Corel Draw Overview

Corel Draw 12 Overview

The success of this version of Corel Draw Suite will ride primarily on how many new and upgrade users Corel can persuade to come on board. Just three years ago with a vigorous PhotoPaint program that argument was easier to make. But since version 10, the number of improvements to PhotoPaint have dwindled as Corel has established Corel Painter 8 (see our review) as Corel's major bitmap graphics program. For example, this time around PhotoPaint has one new graphics feature, the Touchup Tool, plus the usual better language and import/export support. Compare this with the dozen or more new features in Photoshop CS or PaintShop Pro 8. So Corel Draw and its animation counterpart, Corel RAVE, and their new features will have to carry the day.

True the utilities like Corel Trace, Corel Capture, and Bitstream Font Navigator add value. As well there is the package value with hundreds of free fonts, tens of thousand of clip art samples, and thousands of royalty free stock photos. But these have hardly changed in several versions. These goodies may be persuaders for brand new users looking to establish their graphic resources; however, for upgraders and switchers it is the new, gaudy and good in Draw and RAVE that must carry the day.

Draw Wow



Well Corel Draw certainly starts with a Wow. The new Smart Drawing tool is uncanny in guessing what you are trying to draw in freehand mode. See that perfect right triangle in the screenshot above that was not perfect when originally drawn. Likewise the Heart figure left a few things to be desired - and Corel Smart Drawing tool supplied the right curves so to speak. In our tests we found that the tool went well beyond what Macromedia Freehand's various pens could do with Simplify. Ditto for Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Fireworks vector drawing tools. In fact the best competitor to Corel Draws Smart Drawing tool was Corel's own Freehand pen tool. Bottom line - the Smart Drawing tool is very handy to use and absolutely begs for an associated Smart Link click.

Smart Link Click does NOT exist in the current Corel Draw 12; but if it did hears what it would do. The closest thing to the Smart Link click is Microsoft Visio's smart nodes and Draw's Interactive connector. Connect two smart nodes together and the objects are joined as one linked object - but not as an automatic grouping. This is because in Visio there is a master object and a malleable connector object. The master object stays the same; the connector object moves and stretches as the master object is resized or moved. Ditto for Corel. Now Corel's Smart Link click can be dumber, yet smarter. While using any of the Corel vector drawing pens and tools users constantly get little written hints about how smart Corel Draw is. Pass over an other object's node and the cursor changes to a tiny "node" message. Pass over the edge of an object and the cursor changes to a tiny "edge" message. So I know that Corel Draw knows where the current object and its key features are. Now when I pass over a "node" or "edge" and the Smart Link toggle is turned on - all I have to do is left mouse double click and the evolving object is linked/grouped with the stationary object and inherits all the properties of the stationary object(fill, outline effects, etc). Now if I right mouse click a popup appears and offers four options:
1)Join and inherit all the properties of the stationary object;
2)Join and inherit all the properties of the object being drawn;
3)Group together where each object retains its own distinct properties;
4)Link in dependency link as in Visio/Interactive Connector with the stationary object being the master object;
Finally implement this same Smart Link click when I am moving an object over the canvas. If Corel (or anybody else does this) - I buy three copies of Smart Link enabled Corel Draw and give it to my DTP staff and say never get the drawings wrong again.

In the meantime Corel Draw does have new Dynamic Guides and Enhanced Snapping that really do help to align, draw, and position objects more precisely and quickly. These new drawing and snapping features are extended to text such that users have options to align text to the first text baseline, the last text baseline or the bounding box or curve. Our experience with doing some menus and poster design was very positive. The new guides and enhanced snapping features did help notably in drawing work. And the old Corel stand bys like Blend, Extrude and Envelope also help speed things along the way. In fact competitors are finally now copying these features, indicating how important easing the task of drawing and joining is becoming in the vector world.

The new new Eyedropper and Paintbucket tools have the ability to to copy color, fill, effects, and transformations from one object to another. This capability is quite useful and brings Draw more level with competing products. However, a Styles browser like in Photoshop or Fireworks is still remiss. All-in-all, the new drawing and snapping features deliver where it counts most - drawing and shaping still makes up the bulk of Draw's tasks.

However the real sleeper in the new features may be the enhanced support for SVG files both on import and export. SVG-Scalable Vector Graphics is an XML standard which is quietly gaining influence. Mozilla has a special browser version that supports SVG natively (i.e. without the need of a plug in). Corel has a bit of self interest here with its Smart Graphics Studio software using SVG extensively. But in the world of data-driven graphics like map-making and construction drawing where a lot of data is tied to the drawings, often also in XML format, SVG makes sense not just because it is open and cross platform but also because it links data to not just drawing but individual elements in novel ways. Now Corel has a tendency to be way ahead of the curve and not able to bring things to fruition - and the sale of Corel's XML division does not augur well. But the upside potential is enormous.

