Corel Draw X4 Suite
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Feature: Corel Draw X4 Suite Provides full Bitmap/PhotoPaint and Vector editing/Draw
Idea:These are very good, tested programs for graphics design and photo editing
Two years ago thePhotoFinishes.com did a review of Corel Draw's Sibling product Corel Designer Technical Suite. This, like Corel Draw at the time, was a package of five programs:
1)Corel Designer (or Draw) for vector graphics;
2)Corel PhotoPaint for bitmap and photo editing;
3)Corel Rave for Flash animations ;
4)Corel Trace for creating vector graphics from bitmaps;
5)Corel Capture for screen captures.
Corel Designer was targeted for business and engineering drawing users while Corel Draw fit graphic artists more closely. The only difference between the two programs was Corel Designer versus Draw and some of the Extras packaged with each suite. The review touted some of the innovations in Designer but bemoaned the fact that PhotoPaint had remained essentially static in features. The same could be said for Capture and Rave with some small but useful additions to Trace.
Fast forward two years and now Rave is gone from Corel Draw Suite, Trace has been folded into Draw (good move, its is much more convenient and enhanced as PowerTrace) and Capture has hardly changed. The balance of this review will be what is in Corel Draw and how PhotoPaint fits in the Corel Draw workflow.
Corel Draw IDE
The Corel Draw interface has stabilized around four components. First, in light blue shade along the left side of the screen is the Toolbar which has over 60 tools. Many, like the Fill and Shape tools are variations on a consistent feature; but nonetheless this underlines the complexity of modern graphics software (vector illustration but also bitmap photo editing as well).
Second, every time a user chooses a tool from the toolbox, the green tinted Property Bar also changes. This is the key to getting your work done quickly in Corel Draw - stop, and make sure all the settings in the Property Bar meet your current intentions. Now Property bar will remember for each tool and object what your last setting was. The Property bar also has default settings (which uses can customize) for each graphic object chosen for the first-time with that tool. But even with this I find myself checking the Property bar after I select a tool to get the exact changes I want.
Third, just like Adobe Panels and Eclipse's Dialogs, Corel has its tabbed Docker shown in yellow in the screenshot above. The Dockers are either overflows for the Property Bar (choose Artmedia Media brush and see what happens to the dockers ) or bring new options to users such as the Color and
Fourth, along the bottom of the screen is the footer which in Corel Draw packs a lot of the info about the tools being used, the image being drawn, and so forth- some tools like Photoshop and Illustrator have special dialogs for this type of active drawing info. But in the upcoming Fireworks and Xara reviews, users will see that this is a consistent and popular layout among all three of the best bitmap+vector drawing tools.
More important are the pen and line drawing tools and the shape editing features in Corel Draw. This is where illustrators really gain time. True like Fireworks and Xara, Corel Draw has the classic Bezier pen tool for drawing elegant lines and curves. And like the other two it has a more modern Art Media drawing tool that emulates calligraphy, mezzotint and other artistic pens and brush strokes. Fireworks has more types of brushes and textures; but all three programs provide ways to add to the brushes available to users with perhaps Corel Draw and Xara easiest and Fireworks with the most new pen/brush options.
One can see how Corel Draw gets top marks for ease of use. It starts with the many preset shapes and unique drawing tools, interactive Hints (see note below) to remind users how to get the most out of each tool, and then some innovative transformation commands - very similar to the Envelope and Perspective tools but including the Scale, Rotate, and Skew capabilities. Finally one can combine vector objects in ways similar to Fireworks and Xara - Combine, Group, Weld, Trim, Intersect, Simplify, Back Minus Front, Front minus Back. Corel Draw adds to these commands by controlling how the backgrounds combine in unique ways. But among the three tools, transformations and combining objects are quite similar with Corel Draw nearly matching Xara for ease of use. The image below shows a vector illustration in Corel Draw.
Actually pure bitmap commands are very strong in Corel Draw - as seen below the restrictions come when combining bitmap and vectors. Remember - Corel Draw has the power of a full bitmap editor, Photo Paint, at its command. Now this editor was until about 3-4 years ago, one of the easiest to use and most powerful photo editors. But then Corel bought Painter and PaintShop Pro and put its R&D bucks into those two products with minimal, cosmetic updates (the proverbial "interface improvements"). But consider that Corel had already scrapped another vaunted photo editor, Picture Publisher, which they acquired with Micrografx and that tells the story.
