Designs on Office Users

CorelDRAWSurrendering slices of the pie it knows it can’t win, Corel have released a self-styled ‘essential Microsoft Office users’ graphics companion’ and created a strong, lean suite.

The war is over. One by one, the major creative and design applications have all abandoned the fight against the Adobe juggernaut.

After owning huge swathes of the desktop publishing market for a decade, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and their close relatives keep getting better and more seamless, so a graphics package like CorelDRAW has had twice the battle; to be recognised and outperform its formidable competition.

The last resort for many a design application has been to flock to the service of above-average Microsoft Office users, where many people are frustrated by its design limitations but don’t count themselves professional designers.

So is going down the Path of Pagemaker an admission of defeat or cause for new hope? Of the graphics application collections out there, (outside the realm of the heavy-duty creative user), Corel 12 is the most comprehensive design tool around, so it’ll remain to be seen whether they conquer the new territory.

A New Paradigm

The biggest change from CorelDRAW 11 is the one that signals Corel’s new direction; they’ve dropped it on the Mac. It may be a coincidence that Corel 12 emerged in it’s XP-only guise at the same time Adobe’s Creative Suite appeared, but Corel most probably realised they shouldn’t expect many Adobe-based designers to make the jump (since the new Adobe family offers as much value for money).

There will be Corel for Mac adherents who’ll be miffed to have been left in the lurch (both of them), but there’s one problem in Corel’s reckoning. In trying to appeal to PC-based, non-professional designers who just want to do their own low-level designer without paying an ad agency, Corel 12 is actually too comprehensive and has more power and features than anyone except professional designers will need. One wonders if they shouldn’t have cut it right back to the basics and charged less.

All In the Family

But enough about the marketing; what about the product? As in version 11, it contains CorelDRAW, Corel PHOTO-PAINT and Corel RAVE; used for vector illustration, pixel image retouching and motion graphics respectively. There are also some very cool utilities that come with the Suite, bolstering the value for money exponentially.

Among them is CorelTRACE, a pixel to vector image converter (just like the old Adobe Streamline) that works a treat with a single click.

PHOTO-PAINT and RAVE have remained essentially the same, apart from some window-dressing and low-level bug fixes (as well as the more businesslike new interface that Windows XP imposes). The changes are all in CorelDRAW, and in keeping with the non-professional user philosophy, they’re mostly aimed at increasing speed through automation. The kind of control over detail professional designers would never give up is taken out of your hands (if you wish), and the new features Corel are pushing are mostly exciting and work well.

Time Saver Tools

One is the smart drawing guide. If you want a shape that isn’t easily made by just dragging a marquee for an ellipse or rectangle, you draw it — as roughly as you like — with the smart drawing tool, and Corel gives you a cleanly-drawn version of what it thinks you want. It’s not perfect, but creating a shape with 12 lines or curves is a lot easier when you can do it in one step and just move a few anchor points.

Another very handy tool (and one that wouldn’t be unwelcome in Corel’s more famous competitors) is dynamic guides. Similar to the smart guides in Adobe Illustrator but with a lot more detail, floating guides appear relative to objects on the page, letting you precisely align corners, nodes or curves relative to other objects. Theoretically you don’t have to select and align elements after everything’s on the page because you do it as you go using dynamic guides. In practice it works best when you’re only working with a few objects as it’s too easy to lose track of what’s supposed to be lined up with what.

And there’s always one nifty little feature tucked in an obscure corner that just blows you away. In CorelDRAW, it’s TrueDoc. When you save a .cdr file, click on the options button and you get to save/embed the font in the file, the same as you do in a PDF, but one step back — inside the generating application (something no other graphics developer has thought of or bothered to do).

CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 12 comes with a swag of free fonts, clipart and photos, is a fully enclosed studio package with pretty failsafe export to the formats Office users will be used to, and is a leaner, meaner application than its bloated predecessor. It’s still a little heavy on features considering the user it’s aimed at, but if it continues its current focus, will conquer its new market before long.

Verdict ”’