Corel Designer 10

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The modern interface and impressive functionality will be very new to Designer's existing users - but others will have a strong sense of déjà vu.

At one point Micrografx Designer and CorelDRAW had the world of PC-based vector graphics pretty much to themselves, with Designer taking care of technical drawing and CorelDRAW concentrating on graphic design. Since then competition has arrived from the Mac and market share has fallen. Now Corel has swallowed its former rival and this is the first major release since the take-over. So is it good news at last for Designer's long-suffering userbase?

Well, after the disappointment of version 9 where the highlight was the ability to add halos around call-outs, they are certainly in for a shock. To begin with there's the interface. This is unrecognisable and existing users will simply not know what's hit them. CorelDRAW users will be rather more familiar with the new environment immediately recognising its context-sensitive property bar for controlling tools and no less than 23 docker windows for controlling everything else.

In fact there are only two obvious indicators that tell you that you are working in DESIGNER rather than CorelDRAW. The first is that your cursor is constantly giving feedback on underlying objects and snapping to their paths, mid-points, quadrants, tangents and so on - essential when producing technical work. The second is that DESIGNER offers a slightly different toolbox, two icons wide and with alternatives appearing at the bottom of the toolbox rather than as fly-outs.

So just what power is on offer? Designer users will be most interested in the more technical functionality and there's plenty to choose from (again almost all of it familiar to CorelDRAW users). DESIGNER's Dimension tools are used for marking up precise measurements and include horizontal, vertical and parallel options as well as one for marking up angles. The Callout tool lets you automatically pick out object properties, or you can add your own text. More advanced features include the ability to automatically increment values and to produce callouts with up to three line segments - and the halo option is still there.

DESIGNER offers plenty of technical functionality.

Another common use for Designer is the production of flow diagrams and here again there are changes. The former Sticky Line tool for creating lines that follow the objects they are linked to, has been replaced by the Connector Line tools which again offer up to three segments. Completely new for Designer users are Corel's Perfect Shape tools that let you add common diagrammatic symbols with in-built editing intelligence. DESIGNER also ships with thousands of industry-standard architectural, electrical and mechanical symbols for use as building blocks. These can now be handled via DESIGNER's dedicated Symbol Manager docker which is ideal if you need to update multiple instances or save your drawing to an efficient Flash SWF file for web viewing.

Further technical drawing strengths become apparent when it comes to editing your work. DESIGNER 10 provides powerful ways of combining objects and shape editing. Completely new are the Shape tool's Reflect Nodes options which let you mirror changes around a horizontal or vertical axis. Equally handy are the new ability to divide lines into equal segments and the Virtual Segment Delete tool which trims line segments back to the nearest intersection. Most useful of all will be the Transformation Docker window where you can take precise and centralized control of positioning, rotation, scaling and skewing and now of producing isometric projections.

It's when it comes to new creative power though that Corel's experience really comes to the fore. In the past Designer's formatting capabilities were reasonable but tended towards the technical, with a strong bias towards hatching patterns and dashed lines. Now DESIGNER 10 offers all of CorelDRAW's formatting controls including access to Pantone libraries, fractal fills and so on. There's even the Gradient Mesh tool for adding state-of-the-art PostScript-friendly graduated shading.

It's the same story when it comes to special effects. Designer always seemed to frown on these as if they were showing-off but now all of CorelDRAW's interactive effect tools are on offer. The Extrusion tool will be of most interest to the target audience with the ability it provides to bring 2D drawings into 3D, or at least pseudo-3D, life. Other options include the interactive Blend, Contour, Transparency, Drop Shadow and Envelope tools. Corel clearly thought that adding CorelDRAW's art-based "Artistic Media" brushes would be a step too far so it's given them some spurious technical respectability by renaming them as "Linear Patterns".

DESIGNER is effectively a tweaked version of CorelDRAW.

As always with Corel, there's more in the box than just the main application. Particularly useful is the inclusion of the Trace utility which converts scanned bitmaps to vectors. I'm also a big fan of Bitstream's Font Navigator for taking control of your fonts and the support for Visual Basic for Applications means that DESIGNER can now be used for fully automated workflows. The major downside is that Picture Publisher is no longer bundled so you'll need to have a separate bitmap editor.

All told there's a vast amount for Designer users to get to grips with. It looks like Corel's developers must have been working overtime to graft all this power onto Designer. Except that's exactly what they haven't done. Instead they've simply taken CorelDRAW, dropped certain functionality such as the print preview and Photo-Paint effects, and then tweaked the interface and the odd tool to give a slightly more technical feel. It's not the same thing at all and many Designer users will be horrified at the unacknowledged demise of their favoured solution. Others will simply be amazed at how much new power they suddenly have access to.

Corel is doing its best to obscure the fact but ultimately DESIGNER 10 isn't actually a new release of the longstanding Micrografx application, rather it's a competitive upgrade to a tweaked version of CorelDRAW. All things considered, it's probably the best option available.

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System requirements: Pentium II or higher, 128MB of RAM, 200MB of hard disk space, Windows 98, NT4 (SP6), Me, 2000 (SP3) or XP, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

May 2003

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