The graphics software market has seen considerable expansion and contraction in the past 10 years, with one advantage being that there are fewer, more capable applications available than in the past, and those applications are cheaper to deploy.
One leading product during the last decade has been CorelDraw, which evolved from a loose collection of graphics utilities with broad appeal to one drawing and one paint application targeted at skilled illustrators.
CorelDraw 9, due to ship in May, continues this consolidation by mixing the latest industry developments with refinements to its already solid features. For example, CorelDraw supports the emerging Job Ticketing technology. Moreover, by including the new IXLA interface, you can easily acquire images from 120 types of digital cameras.
I also found that the beta software required fewer mouse clicks than past versions, produced higher-quality output, and included better Internet-publishing capabilities. As such, for the estimated 10 million current owners, CorelDraw 9 is a meaningful upgrade. At an estimated $179 retail price, users of competitive software should seriously consider CorelDraw.
As graphics applications add more features, multiple palettes can dominate the main workspace. CorelDraw now docks all windows, such as filters and colours, on the edge of the screen to keep them out of the way - yet these functions are always accessible by merely clicking on a tab.
Numerous improved tools helped me draw faster and more precisely. For example, after creating a freehand curve, I reduced the number of nodes, or points, along the curve in one step, making the object easier to edit and print. Zooming, drawing rectangles and lines, and rotating objects were likewise very flexible.
In output, CorelDraw 9 ships with several new colour palettes, including Pantone Hexachrome, as well as metallic and pastel colours. The new Publish to PDF feature - which is like having a built-in copy of Adobe Acrobat Distiller - generated PDF files that were identical to my originals.
I was equally delighted that Corel had the foresight to include Job Ticketing. I employed this promising output technique to include instructions for my commercial printer - both within PDF files and as an attachment to an EPS file. In addition, CorelDraw's "Pre-Flight" function checked my drawing for problems, such as curves that were too complex, before saving them as PostScript files.
CorelDraw 9's desktop-publishing features do not outdo those of Corel Ventura 8 or other desktop publishing software. But for short, design-intensive documents, you should not need another package. I easily resized text frames, for example, wrapped text around other frames to create intricate layouts, and adjusted type spacing.
To post pages on the Web, I used CorelDraw's HTML conversion function because it closely matched my original design. Graphics were changed to the appropriate screen resolution and text styles translated to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).
CorelDraw currently includes many of the bitmap effects used in Corel's stand-alone bitmap editor, Photo-Paint. You can convert a vector illustration to bitmap format with a resolution as high as 10,000 dots per inch (dpi) - a requirement for billboards and highway signs - and then apply any of 50 filters.
Conversely, Corel Photo-Paint 9 shares a number of Draw's new and updated features, including the additional colour palettes, PDF publishing, and PostScript exporting options.
Applying Photo-Paint's blur filters using a 400MHz Pentium II system was just a few seconds slower than using the same filters in Adobe Photoshop 5.02.
In features, Photo-Paint 9 also comes close to Photoshop. Photo-Paint's Undo/Redo Docker window, for example, makes it easy to go back to an earlier stage in the edit cycle.
To check compatibility, I imported MetaCreations' Painter files and had no problems. Next, I opened several Photoshop files, which appeared with all layers intact. I then selected individual layers and applied various special effects - from simple drop shadows to artistic textures. Furthermore, Photo-Paint has the most import and export filters I have seen.
Repetitive tasks in both CorelDraw and Photo-Paint can be automated with Visual Basic for Applications. Plus, several included scripts proved very useful; the Web Page Cutter used my guidelines to divide an image and produce the HTML table code to reproduce the image for use on the Web.
When you add useful utilities (autotrace, texture creation, as well as text and font management), CorelDraw continues to provide an excellent value - on top of its strong features and usability.
The Bottom Line
CorelDraw 9, Beta 2
This powerful vector-illustration and page-layout application includes Photo-Paint 9, which is ideal for retouching photos, adding effects, creating Web graphics, and originating bitmaps.
Pros: Compact user interface; precision drawing tools; enhanced desktop publishing and typography features; saves directly to PDF; extensive PostScript output options; extensible with Visual Basic for Applications.
Cons: Sluggish on low-end PCs.
Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT 4.0; Windows NT/Alpha; Power Mac (summer 1999).
Price: Not yet available.
Corel Tel 1800 658 850