlus, so rather than focusing on the new features, let’s see how DrawPlus X5 stacks up against Xara’s software.

The two packages’ vector graphics features are uncannily similar, but most of the differences lie in DrawPlus’s favour. Its QuickShapes tool generates squares, spirals and clock faces, with simple controls for actions such as turning a circle into a pie chart slice. Both programs can blend two objects, creating a series of replicas that morph from one to the other, but DrawPlus can plot them along a curved path. Both can convert flat shapes into 3D, but DrawPlus let us edit the 3D object’s facade without having to turn the 3D effect off and on again. Its docked window layout is a little neater than Photo & Graphic Designer’s, and its Align functions are better implemented.

DrawPlus X5 vectors
DrawPlus’s vector-drawing tools provide plenty of scope to get the most from its palette of shapes and curved lines

Bitmap manipulation is much more sophisticated in Serif’s editor, with colour correction, heal and cloning tools and creative effects that pay homage to Adobe Lightroom. The Image Cutout Studio closely resembles Photoshop Elements’ Quick Selection Tool, and is just as effective at isolating a part of a photo.

Both programs can create keyframe animations and export them as videos or in Flash format – perfect for designing animations for a website or video production without the cost and complexity of Adobe Flash Pro or After Effects. Once again, Serif’s software has the advantage over Xara’s, as its QuickShapes parameters are easy to animate – it took us about 30 seconds to create a 3D clock with moving hands. DrawPlus also goes further than Photo & Graphic Designer by supporting some ActionScript commands for tasks such as creating internal and HTML links and playing sounds. We wonder whether Serif has bitten off too much here, though. ActionScript is heavy-duty stuff, and we struggled to get what we wanted from the controls presented here.

Photo & Graphic Designer doesn’t have anything to match DrawPlus’s natural media brushes. There’s a huge array of chalk, pen, pencil, airbrush and sponge brushes, and even petals, grass cuttings, metal chains, zips and scarfs. Brush strokes don’t mix and blend in complex ways in the way dedicated painting software allows, but there’s detailed control over the brush behaviour and support for pressure sensitivity when using a graphics tablet. Unlike dedicated painting software, each brush stroke is stored as vector coordinates and brush settings, so there’s unlimited potential to edit existing strokes.

DrawPlus X5 brushes
Natural media brushes and the ability to convert photos to vector shapes opens up some interesting artistic possibilities

Ultimately, it’s the little details that make everyday use a pain or a pleasure. On the whole, Serif has got these spot on. DrawPlus is packed with useful timesavers, such as the Group button that appears just below when multiple objects are selected, or how selecting a solid object and then the Text tool automatically inserts text inside the object. There’s also an Autofit button to make the text just small enough to fit.

On the one occasion that the software crashed, it automatically restarted and restored the unsaved project we were working on. However, we did experience a few bugs whereby edits weren’t reflected on screen until we zoomed in or out. Inserting text inside an object and applying a radial transparency didn’t work as it should. Even simply selecting objects sometimes proved tricky. Crucially, it didn’t match Photo & Graphic Designer’s frequent screen refreshes. In Serif’s software, we usually had to drag a handle or adjust a slider and then release to see the effect, whereas in Xara’s the screen updated constantly and smoothly as settings were changed.

It’s for these reasons that DrawPlus X5 doesn’t manage to dethrone Xara Photo & Graphic Designer 7. It comes pretty close, though. If natural media painting or photo cut-outs are important, it’s an excellent choice.


Price £82
Rating *****

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