For example, the Image Adjustment Lab is a mini Lightroom for color and brightness/contrast corrections to a bitmap image. There is a similar dialog for making Straightening corrections. And the range of blur, sharpening, and smoothing commands at a user's disposal are equal to what is available in PhotoPaint - because its the same code. Finally a full range of 40 plus Effects from Cubism to Vertex Twirl are available if the user wants to add Painterly effects to the bitmap image. In sum, Corel Draw is replete with powerful bitmap editing tools
However, this bitmap manipulation advantage has to tempered against the relative weakness of the bitmap+vector operations in Corel Draw. True one can add bitmaps as fills to just about any object - Text, Vector Object and and of the multiple grouped and combined objects. But there are missing features like a)the inability to have a single tile or inverted multiple tile as a fill or b)to see the resizing and rotation of the fills interactively or c)most importantly, to be able to adjust the bitmap fill for color or other corrections as required(you must adjust the bitmap outside the fill and then re-apply it).
This can be frustrating because Corel Draw has all those nifty PhotoPaint effects at its disposal but they cannot be applied to a bitmap once it is used as a fill. However, one can still manipulate the filled bitmap as seen in the screenshot at the left where the image has had text cutout and then the same cutout text is manipulated (the dagger "P" of Place, for example). However, the full power of Corel Draw's many vector drawing and manipulation capabilities (think Knife, Blend, Distort, etc) are available to use on just about any bitmap fill.
The problem arises when users a)want to filter/alter the bitmap fill(requiring a two step operation as noted above) or b)apply effects to the bitmap and its vector container (including any groupings, combines, and/or transformations). Corel Draw cannot apply effects to the vector container. In contrast, both Fireworks and Xara allow users to apply both their own plus just about any 3rd party plugin effect to bitmap+vector. And the changes are made non-destructively - so that it is easy to remove one effect and try another. Finally, the effect does not change the editability of the bitmap+vector object- resize, rotate, add a new fill, bevel or whatever - and the bitmap+vector object changes accordingly. This is particularly useful with a composite object in which a bitmap is deeply embedded in an object with several groupings and combines applied. Thus for photo composition work, Corel Draw is still very competent; just not as adept as its competitors.
This latter feature puts Corel Draw well ahead of Xara whose claim to fame is much easier text flow system and simpler text flow on a curve while Fireworks has only suggestions of DTP features with text on a curve but no flow between text blocks nor text wrapping around graphic objects. However, there are a myriad of unique additional features in Corel Draw that simplify DTP tasks like creating top notch brochures and graphics rich documents.
First, Corel Draw has a spell checker, dictionary, thesaurus, quick grammar checker plus script settings for nearly 30 languages. Next Corel Draw has settings for auto-hyphenation of text including user customization. This is critical in DTP settings where text wrap adjustments constantly force new hyphenations. In addition users can add columns easily to a text block with sizable gutters, tabs, drop caps, and special spacing and character settings. In general Corel Draw makes many page layout tasks easy to do right in the a graphics program
However, there are some downsides. Some of the command or mouse manipulations are clumsy or just downright obscure. Take for example increasing the between line spacing using the mouse. It sometimes takes infinite patience. Likewise changing the block flows - an obscure double click mouse operation. Likewise kerning is not in the text property bar but must be tracked down in the character formatting docker. But Corel Draw also rewards typographers with special Font extras and a font finder plus Table feature providing another quick layout option. The result is that Corel Draw is one of the most DTP and text adept of the bitmap+vector drawing programs.
But keeping up with the latest in photofinishing software is a demanding task as editing software becomes more complex, you use many of program features and tools less often or intermittently, and you simply get older with memory loss matching or exceeding hair loss. Finally, there are a constant stream of updates and changes to popular photofinishing programs.
What Corel has done has put Hints in the dockers panel so it is easy to see and view. Every time you choose a new tool from Corel Draw's (or PhotoPaint's )tool box, the Hints change. And these are not elaborate 2-3 page reading exercises - but rather quick summaries of what is essential to getting that tool used effectively. I now use the Hints first, Help or the tutorials if I need to dig into the details. Two bonuses to Corel Hints - with program updates come updates to Hints as well. And users also have local Corel Tutors and Insights from the Experts. Kudos to Corel for making their documentation more effective.
Why I Watch for Bugs in All Graphics Software
So now with all my graphics software I am watching for bugs. Graphics software like Adobe Photoshop, Corel Draw, ToonBoom and others are at the edge of complexity in interfaces, computational intensity, printing and rendering rigor, inherent graphic design sophistication, and now need to interface with other tools and databases. Its the interfacing tasks with a)other devices and printers and b)with other graphic objects and/or databases - where the code and graphic objects cross boundaries, these are the places I am extra cautious and tend to save my work.
But Corel has added A.R.M. - Advanced Recovery Manager which takes control when a crashing fault occurs - and allows the user to save files and workspaces before the program aborts.Over 6 days of testing there were 3 crashes. In those crashes, ARM came to the rescue 2 of 4 times. ARM is one of those features you don't want to use; but when required is highly useful.
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