CorelDRAW X3 Graphics Suite review
At one stage, the CorelDRAW suite dominated the field of PC graphics. But then Corel took its eye off the ball and allowed Adobe Illustrator to seize the professional market. With the re-branded X3 (effectively ’13’), Corel is confident that DRAW is back to reclaim its crown; but is this latest launch the real deal or just another marketing exercise?
It’s certainly been a miserable few years for CorelDRAW’s fanbase, as recent releases have seen little core power added to the main DRAW application, while other suite members have been quietly dropped. And at first sight it looks like X3 is more bad news, as the suite has now shrunk to just three main applications: DRAW, PHOTO-PAINT and CAPTURE, an uninspired screen-capture utility. Most strikingly, this means that the Corel RAVE application for creating vector Flash animations has been axed after just two releases.
It isn’t a huge loss, as although Corel RAVE was much-trumpeted it was underpowered and little-used: it’s just a shame Corel didn’t see fit to fold the capabilities into DRAW itself rather than simply dropping them.
More worrying initially is the disappearance of CorelTRACE, the suite’s longstanding bitmap-to-vector conversion application. In fact, this turns out to be less of a blow since Corel, in a direct copy of Illustrator CS2’s Live Trace feature, has instead built tracing capabilities directly into the main DRAW application.
The resulting PowerTRACE feature is simple to use. Select an imported bitmap and the Properties bar now provides various drop-down tracing presets based on the type of image – line-art, logo, clip-art and so on. Select one of these and the new PowerTRACE dialog appears complete with before and after previews and control over the level of smoothing, detail and the number of generated colours. Make your choices, click OK and the original bitmap is overlaid with a vector replica.
There’s nowhere near the same power or control that Adobe’s Live Paint offers, or that CorelTRACE used to provide – there are no centre-line options for example, and the link to the bitmap doesn’t remain live. However, Corel does add some useful productivity features, such as the ability to see and specify exactly which colours are used during conversion and to automatically remove a bitmap’s background colour. Most importantly, having the tracing power built in directly to DRAW ensures it will be used far more regularly than the standalone application it replaces.
Tracing imported bitmaps is a great shortcut to producing drawings quickly, but tidying up the results can take longer than recreating them from scratch if you don’t have the necessary path-editing power. This is an area where DRAW has always been strong and X3 adds some important new features, with newly designed control handles, freehand marquee selection and the ability to move straight line segments more easily. Most importantly, there’s now the ability to automatically reduce the number of nodes, an option that works hand-in-glove with the existing curve smoothness slider.
Further drawing power is apparent in X3’s expanded toolset. The new Star and Complex Star tools extend the level of control previously offered by the Star Shape tool, while the handy new Crop tool works with both bitmaps and vector objects, as well as groups (although for non-destructive and non-rectangular clipping you’re better off sticking with PowerClips). There are also new dockers that let you precisely fillet, chamfer and scallop the corners of objects, manage the exact positioning of step-and-repeat effects and apply two kinds of basic bevel. And there’s a new Create Boundary command that automatically creates an outline of any selected object or group.