By Michael Burns | on March 17, 2008
Price: 329 . 149
Pros: Live text formatting and font identification; large range of learning resources and extras; new tracing options; Vista support; enhanced import/export.
Cons: No Mac or Linux support; no roundtrip editing; lack of support for scientific imaging; ConceptShare is a subscription based service.
CorelDraw is often regarded by designers as a Creative Suite for marketing departments, but this hasn’t stopped Corel pitching it as much at creative professionals as those who create media as only part of their job. The Graphics Suite X4 bundle combines vector artwork design, page layout and image editing in a single package that costs around a third of Adobe’s equivalent package.
The major applications in the X4 suite include CorelDraw and Photo-Paint, which share a redesigned interface that includes new icons, menus and controls. It’s a user-friendly makeover, offering, for example, a large Hints box with context-sensitive notes on each tool selected. Additional learning resources include step-by-step guides, several ‘insights from the experts’ tutorials in book and PDF format, and two hours of training videos on the application DVD.
Little interface helpers abound, such as the ability to change the height and width of elements accurately on the workspace by performing calculations in the menu bar. You can also use keywords, notes, file type, date, or text when you search for CorelDraw X4 files from Windows Explorer or Windows Vista Search.
Corel’s main competition is, of course, Adobe’s Creative Suite 3. However a number of compatibility enhancements to the Graphics Suite suggest that Corel is attempting to gain a foothold in design studios with existing Photoshop and Illustrator workflows. Accessible via the customization dialog, CorelDraw includes a workspace conversion that has the look and feel of Illustrator, while Photo-Paint takes on a Photoshop disguise.
Photoshop and Illustrator CS3 files and PDF 1.7 and Acrobat 8 formats are supported, while files created with Graphics Suite can be saved in the PDF/A format. When exporting to Illustrator CS3 format, you can choose a format for the exported file’s text. There’s also enhanced format compatibility with Microsoft Publisher, Corel Painter X and AutoCAD DXF and DWG files (versions R5 to 2007).
Further integration is helped by the X4 suite’s support for Adobe Color Management Module (CMM), which matches colours between Adobe and Corel applications using standard ICC profiles. Vista users will also be able to use the Windows Color System CMM.
The venerable CorelDraw takes on QuarkXPress and InDesign by adding page-layout tools. It’s now possible to control and edit layers independently for each document page, as well as add local guidelines or master guides across the range of the document. There’s a new table tool, which lets you resize and edit cells and import tables from other applications; however, apart from these functions, it’s fairly unsophisticated.
Text support is enhanced, with the live text facility providing a preview of how text in different fonts and sizes will look on the page. This is good for experimenting with different looks, but didn’t always run smoothly. Custom quotation marks can be specified when typing in different languages, and text can be interactively mirrored horizontally or vertically.
Another text feature is a link to WhatTheFont.com, which allows you to click on a sample of a client’s text and identify it from an online database. In an echo of Adobe Version Cue, Corel offers a collaborative online utility in the form of Conceptshare, available directly from within the applications, but it’s a subscription-based service.
CorelDraw shares some new features with Photo-Paint, the image-editing component of the suite. First among these is support for Raw camera images, which pops up a similar dialog to the Photoshop version when opening or importing Raw files. The dialog displays information about file properties and camera settings, while interactive controls let you quickly preview changes, such as adjustments to image colour and tone. It’s not as extensive as the Adobe version in terms of tools, but it offers a very handy split-screen mode.
Photo-Paint has some new tools of its own, including live feedback of histograms and Tone Curve adjustments. While this is nothing new to those already familiar with Photoshop, Photo-Paint also presents all adjustment controls in its Image Adjustment Lab dialog.
One notable advantage Adobe’s Creative Suite has over Corel’s offering is the roundtrip editing of objects between applications, where images that have already been placed in InDesign documents are updated with a simple click if they are subsequently edited in Photoshop, for example. The Graphics Suite has an Application Launch button in the toolbar and the useful PowerTrace application is integrated, but there’s no Edit Original link. There are also no scientific and medical imaging features in Photo-Paint, as there were in the recent advanced version of Photoshop CS3.
However, many of Illustrator’s most lauded features appear under a different guise in CorelDraw. For example, the Live Paint feature is matched by Smart Fill, which applies fills to any enclosed area. Illustrator’s Live Trace command is superseded by CorelDraw’s three Bitmap trace commands, including the new Centreline Trace. Also referred to as stroke tracing, this method uses unfilled closed and open curves, and is suitable for tracing technical illustrations, maps, signatures and line drawings.
While Creative Suite is increasingly aimed at digital environments such as mobile delivery, Corel seems to be pitching Graphics Suite X4 at the pre-press market. As well as the now-customary Corel clip art and font collections, the suite comes bundled with Bitstream Font Navigator, a barcode-creation application, a service bureau profiler to help prepare work for professional presses, and a duplexing utility to optimize output for two-sided printing. There are also 1,000 high-resolution royalty-free images in the shipping bundle.
The printing bias is a smart move for Corel, and the enhancements to the colour management system only strengthen this key part of the suite’s appeal. This appeal is reinforced by an enhanced Print Merge function and the inclusion of 80 templates, covering uses such as T-shirts, flyers, business cards, brochures and a large selection of stationery. A bonus element here is the Designer Notes that accompany each template, revealing the choices behind the layout and colours, as well as providing information on the best way to print artwork and media created using customized templates.
Given this focus, it’s best to compare the pricing of the Graphics Suite X4 with Adobe’s Creative Suite CS3 Design Standard version, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat Professional, but costs an extra £100. If you’re a small studio or freelancer, that makes a difference. The clip art and photos are of some use, but probably the most beneficial extras will be the designer notes templates and the other learning resources. There’s no Mac or Linux support, however, which is a pity.