Price: £299 plus VAT; upgrade £199 plus VAT
Company: Laurence King
After buying Micrografx at the end of 2001, Corel rushed out a less-than-compelling Designer 9 release – which was little more than a rebranding exercise. This time round, though, Designer 10 looks and feels like a new program. The feature set has been extended with effects from CorelDraw, while the package as a whole seems more focused – and certainly a damn sight easier to pick up and learn from scratch. For those new to the program, here’s a catch-up. Designer is a Windows-only vector-illustration package with specific tools for working with precision artwork. Back in the mid-1990s, Designer rubbed shoulders with the likes of Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand, but had equal pretensions to rival the many business-diagramming and flowchart packages on the PC such as Visio. Too good to be a mere flowcharter but never really challenging big-name illustration software for print and Web design, Designer risked losing its way. Planning it out Today, Corel wants you to use Designer 10 for creating accurate floorplans and wiring diagrams, isometric drawings for engineering manuals, and perhaps hardcopy artwork for registering product design patents. This kind of material is actually very difficult to produce with anything approaching scale accuracy using Illustrator, FreeHand or even CorelDraw, but Designer tackles the job swiftly using its dedicated features. At the same time, the program is much more accessible to creative graphic designers than conventional technical drawing packages such as AutoCAD or even AutoSketch. The most striking change in the upgrade is the cleaner interface with its CorelDraw-like ‘docker’ windows (dockable floating palettes) and distinctive screen layout for colour palette, status bar, and page tabs. This might not go down too well with long-term Designer die-hards, as it means they have to relearn the program to a certain extent. Mind you, Adobe made its users do this with Photoshop 5.0 without upsetting anyone. To help you get the hang of things, though, Corel has made the interface highly customizable, and even supplies a couple of alternative workspace layouts that roughly mimic Designer 9 and Adobe Illustrator. The main toolbox has been reorganized to make things clearer, with tool subsets being shown at the bottom of the toolbox instead of appearing in a flyout bar. On one hand, we like this idea because it ensures that no tools end up being hidden or forgotten. On the other hand, while it isn’t counter-intuitive, it does mean that you have to click more than once in different parts of the toolbox just to select the tool you want. It’s bad enough having to keep returning to the toolbox all the time without having play mouse-hopscotch once you get there. Designer 10 borrows more from CorelDraw than just a few interface details. You’ll also find some of CorelDraw’s sharpest features in there, such as the lens effects (including transparency and magnify), extrusion and perspective distortion tools, and interactive effects including drop shadows, envelopes, textures, and gradient fills. The clever ‘three-point’ shape tools, introduced with CorelDraw 11, have been inserted into Designer 10. Instead of creating a rectangle by dragging its shape from one corner to the opposite corner, for example, you can click in two locations to create the width of the rectangle, then click a third time to set its height. In addition to three-point rectangles and ellipses, you can now create three-point diagram callouts (labels with arrows) to zigzag around tricky areas. These features lend themselves wonderfully to technical drawing. Automation On that note, several key drawing features have been automated to speed up common tasks. For example, flat 2D shapes can be projected onto isometric planes with a click, and incremental repeats (such as a pattern of shapes or sequence of numbered labels) are quick to do. Dimension lines can include angles as well as distances. Also important is the introduction of object ‘symbols’, so that multiple copies of an object refer back to a single original. When you alter the original, all associated copies update automatically, and there’s some scope for applying repeated symbols as a kind of spray paint. These are common features in illustration software these days, but Designer 10 also allows you to keep your original symbols in an external database. This opens up automation possibilities for all kinds of businesses from kitchen designers to machinery installers. Our favourite new feature is called ‘gravity snapping’. Roughly similar to Adobe Illustrator’s ‘smart guides’, this produces (and snaps to) lines, edges, midpoints, end-points, centres, quadrants, and so on, as you pass the mouse cursor over your drawings. As well as ensuring precision, gravity snapping has turned the process of applying accurately positioned dimension lines into a no-brainer. It will save you hours of work – no exaggeration. What you can’t do is lock onto an intersection or tangent or whatever and continue to drag along that theoretical plane like you can in Illustrator. Another interesting addition to the program is the Virtual Segment Delete tool. Once you have created a wireframe isometric picture from individual shapes, the Virtual Segment Delete tool lets you pick away intersecting and overlapping lines within the shapes in order to leave a realistic opaque 3D-effect result, ready for shading. The package benefits from Corel’s experience in developing file-conversion technologies, too, with over 60 import/export filters and both HTML and PDF publishing. Not least, Corel has thrown in a copy of its Corel Trace utility for converting bitmap scans to editable vector illustrations. You certainly get decent value for money here. The problem is, good value or not, you can buy other technical-drawing programs for a good deal less than Designer 10. For around £250, you can pick up a copy of Deneba Canvas 8, which is akin to owning Designer and the entire CorelDraw Graphics Suite in one box. AutoSketch 8 is available for under £150, while £70 will buy you IMSI TurboCAD 8 Standard, which even includes 3D modelling and rendering. However, none of these products are as easy to learn or as well automated for fast draughting as Designer 10 – so if that’s your bag, then Designer could be money well spent.