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After a long period of consistently failing to keep the Windows and Mac versions of CorelDraw Graphics Suite in sync, Corel now looks like it has the problem licked. Starting with version 11, the package is sold as a single product containing dual-platform CDs and printed manuals. The new release also sees a bunch of genuinely useful new tools and features, and special optimization for Windows XP and Mac OS X. In fact, Mac users will not be able to run it on anything less. First, here’s an update on what the version 11 suite actually contains, since the content has varied considerably over the years. The suite is a collection of three graphics applications aimed at the professional designer for print, multimedia and the Web, provided along with a number of utility programs, clip art, royalty-free photos, and fonts. The pivotal application is CorelDraw 11 – a powerful vector-illustration program similar to Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia FreeHand. This is joined by Corel Photo-Paint 11, a Photoshop-style paint- and bitmap-editing program; and RAVE 2, a Web-animation program. Together, the CorelDraw Graphics Suite 11 is akin to buying Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and LiveMotion as a set; or possibly even Macromedia FreeHand, Fireworks, and Flash. The big difference is the price: the Corel collection will cost you half as much, if not less. Add in the free extras, including ScanSoft’s OCR package OmniPage SE and a font-management utility, not to mention the vast quantity of clip media, and its value for money is compelling. Symbolic gesture The big news of the upgrade to CorelDraw 11 is the introduction of ‘symbols’, which is a popular concept in other vector-based design software. By copying a graphic to a floating Library window, it’s easy to add duplicates of it elsewhere in your artwork. But these duplicates are just proxies, so you can alter them all globally by changing the original. Corel hasn’t taken the concept to Adobe Illustrator extremes with special symbol brushes, but the system works, and is usable. Symbols are also respected as such when exporting artwork to HTML and Flash formats, keeping file sizes down by avoiding duplication of identical graphics. For a more original new feature, take a look at the ‘3-point’ drawing tools. These offer a fresh approach to drawing vector curves and shapes which may appeal to anyone who finds bézier pen tools unnecessarily fussy for simple jobs. For example, you can click and drag to create a straight line, then when you let go of the mouse button, the line becomes a dynamically reshaping curve locked to the cursor until you click once again to fix it in position. This is a lovely alternative to fiddling with bézier handles or hitting-and-missing with arc tools. If you prefer standard pen tools, Corel has upgraded these too. Both the Pen and Polyline tools can now draw a mixture of lines and curves without forcing you to switch from one tool to another. Also new for CorelDraw 11 are Roughen and Smudge brushes, which manipulate vector paths accordingly to create complex shapes from simple ones. Beyond this, the program is treated to a whole host of smaller but interesting enhancements such as more path-closing options, more customizable snapping, and the ability to convert entire paragraphs of text to vector outlines, rather than just one line at a time. Moving on to Corel Photo-Paint 11, this has been improved in many ways – even though it will never fool you into ditching Photoshop in its favour. Without being unfairly harsh, a lot of the new functionality is a case of playing catch up, but to its credit, Corel is playing catch up in all the right areas. For example, the program now includes the basic elements of Corel KnockOut 2 for creating complex but accurate cut-out masks with minimal effort. You can now handle Web-image slicing and create JavaScript rollover graphics (complete with audio) right within Photo-Paint. Plenty of the other advanced filter effects, such as those for lighting and lens flares, have been spruced up, too. The digital camera user hasn’t been forgotten, either. Photo-Paint 11 includes an all-important Red-Eye Removal tool, and the package supports EXIF information saved by the camera with your digital shots. It’s also significant that Corel has beaten Adobe by being first to market with a mainstream image-editing package that can save to JPEG 2000 format, a feature Adobe had to drop from the Photoshop Elements 2 launch at the last minute. Web animation Last comes the Web animator, RAVE 2. Believe us, this is not a throwaway program like its predecessor arguably was. At one level, it’s comparable to the original version of Adobe’s LiveMotion, but with the might of the CorelDraw 11 art engine at its disposal. This means you can create and manipulate original artwork in RAVE using a generous subset of CorelDraw tools – something you can’t get close to doing, even in the latest releases of LiveMotion and Flash. The program now also features set of behaviours to make complex animation and interactive sequences as straightforward and code free as possible from the designer’s point of view. The Flash export filter has been improved, producing smaller .SWF files, and you can preview everything fully within the program without being kicked out to your Web browser each time. CorelDraw 11’s symbols are also supported. Now for the drawbacks. We experienced some slow response and the occasional hang on both computing platforms, but especially so under Mac OS X 10.2. Once again, Corel has shuffled bits of the interface around in the name of ‘improvement’, yet it remains inconsistent between certain component programs. The menu structure is as unintuitive as ever, with important features hidden in the most unlikely places, such as the floating Manager palettes found under the Tools menu, or the important symbols Library window stuck at the bottom of a sub-menu halfway down the Edit menu. Countering these issues is the fact that the software is extremely powerful while costing not very much at all. Existing owners of CorelDraw Graphics Suite 10 might feel the upgrade is not essential, but new buyers and those who ignored the past few upgrade releases should grab a copy now. Corel is back on track and the new CorelDraw exudes confidence.