CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 11, by Corel
Posted: 10-Jun-2003

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Corel Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Craig Capron Class: PRODUCTIVITY

For the record, I love to draw. I have always loved to draw. And when I decided to learn how to draw on a computer, I bought a PC and a copy of CorelDRAW 2. In hindsight, if I had a clue as to what I was doing, I probably would have purchased a Mac IIci or IIfx and a copy of either Adobe Illustrator or Aldus Freehand, but then I would have missed out on one of my all-time favorite drawing programs, CorelDRAW. That was a long time ago. I parted ways with CorelDRAW after a falling out with version 3, and over the years I've flirted with Canvas and Freehand (when it was still published by Aldus) before finally settling into a stable, long-term relationship with Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator and I have created a lot of nice pictures together, but to tell the truth, in the back of my mind, I still remember my first love and wondered "What if . . . ". Consequently, when the opportunity presented itself to review the Corel Graphics Suite, it felt like the guilty pleasure of seeing an old flame at a high school reunion. That said, lets get on with the review . . .

The host machine for this visit is a 500Mhz G3 Firewire Powerbook, with 384 MB RAM, running MacOS 10.1. Not exactly a powerhouse, but it's not a dog, and has always served me well.

The subject is CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 11. The suite includes CorelDRAW 11, Corel Photo-Paint 11, CorelTrace 11, and Corel R.A.V.E. 2. The product names are fairly descriptive of their function; CorelDRAW is a vector based drawing tool, Photo-Paint is a raster image editing tool, and CorelTrace is, well, a tracing utility. Corel R.A.V.E is the only product in the suite without a peek-a-boo handle, so for now let me just say that it's a vector tool for creating animated graphics for the web.

The price of admission is a very reasonable $429.00 for the full version. Upgrading from a competitive product will only set you back $389.00, while the cost to upgrade from a previous version is a mere $199.00. If you're flinching at the price, or more importantly, your spouse (or boss . . . if there's a difference) is flinching, remind them that this is a serious tool set, and to get the same functionality from Adobe, you would have to purchase Illustrator, $399.00, and Photoshop, $609.00. That's a savings of $579.00.

CorelDRAW
My first impression upon launching the program is that the work space is definitely an exercise in minimalism. Like a bachelor's apartment with nothing but white walls, a card table, and a single folding chair, the blank work space is furnished with a single floating toolbox, a color palette, and lots and lots of empty white space. For those who've grown accustomed to Adobe Illustrator, with its armada of floating palettes, this is a bit of culture shock; I wasn't sure where to begin. With a little bit of experimenting, I discovered that the Toolbox Palette has tear-off tool sets; a feature which I absolutely love. If you're not careful, this can quickly add to work space clutter, but I find that it's terribly handy for quickly switching between tools. With a little more poking, I discovered that floating palette containing the color picker would also hold other menu items such as the Object Manager and the Shaper Tool. I was quickly tailoring the workspace to match the way I work.

In addition to those two lonely palettes, I should also mention the Toolbox Toolbar conveniently docked to the bottom of the application menu (similar to Photoshop). I mention this as an afterthought because I often forget that it's there. The Toolbox Toolbar offers a veritable
cornucopia of configuration settings for each of the tools in the Toolbox. It is very unobtrusive, which is probably why it's so easy to overlook, and it makes tweaking the settings of your tools on the fly a snap.

The document model for CorelDRAW is actually quite complex. CorelDRAW supports multiple pages, and each page can have multiple layers. In addition to traditional pages and layers, CorelDRAW also defines "master" pages and "master" layers. Master pages, and subsequently master layers, contain items that will be shared across all pages such as guidelines or the grid. Master layers can also hold text or graphics that need to be displayed across all pages. Layers and pages are controlled through the Object Manager.

The fancy palettes, spiffy toolbars, and sophisticated document model are all well and good, but it's the tools in the Toolbox that make everything happen. I have always liked CorelDRAW's drawing interface. I easily spend 80-percent of my time using the Pen and Shape tools. Throw in the Blend Tool and I'm off to the races; everything else is gravy. And CorelDRAW 11 is fat with gravy. Of course it has all of the standard tools: a Pen Tool; a Polyline Tool; a Rectangle, an Elipse, and Polygon tool; as well as fill buckets, eye droppers, and zoom tools. It also has some oddball tools (for a vector drawing program anyway) like the the eraser, which will carve swaths out of the side of your objects; the Smudge and Roughen brushes which will deform the nice, pretty lines and curves of your vector shapes; and the Interactive Distortion Tool, which warps your carefully crafted shapes in ways that I can't begin to imagine what I'd use it for, but found myself grinning from ear-to-ear none-the-less. The Extrusion Tool is nice, and the perspective function, which is a menu item and not really a tool, is possibly the best I've ever used. Finally, the Interactive Connector Tool is a blessing for anyone who has ever created a flowchart. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the tools in the Toolbox; just some of the more colorful ones.

