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CorelDraw 12

By Jim Bray

The CorelDraw suite has been around almost as long as the PC, give or take several years. Over that time it has evolved from a good graphics design product to a real tour de force for creating graphics, manipulating bitmaps, laying out pages and creating animation for the Web.

I’ve been using the suite since version 3, which came on floppy disks. I’ve watched it mature, and become more powerful and ever easier to use . Some versions have been better than others, but each has added, if nothing else, plenty of interesting new functionality.

Such is the case with Version 12, a very powerful and flexible product.

12 seems a more evolutionary than revolutionary product, and that works for me; every time they come up with a new version I’m sure there are no new features left to design in, and every time they prove me wrong to varying degrees.

I’m not a trained designer or page layout artist, but over the years using Corel’s product (and, I must admit, others) it has allowed me to produce professional product far superior that what I could do with pencil and paper. Thanks to CorelDraw, I now have some clients who hire me for my graphic design skills (I know, they must be desperate!) even though I’m primarily a writer. So while the talent may have been there all along, it took Corel, coupled with my computer skills, that allowed them to grow and flourish - and become profitable.

Anyway, the suite consists of the main applications CorelDRAW and Photo-Paint, with CorelR.A.V.E. and numerous “sub apps and utilities” included in the price as well.

DRAW, whose major competitor is Adobe Illustrator (reviewed here as part of the Adobe Creative Suite), is a vector graphic design and page layout application that puts a nearly frightening amount of power at your mouse or graphics tablet. This is where you create your graphics from scratch (or from templates or from existing graphics) and it comes with a huge number of object creation tools, effects, comprehensive and powerful text editing-and-handling capabilities, and high-quality output features whether you’re printing to a consumer quality inkjet printer or sending the file to one of the big print houses downtown.

And of course they’ve managed to find a bunch of new stuff to load into the program. The new wrinkle that I found the most interesting is the smart design tools, which can take a klutz like me and actually help me draw a circle, triangle, parallelogram or whatever, freehand (as opposed to using a circle tool, etc.). I kid you not; want to draw a circle in a particular place on your page? Just click on the smart drawing tool icon on the toolbar and draw away – and once you’ve done the software takes your “pidgin circle” and turns it into a perfect circle.

Within reason. I managed to find the limits of the smart drawing merely by being extremely "unsmart" in my original drawing, which indicates that while the new smart feature may indeed by smart, you can confuse it if you’re dumb enough.

DRAW is meant for creating graphics, logos, layouts, and the like, for print and for the Web. But what many people may not realize is that it’s a darn fine page layout tool in its own right. While it isn’t the page layout application of choice for many (if only because many print houses are more capable of taking, say, QuarkXpress or InDesign files than CorelDRAW), each version has offered better text handling capabilities until now it can easily be used to create attractive print presentations or text-based documents as well.

I often use DRAW to design a publication, and depending on the capabilities of the print house that’ll be doing the job, I may then go back and re-lay it out in something like Quark. But I prefer using Draw to do the actual design because it lets you do everything at once, on the one screen in the one application.

And with Draw you can print a file directly to PDF, which is wonderful.

Version 12 of Draw also includes enhanced font control and better compatibility and a tweaked “Snap to Objects” feature.

File compatibility is supposed to be better now, too, for such files as .svg, AutoCAD, HPGL, Photoshop and Illustrator and Acrobat. It was already pretty good with the Adobe files, though, I must admit.

They’ve also included Dynamic Guides which, when activated, shows temporary guides on the screen which you can use for a particular part of your drawing without affecting the guides you’re using elsewhere. You can pull these guides from the object snap points of your drawing; you can also snap objects to nodes, intersections, midpoints, edges, lines, and more.

A new import cursor lets you place objects relative to guides and/or snap points, with a tool tip appearing giving the width and height of the imported object or file (and the advice to press “enter” to center the file on your page). And if you want, you can click and drag the imported file to a new size and the software will automatically place it in your document the way you want. This is really slick!

I also loved the intelligent eyedropper tool, which lets you grab colors or other parameters from an object (including a graphic on a website or your Windows desktop) and paste it into your drawing. I wish I’d had this one a couple of design jobs ago…

You also get a “virtual segment delete” tool that helps you clean up lines or curves, across objects, removing unwanted pieces between intersections or endpoints.

And a new set of align and distribute tools for text lets you line up copy with another’s first or last line baseline or the bounding box. A nice bit of flexibility. And you can embed fonts in a document to ensure someone else can open it and see it as you meant it to be seen.

One thing that’s kind of neat is that when you first fire up Draw 12, it looks over your PC to see if you have V11 installed and, if you do, it offers to use the customized workspace you may have set up in the earlier version, which saves you from reinventing the wheel again.

PHOTO-PAINT competes head to head with Adobe Photoshop (and about a zillion lesser applications). It’s a powerful bitmap editing application that, among many other capabilities, lets you manipulate and retouch photographs quickly and easily, and with amazing flexibility. This is the application you use when you want to take an existing photograph and make it a little more, shall we say, newsworthy.

New in Photo-Paint this time around is a touchup brush that lets you get rid of blemishes on a photo (zits on a face, for example, since we’re speaking about blemishes) and look at the results in real time. It works quite well, though I only had a chance to mess with it on a limited basis so far.

The third major app is R.A.V.E. (for Real Animated Vector Effects). R.A.V.E. 3 is Corel’s answer to Macromedia Flash and is for creating Web graphics and Flash animations – which is just what the world needs.

Anyway, the new R.A.V.E. comes with new symbols and a symbol manager docker and you can link to symbols you’ve already used to make for a quicker and easier workflow.

It also includes Pantone Euro palettes and an enhanced Object Data Manager that lets you select an object and tag the data you want to associate with it.

The suite is now optimized for Windows XP, so it’ll adopt your desktop themes, support multiple users and the like. I could care less about this, but others may like it.

And you can now install multiple languages on one system.

The box also includes Bitstream Font Navigator font management software, Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications 6.3 and a really handy utility called CorelTRACE 12, which lets you convert bitmaps to vector images. It can end up creating a vector graphic with a humongous file size if you don't go back and fix it by hand, but it’s wonderful being able to take a bitmap and actually be able to edit it as if it were created in CorelDraw.

Corel CAPTURE 12 is a handy utility that lets you capture on-screen images (I often use it to grab pictures of applications in action that I’m reviewing). Rounding things out, Kodak Digital Science color management system is, according to Corel, the industry standard – and you also get Quicktime player 6.0.

The manual is pretty good, as is the online help – though I had trouble finding some of the new features in the help section. On the other hand, the box also includes 10 tutorials that can help get beginners up and running and they’ve even thrown in an interactive, CD-ROM-based video training thingy.

Digital content includes 10,000 pieces of clipart, 1000 TrueType and Type 1 fonts as well as 1000 photos and other objects.

The suite has always offered excellent customization and cross-application consistency and functionality, and version 12 continues this tradition, only more so.

Corel was one of the first companies in my experience to offer context-sensitive toolbars, which is a fabulous idea. This isn’t new for Version 12, but it’s still worth mentioning. Context sensitive toolbars change right before your eyes depending on what you’re doing. For example if you click on the text tool or a drawing tool, the supporting toolbars change to reflect the task at hand rather than making you open up separate toolbars or access floating windows. This makes it quicker and easier to learn and use the program.

Likewise Corel’s “Real Time Preview” lets you look at changes or effects you’re about to unleash on your work before you actually unleash them, and that’s great.

This is just a quick overview of the new features, of course. On the whole, CorelDRAW continues to be a powerful and flexible graphics solution that only gets better with age.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006