Review: CorelDraw X6

Now on its 16th incarnation, CorelDraw X6 has a few shiny new toys to show off. If you are looking for vector and general image control software should you consider it?

Corel_X6_box_shotCorel has widened its audience by adding in further functionality to it's existing products in the suite and blurred the edges by adding in a website creation tool into the mix.

The package consists of the following applications:

  • CorelDraw X6 – Vector illustration package and DTP page layout
  • Corel PHOTO-PAINT X6 – Photo editing comparable to PhotoShop
  • Corel PowerTrace X6 – Bitmap-to-vector conversion app
  • Corel Capture X6 – screen capture app
  • Corel Connect X6 – Search tool for finding digital content on your hard drive and sites such as Flickr, Fotolia and iStockPhoto
  • PhotoZoom Pro 2 – image enlargement with exporting to Photo-Paint
  • Corel Website Creator X6 – Designing and managing websites

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Let's start with the newer app, Corel Website Creator. This is not actually provided on the DVD - you have to register to download it, which is a little frustrating but simple enough. Why force users through another step when they've already shelled out for the software?

corel-website-creator

The application is extremely easy to use. You can select from a reasonable amount to templates, and drag and drop functions straight onto the page such as accordian menus and tabbed panels. It even creates DHTML based timeline events e.g. you can get text to move or appear at a given interval.

Although you can quickly design a very usable and good looking site quite quickly I can only recommend using it for creating mockups. The reason for this is that the code it produces for all of the templates I tried was mainly table-based rather than CSS, which has been the preferred method for web designers for 6-7 years now. I was also hoping to see tighter integration to some of the core apps, but, for example, you'd have to export from CorelDraw as a JPG and then import rather than having on the fly conversion. The is the ability to get under the bonnet and tweak both HTML and CSS code, and perhaps Corel will release some CSS templates in the future. Still, as a first version and when considered purely as a design tool rather than a coding tool it will open in-house web design to a new audience.

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CorelDraw

This is of course the main app in the suite, and the reason that most will buy or upgrade. The new version is supplied in both 32 and 64 bit versions, with Corel citing that it also takes advantage of multi core processors. I can't say that I noticed much in the way of performance improvements, and that was on an i7 with 6GB RAM but it was by no means sluggish. Quite often a software upgrade often requires a hardware upgrade just to perform at the same speed, so this is welcome nonetheless.

One of the most useful tweaks is the PowerClip command. It's now much easier to create PowerClip object and, once created you can simply drag another object over it to insert. It also - finally - auto centres the object within the PowerClip, which may sound like a minor point but when creating multiple clips it really does speed things up.

corel-vector-shaping-tool

CorelDraw X6 sports some new shape tools that beef up its vector credentials. Smear, twirl, attract, repel as the names suggest allow you to reshape a vector image just by dragging the mouse across it. They do add to the already impressive arsenal of vector manipulation tools that Corel provides, but you have to be using Corel for this type of work often for these really to be much of a bonus.

corel-baseline-gridOne great new addition is the baseline tool. This allows you to set a standard baseline font and size. Corel will then draw faint lines down the page. When you align a paragraph box to the baseline text will automatically snap to it when you move the box, thus ensuring that all text instances line up even after minor tweaks at the end of the design process. I can see this being one of the features that most designers will enable at the start of each document, so a big thumbs up for this new toy.

A lot of work has been done on OpenType font support. As they are Unicode based this makes Corel suitable for producing documents destineds for several platforms. The new interactive frames also allow you to quickly create mockups, such as text boxes prefilled with 'Lorum Ipsum' text, which is useful when you just want to throw something together quickly.

There are a whole raft of minor changes throughout the software - the object properties docker has had a makeover, new style engine and docker, colour styles and harmonies, support for Adobe and Microsoft formats has been beefed up (with Corel citing in their press conference that they'll support Adobe CS6 when released, as CorelDraw X6 was released earlier than CS6), support for both 32 and 64 bit Adobe PhotoShop plugins, page numbering (how did they miss that for 15 versions?) and master templates for odd,even and both page layouts.