Once your objects have been crafted, the menus offer a lot of power for manipulating them. Objects can be cloned. This differs from copying in that when a change is made to the master item, the clones are updated as well. Objects can also be transformed. Transforming is a fancy way of saying scaled, skewed, moved, or rotated. Through the transformation menu, all transformations can be made relative to nine control points that describe each objects bounding box. Perhaps most importantly, objects can be aligned to the center of the page with a touch of a button . . . HALLELUJAH! Objects can be aligned relative to each other and the page. Objects can also be distributed in the same manner. Another favorite menu item is the Shaper menu. Through the Shaper, objects can be used to cut shapes into other objects.

The last menu item I want to mention is the Find Objects Wizard. Now frankly, I don't like wizards; they're like sales associates that won't leave you alone, or want to follow you out to your car with your grocery cart. That said, it does seem to be very powerful, offering the ability to find objects based on type (curves, rectangles, text, etc.), fills, outlines (strokes), or special effect. Previously saved searches can also be loaded and used.

Sooner or later you'll likely need to incorporate text into your drawing (okay, probably sooner rather than later). I've always considered text to be a necessary evil and consequently, I don't appreciate the text handling abilities of CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator the way that I should. Nevertheless, CorelDRAW's text abilities are considerable.

Right off the bat
CorelDRAW distinguishes itself by being able to flow text across multiple pages. This is no big deal for applications like Quark or InDesign, but it's a function that Illustrator cannot touch. CorelDRAW can flow text along a path. While that is standard stuff, it goes further in that is can flow text around other objects on the page.

There is also a Format Text menu that gives the you a tremendous amount of control over the text. With it you can control the character settings, the paragraph settings, the tabs, the columns, and special effects.

Finally, I love the way that the Toolbox Toolbar previews the typeface when you hover over the font in the selection menu. I don't understand why Adobe doesn't do this in Illustrator.

Once your drawing or design is finished, CorelDRAW offers a variety of output formats to support your needs. From the File menu, you can publish directly to the web or to PDF, or you can prepare you artwork for delivery to a service bureau. The latter is done through the use of a "Prepare for Service Bureau Wizard". This wizard will either gather all files associated with your document, or load a profile provided by your service bureau. Through the Export menu, you can output to a number of file formats including EPS, SVG, and CGM, as well as raster formats like PSD, JPEG, TGA, and PNG.

However, as they say on TV, we don't live anywhere near perfection, and neither does CorelDRAW. The color palettes are slow and awkward to work with. Select a color, count to five, and the color selection will change. If you want to outline an object with a different color from its fill, that's another five seconds. And, since CorelDRAW doesn't retain the settings of the last item created, you'll be changing and selecting colors a lot.
The Color Palette isn't the only menu item that's sluggish, although it is the worst. All menu and toolbar selections have a noticible latency before activation; long enough to make you wonder if you've clicked the button. This grows tiresome very quickly. It is possible that a faster system would make the response time more liveable; but since I don't experience the delays using Illustrator, the onus, in my mind, is on Corel to improve the efficiency of their application. If CorelDRAW runs faster on a dual processor G4, then so will Adobe Illustrator.

Another shortcoming is a total lack of automation support. There is no support for keyboard/mouse macros and no Applescript/JavaScript interface. The Windows variant supports VBA scripting so it may be fair to infer that Macintosh scripting will be included in future releases, but let's face it, this is version 11, and frankly, for a professional tool, there's just no excuse for this. I can think of a few "wizards" that I'd happily sacrifice for speedier menus and some level of automation.

Corel Photo-Paint
Corel Photo-Paint shares the same user interface as it's partner, CorelDRAW. It launches with its floating Toolbox and Toolbox Toolbar, but with its Objects manager in the other floating palette instead of the Color Picker. One interesting feature, when opening a new file, Photo-Paint offers the user the option of creating a single framed, flat file, or of creating a multi-frame file for animation. Adobe Photoshop offloads this function to it's sister program, ImageReady.

