Review: xScope 3, the designer tool

IconFactory and Artis Software have just released their designer tool xScope 3. xScope 3 has become a power tool for everybody involved with graphic and web design. Except for the tools that have been supported since version 2, this new version comes with about 70 new or improved features. xScope has also become the tool of choice for mobile design.

The IconFactory designers have a secret weapon: xScope, a small, unobtrusive measurement and design aide. xScope 3 has a Loupe, Rulers, Screens, Dimensions tool, and a Frames, Guides and Crosshair feature. Although these features have existed since version 1 and/or 2, version 3 adds a lot of power and functionality to them.

The Loupe in xScope 3 can magnify screen parts from 200% to 1600% adds colour palettes that you can export to .ACO palettes, which can be used in Photoshop or Illustrator. You can use the Loupe to measure pixel distances by simply drawing a rectangle over the Loupe window. The rectangle measures offsets between objects or the width and height of an object. Several colour notation formats can be selected, including hexadecimal for web design.

Screens and Guides on the Mac

The Screens feature allows you to see how different screen sizes and aspect ratios work out with your design. This has been available in xScope since version 1, but the new version supports mobile platforms such as the iPhone or Android devices, as well as the latest Macs and PCs. You can also create your own custom Screen sizes.

Furthermore, each Screen now has several options that you can turn on or off. These options are dynamic, i.e. they vary depending on the type of Screen that is active. For example, when you activate an iPhone Retina Screen, you can opt to show the Status bar, Navigation bar, Toolbar, etc., while an iPad Screen will also show you the Keyboard area.

Additionally, you can select to show the Screens overlay with normal vision or with a vision defect, such as presbyopia, or one of the many forms of colour blindness.

The Dimensions feature allows you to measure distances in-between pixel areas with the same colour. The Dimensions tool is the one tool that I believe to be the least appealing — it cannot, by its nature, measure accurately when gradients are in play. However, when there are no gradients or you can avoid them, it’s a great tool that more or less works like a laser. Version 3 can display aspect ratios.

Guides have improved as well. The information pills are bigger and have clearer icons. You can create all of your Guides and save them to a file for later use, which makes it incredibly easy to repeat a design, or share a design task with someone else who uses xScope 3.

Dimensions and Frames on the Mac

One of the most powerful features in version 3 is SmartTools. SmartTools allows you to display tools ready-to-use in pre-defined applications. It is a Preference panel of the new version. It’s very simple to set up. You just add apps (they need to be running) to the Preference, and then go in the app and click on the tools in the menubar (or using key combinations). Next time you launch that app, these tools will automatically be open.

Another new preference is that you can show or hide tools in the menubar as you wish. You can even choose to collapse all icons in the menubar into one icon to save space.

The Loupe and Rulers on the Mac

xScope has always worked with a lot of keystroke combinations to alter the tools’ behaviours with. Version 3 has an even more impressive list than the previous versions. Although all commands can be accessed from the menus and by clicking with mouse and keyboard shortcut combinations, it pays off to learn the keyboard shortcuts by heart. It makes working with xScope 3 entirely transparent.

A good example is xScope’s built-in screenshot keystroke that takes a screenshot of what is between the laser beams of the Dimensions tool. It’s hard to do without knowing the keyboard shortcut…

Select-a-Mac on the iOS platform

Last but not least, xScope 3 has a sibling app for the iOS platform. It’s called the xScope Mirror app, and it enables you to view desktop windows — like Photoshop or Illustrator documents — on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. As I don’t have either of these devices, I couldn’t try out this new feature.

There are a lot more improvements and novelties, such as the ability to snap Screens and Frames to on-screen elements, and a Dimensions tool that you can now use together with the Loupe because the center pixel has been removed from the Dimensions laser beams (imagine the attention to detail…).

From what you read, I’m sure you’ll agree xScope 3 is a nice design tool. But is it worth its money? I do believe it is. Apart from the observation that it’s not expensive, even I, as a casual (web) “designer” find xScope a must-have asset.