Even as someone that has used CorelDraw across several versions I felt at home with this new release, with many new features feeling natural to use. For me the baseline alignment and PowerClip tools are the two that I can see saving time for a lot of people, but I think the object properties docker deserves an honorary mention also. The shape tools are niceties, but probably of limited use to many.


Corel PHOTO-PAINT

smart-carverMoving onto Corel's photo editing app. The biggest feature here is the smart carver. This allows you to remove objects from photos by simply placing a mask around them - the app then does the rest and interprets the background behind them. I think you have to have realistic expectations about what is achievable, but in my tests it produced some startlingly good results. It produced a few not so good ones as well, but that was more down to the complexity of the detail around the item that I wanted to remove. If you have a solid background around your object then the results will more often than not be excellent and require little or no modification. You can also use smart carver to change the pixel aspect ratio of a photo, useful if you want to print a photo at a certain size - smart carver will 'create' the background to fit once you specify the areas of interest.

corel-create-clip-maskThe 'create clip mask' feature is also pretty useful. You can select a group of objects and apply a property such as transapency to the entire group without it being destructive to the individual items. The 'pass through merge mode' allows you to create some complex effects by allowing effects to be applied to groups. For those considering migrating from Adobe PhotoShop (or that have learnt on it and not yet saved up enough to purchase a license at Adobe's extortionate UK price conversions), Corel provide a workspace conversion that makes PHOTO-PAINT immediately much more familiar.

PHOTO-PAINT also benefits from 64 bit support and tight integration into the Corel Connect app.

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The rest

Although CorelDraw and PHOTO-PAINT are the two core applications, the suite does come with a variety of other tools, most of which have seen benefits from the new release.

Corel Connect is a content browser that allows you to view your content, the content provided on the CorelDVD (instead of them providing that 1" ringbound book of old) or online content from the likes of Flickr, Fotolia and iStockPhoton. The expanded version includes 1000 new photos and multiple image trays.

corel-connect

Corel Power-TRACE is a bitmap to vector tracing tool - very useful for example if you have a printed image/logo that you want to get into editable and scalable vector format.

Corel Capture allows one-click screen capture capabilities.

PhotoZoom Pro 2 is a plugin for PHOTO-PAINT that allows you to export hi-res images.

Barcode Wizard - generate industry standard barcodes

Duplexing Wizard assists with printing double-sided documents

Bitstream font navigator is a font management application.

Additional material: 10,000 clipart/images, 1000 hi-res photos, 1000 OpenType fonts, 2000 vehicle templates, 350 professionally designed templates and 800 frames and patterns. Two hours of training videos included, with more available on Corel's YouTube channel

Gone are the days when a small rain forest is used in the production of Corel's packaging.  The software is available for immediate download online, but if you choose to go for the physical version you now receive a single hardbound book which not so much a step by step instructional guide as a demonstrator of what the software can do, littered with excellent examples. The inside cover has the DVD and serial number, so the book 'is' the license.

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Conclusion

After writing this review and playing with the various new features I actually feel a little sorry for the Corel development team, as when they undoubtedly release X7 the bar has already been raised that much higher. When I attended the press conference and read through the list of new features I initially felt a little underwhelmed, but in using them together they feel greater than the sum of their parts. There were a few times that when the software processed a command I exhaled and sat back in my chair in surprise and delight at the results, which believe me does not happen that often these days. Even a user of X5 would see the value in an upgrade, and for new customers the purchase should be a no-brainer.

The CorelDraw X6 suite is to imagery as MS Office is to word processing, number crunching and presenting. It is a one-box solution which contains pretty much everything you would need for image manipulation and content creation. The Website Creator is a great addition to expand the suite's reach but can't yet be considered as a replacement for the likes of Dreamweaver. If you compare the asking price to Adobe's Creative Suite Design Standard - the closest alternative at £1238.40 then this is an extremely cost effective alternative. It's rare that a product deserves five stars, but when you take into consideration the price and what's included it is hard not to be impressed.

Price: £478.79 (full version) £214.79 (upgrade). Prices include UK VAT @ 20%. 30 day trial version available.

Availability: Corel.com

myb_5star

 

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