xScope 2

Simply put, xScope is a back-pocket, time-saving utility for designers and developers created by designers who understand the nature of working on screen. I haven’t written much about the software I use. But once in a while I come across something that’s so useful, I’m compelled to spread the word a little further. And the latest update of xScope to v2.0 adds some really nice enhancements worth drawing me out of hibernation.

If you haven’t seen or used xScope before, I’d describe it as a simple set of mini tools or widgets that help measure, size, or align anything on-screen. Any of xScope’s little semi-transparent widgets can be invoked individually or in combination. Once visible, they remain on the surface of your screen, floating above any other currently open apps.
Included in xScope’s mini arsenal are rulers, and guides, and loupes, oh my. Rulers help measure stuff (duh), Guides help align stuff, and the Loupe blows stuff up for inspection of every little pixel. There’s even a Screen tool that will overlay available screen real estate of common browsers at different resolutions.

Those tools are all fine and dandy. They’ve been in previous versions of xScope. What piqued my interest was the new Dimensions tool. Dimensions rocks!

In normal (“Beam”) mode, move your cursor around the screen, and Dimensions displays horizontal and vertical measurements of just about anything visible, including gutters, margins, images, buttons, desktop backgrounds, and OS-level controls and UI elements.

Even better, Dimensions has a secondary “Shrink” mode (Command-Shift-5) where you can draw a somewhat sloppy box around anything on screen, such as an icon or a block of text. xScope will shrink the box down to the smallest dimensions, leaving a frame on screen around the object you selected. The frame displays the selected object’s bounding dimensions, and enables a simple screen grab of just that frame.

To see it in action before downloading a trial, IconFactory has a demo movie of the Dimensions tool (5 MB QuickTime .mov) available to view.

The first time I saw Dimensions in action, my wheels were turning. I could imagine immediate uses. All without needing to do a Command-Control-Shift-4 to grab a portion of the screen, create a new Photoshop doc, paste it in, blow it up a few times, then carefully measure or crop it with the marquee tool. That’s at least 4 steps I can save with the dimensions tool.

With any of xScope’s tools, like Guides, I like that I can set a few on screen, then get them pixel-precise by nudging with the arrow keys. I can hide them for a while. When I need them again, enable Guides, and they’re right where I left ’em. Even after quitting and restarting xScope days later.

Also new in 2.0, having the option to enable or disable menu bar icons is a nice touch. The default “toolbar” always felt a bit awkward to keep around. So opting to just have a few xScope icons of choice in the menu bar is an especially welcome feature.

Dimensions, alone, keeps me running xScope in the background much more than I ever did before. It’s a worthwhile set of tools to keep in your back pocket. If your pixel-precision prowess doesn’t have access to xScope, you’re only knitting with one needle.