Finally, in doing this overview, I had a chance to look over Adobe Illustrator 10 and Macromedia Freehand MX2004 and it was surprising to the extent that I found the following two phenomena. First, all of the programs have a great deal of nearly redundant, overlapping tools. This example of all the different vector drawing tools is from Corel Draw but let me assure you the other programs are not quite as bad but definitely are sinners as well:
Curve drawing - Freehand, Bezier, Artistic Media, Polyline, Pen, 3 Point Curve, Smart Freehand, Dimension, and Interactive Connector tools
Shape drawing - Rectangle, 3 Point Rectangle, Ellipse, 3 Point Ellipse, Graph paper, Polygon, Spiral, Basic Shapes, Arrow Shapes, Flowchart Shapes, Star Shapes, and Callout Shapes.
The problem is that some of the tools get lost in the shuffle; and the differences between the tools capabilities and restrictions can be confused.

The second problem is what I call the NULL response. Drag and drop a color swatch onto an object and if it is closed it gets filled with the color. Drag and drop a color swatch onto the default Fill color setting - and Nothing Happens! Now this may be a bug. So take the Roughen tool and scratch a vector object's fill - Nothing Happens! Drag the end of a Smart Drawn object over another Smart Drawn Object. The cursor changes to say "edge" or "node" as appropriate. Right mouse click - and Nothing Happens! Drag that same object over a Flowchart shape - and Nothing Happens! Again the other vector draw programs have their share of NULL responders.Too many NULL responses like this makes for a very unhappy designer - NULL responses should be minimized. The preferred response is what I call the PaintShop Pro advantage: they warn the user that trying to do that operation may change the object and/or require a modification to other canvas objects and ask for permission to proceed and make those changes. User decides. I was hoping to see a tightening of features in Corel Draw during the last two editions (ditto for Illustrator, Freehand and Fireworks) - no such luck.

Corel RAVE

Corel RAVE is to Corel Draw as Adobe Image Ready is to Adobe Photoshop - its a subset of Corel Draw that has been extended for doing animations(ImageReady extends Photoshop's web graphics capabilities). RAVE depends on Draws new draughting features (yes, it has the new Smart Freehand tool and the Enhanced Guides and Snap to features). So on the animation canvas where I want to draw faster and more accurately - I can. Good.

The current weakness of Macromedia Flash is that the company has of necessity devoted more time and resources to the programming/developer features of Flash at the expense of the designer/drawing feature set. Third party tools like Mind Avenue's Axel or ToonBoom's Studio partially fill the gap - but they tend to be specialized. Mind Avenue is devoted to 3D and ToonBoom to cartoons. So RAVE can draw on Corel Draws familiarity and drawing finesse while adding timeline ease of use and scripting wizards to ease creation of animations. And with Adobe having thrown in the towel on its LiveMotion tool, the GUI magicians at Corel have an opportunity to strut their stuff in the vector and bitmap graphics arena where Flash could use some help.

And RAVE starts out right by adapting its object property browser to be the left side of the overall timeline pane - so each object created has its own timeline. And every object is in the timeline. Don't need so many object-timelines ? Then group the objects together or put them on separate layers and collapse the layer. The timeline helps to impose a discipline to animation work. In short auto-adding objects to timelines is something Flash should have done long ago .... And then its dirt simple to drag and draw out each object's timeline, add a keyframe and change properties. RAVE immediately applies the tweening - no worry whether this a symbol or graphic. Now we are clicking.

So lets right click on the timeline to set the easement. Oops - a Nonsense popup menu; nothing to do with the object or the timeline. Must be a mistake. I'll double click on a keyframe - NULL Response. Drag and drop an object to the timeline - NULL Response. This is RAVE 3. Hmmm ... maybe those Corel GUI Magicians haven't got around to making something to RAVE about.

Summary

This is the first Corel Draw edition out under Corel's new venture capital ownership, as such its a mark of their new vision and direction. The prognosis is not sparkling. Yes there is in Draw a suggestions of the old time GUI magic with Smart FreeHand and snap to niftiness. Yes, as pointed out there are tremendous opportunities for the Suite. Digital Camera sales are booming. The Web still devours images; images needing graphic processing just like Words in documents. Animation and SVG are bubbling just beneath the surface for a big breakout. Correct me if I am wrong; but the impression one gets from Corel Draw 12 ? Tired. Paltry updates to PhotoPaint. No attempt to streamline Draw. RAVE appears half there after 3 tries. Marketing message is the same old same old. "We have been on top of this game for over 15 years; we do not have to prove ourselves. Besides at street price of $300US, the Suite is a price performance bargain." And Corel Draw is a bargain - but will it be in the future ?




(c)Jacques Surveyer is a photographer and writer; see his images at PicsofToronto.

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