There are few surprises in the toolbox. One of the few is the Interactive Drop Shadow Tool. Another is the Interactive Transparency Tool. Simple tools, that can be easily duplicated in other programs, that are just made easier here.

The menus are pretty standard fare as well. The one notable exception is the lense tool. The lens tool acts as a special effects filter that alters the way the image below it appears to the viewer without actually altering the image itself; just as if it were a real lens. One word of warning though. The lens filter is a resource hog; it will drag the appication's performance down to a complete halt. Make a pass on a layer below the lens with a brush and then go get a cup of coffee. Maybe by the time you get back, your brushstroke will be rendered; it just depends on how far you are from the coffee pot. If you're working with the lenses, do yourself a favor and make them invisible while you're editing the underlying image. That way, they won't be trying to calculate whether or not they have to filter your brush strokes in realtime.

A nice feature in Photo-Paint, and CorelDRAW for that matter, is that you can drag objects from one application directly into the work space of the other. This makes it easy to draw things using the vector tools where you have more control and then pull them over to the paint program to apply raster effects. The door swings both ways; you can also drag raster objects from Photo-Paint and drop them directly into CorelDRAW.

Another nice feature is support for batch processing. Photo-Paint will batch process files to change file types. Files can be selected individually, or as a group, from a single or multiple directories. That's it. It makes it simple for selecting files to process.

And now for the other shoe to drop; Corel Photo-Paint is not a speed demon, which is not to say that it's unusable, not by any stretch, but it is noticibly slower than Photoshop, even with the lenses turned off.

CorelTrace
CorelTrace is a small, simple program that crystalizes all of the problems I've had writing this review; I can't stop playing with it long enough to actually write about it. As the name implies, this is a trace utility; and a fairly straightforward, easy-to-use one at that. Personally, I've never had much use for tracing programs. This is partly due to the unsatisfactory results I've received in the past, and partly because it takes all of the fun out of the work (I like to draw, remember?). But this one IS fun!

This application shares the bare-bones default view of it's brother applications, but goes one step further in that it doesn't even open to a blank document; just the single floating Toolbox and the Toolbox Toolbar under the menus. At this point, you can open up your favorite raster image (I've been using a JPEG of my childhood action hero, 8th Man) and let the fun begin.

Now you may ask, "What could be fun about a tracing tool?", I know I did. I'll tell you: mosaics, hatches, and woodcuts. CorelTrace has the requisite Outline, Centerline, and Combination tools, but it can also go a step further and apply effects to the output. Using the Toolbox Toolbar to vary the settings can provide a vast array of variation in the output, and if you're not careful, can be quite addictive. If you're using this in the office, be careful that your coworkers don't catch you giggling like an idiot.

I've always felt that tracing tools were only useful if someone sends you a bad FAX of a corporate logo, and you have to clean it up and use it in a flyer before you can go to lunch. CorelTrace has changed my mind about that. I'm not sure yet what I'd use it for, but I had so much fun playing with it, I'm pretty sure I'm going to try to find something.


Corel R.A.V.E.
As I mentioned earlier, R.A.V.E. is a vector based animation tool for generating web content; in my mind, that means an alternative to Flash. In fact, its file export formats consist of: Flash, Animated GIF, and Quicktime. I confess that this is an area that I know nothing about, but it comes with the package, so there is additional functionality (and perhaps additional savings). I did notice that it coult not open a Flash 6 file.

Summary
The CorelDRAW Graphics Suite is a very capable package; it's made even more so by its value. By value, I mean the relationship between its functionality and price; and this Graphics Suite has functionality out the wazoo. Will it woo me away from Illustrator and Photoshop? No. In the office, I often need to manipulate hundreds of files at a time. Maybe the job is reseting the BoundingBox info on one or a dozen EPS files, or maybe it's saving every page of a PDF file to EPS. Illustrator will let me do this; if not directly through its built-in tools, then indirectly through its scripting interface. CorelDRAW will not. But when it comes to making beautiful artwork, the Corel Graphics Suite easily covers 95% of the functionality I need, and covers it very, very well. So perhaps a better question is whether I would consider adding this suite to my toolbox; and the answer to that questions is a very definite yes.

Pros

  • Value
  • Fun to use
  • Rich, well balanced, comprehensive tool set
  • Clean, functional user interface

Cons

  • Slow
  • Awkward color menu
  • Little to no automation support


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice