Corel Draw 10

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Improved Web power and a new Web animation module can't hide the fact that the Draw suite has lost its edge.

Corel Draw has had a long and distinguished history as the professional graphics application of choice on the PC. In fact, until the Mac-based flagships FreeHand and Illustrator shifted their focus onto the Windows platform, it was effectively the only professional graphics application for the PC. Draw took full advantage of its head-start introducing advanced features, such as multiple page layouts, enveloping, blending and graduated transparency, to leave the competition trailing. Recently however Corel has had other things on its mind and has allowed its rivals back into the race. A lot is riding on this latest release - so is it a perfect 10? 

Draw 10

On first loading it looks as if little has changed with the Draw interface still based on a combination of the context-sensitive property bar and the range of docker windows down the right-hand of the screen. The main difference is that the property bars for the main interactive tools, such as Blend and Drop Shadow, now offer a dropdown list of preset effects. If you regularly use particular effects, you can also now save these to the list. Another feature boosting efficiency is the occasional real time preview. Using the Text on Path drop-down list, for example, you can preview placement options without having to apply them first.

By making the property bar more powerful and interactive, the docker windows become correspondingly less important. It's not in Corel's nature to cut back however, and it has taken the opportunity of a new release to add two new dockers. The first is the Undo docker which lists all commands applied to the image and lets you select any earlier image state to return to. The docker also lets you save sequences of commands as scripts - though to do this you will have to go back to install the new 6.2 version of Visual Basic for Applications. There's also a new Web Connector docker which is an embedded browser that takes you directly to content and information on the Corel site.

The new Undo docker offers easy undo and scripting.

The most significant change to the docker windows is the revamp of the Colour docker. In the past this was a pale imitation of the Uniform Fill dialog, but now with new tabs offering full access to palette libraries, including the Pantone sets, and slider-based control of all colour models, including the Web Safe collection, it's a much closer call. In fact with the new option to automatically apply changes to the currently selected object it probably pulls ahead. Even so I still can't see why Corel doesn't just implement all the dialog's functionality in the docker and be done with it.

Two other introductions to the Draw interface are designed to help users manage their view of their work. The new Page Sorter view shows thumbnails of all pages in the current publication that can be simply dragged and dropped to change their order. The new Navigator window comes into play if you are working on a zoomed-in image and lets you to quickly pan your current view by repositioning a zoom box on a thumbnail of the overall page. Disappointingly you can't change zoom level and position simultaneously and generally I would have preferred it if the Page Sorter and Navigator had both been integrated into the existing underused View Manager docker.

The Page Sorter view lets you visually reorder pages.

Unfortunately you can't customize the dockers, but Draw does let you customize just about everything else about your working environment. The control over this has been rationalized into a single tabbed dialog in which you can see and control how all commands can be accessed, set up shortcuts, load and even edit an associated icon. These icons are now automatically shown next to menu commands which is meant to help identification but which just makes the interface seem busier and uglier. Once you've customized your environment to work the way you want, you can now easily import and export workspaces and even automatically email them to colleagues.

Clearly all power can be useful and between the numerous ways of doing the same thing that have built up over time - menus, context menus, property bars, dialogs, dockers and shortcuts - and its unmatched customization capabilities, the Draw 10 environment is certainly accommodating. However I can't help thinking that there wouldn't be so much need for individual fine-tuning if Draw's developers had got it right in the first place. Throwing options at the end user just isn't the same as a well thought-through interface.

So much for the new interface features, what about the new power? It's been a while since Draw's basic drawing tools have been expanded but Draw 10 adds over 75 new shapes available from the new PerfectShape tool. Don't get too excited - most of the options, such as arrows and callouts, have been available before as symbols. The real difference is that most of the new PerfectShapes have a level of intelligence built-in when it comes to editing. Drag on the red diamond marker on an arrow, for example and you can change the size of the arrow's head and body simultaneously.

The new PerfectShapes are useful building blocks.

In addition to this one new introduction, many of the interactive tools have seen enhancements. The Contour and Extrusion tools can now be applied simultaneously to objects in groups, for example, while the Distortion tool can be applied to paragraph frames and the Knife and Eraser can be used to split bitmaps as well as vectors. The Text tool has also been given a revamp of sorts with a rationalized Format Text dialog, the ability to cope with multiple languages in the same text block and the replacement of the old TypeAssist feature by WordPerfect's QuickCorrect equivalent. All very worthy, but I still can't get quite as excited as Corel would like by the fact that the text cursor now flashes.

In terms of high-end features, Draw 10 sees a major overhaul of the underlying colour management system with a new unified central dialog. Colour management is a notoriously difficult topic so I was surprised to be presented with a single visual dialog based on images of the devices in your colour management workflow. Select from the range of pre-supplied colour management styles - prepress, Web and so on - and the links between the devices are automatically updated. Click on the devices or the links and you can set different ICC profiles and set up custom handling. I'm still not sure if this will help users or just confuse them further, but at least it shows that Corel has give the issue some serious thought.

Corel has tried to simplify the colour management workflow.

When it comes to outputting commercial print, the level of control Draw offers has always been impressive and this has been further enhanced with the ability to specify the order of separations, to set up in-RIP trapping for Postscript 3 devices, and, a feature I especially like, the ability to automatically align crop marks to the edges of objects rather than the edges of the page - ideal for small jobs such as business cards. Draw's PDF output has also been improved with support for the PDF/X-1 exchange standard and the ability to embed ICC colour profiles and keyword and author information. Two additions to the dialog are a Prepress tab, where you can control features such as printers' marks and bleeds, and a Preflight tab, where potential problems such as broken image links are flagged.

Generally Draw's print-based power has always been second-to-none (though the quality of its Postscript output is more debatable), but its Web features have always seemed far less convincing. These days that's simply not good enough and Draw 10 is designed to address the problem.

To begin with it now lets you create rollovers using the command from the Effects menu or from the Internet toolbar. Once you have turned an object into a rollover, you can edit it to set up normal, over and down states. To do this you first select the relevant state either from the Internet toolbar or from tabs at the bottom of the image window and then change the appearance of the rollover using any of Draw's formatting capabilities. While you are editing the rollover the rest of the page is made invisible so there's no possibility of confusing image states. You can then preview the effect within Draw with a live preview option. All very simple.

Draw can now produce rollover button effects.

Draw 10 has also seen an overhaul of its Web output capabilities with the Publish to the Web command now offering three different sub-options. Completely new is the ability to export entire images as embedded Flash SWF files complete with control over features such as JPEG compression and file protection. Further tabs in the dialog offer control over the HTML code for managing settings such as movie size, while the Preflight tab raises issues such as the presence of non-RGB colours. Draw also provides the ability to export to the emerging SVG Web vector format with similar levels of control, though sensibly this is hidden away in the Export dialog until browser support is more widespread.

Saving vector drawings for the Web as vector-based SWFs and SVGs like this makes a lot of sense, but currently these formats still lag well behind the ubiquitous bitmap-based GIFs and JPEGs. To produce these Web bitmaps Draw used to depend on antiquated GIF and JPEG dialogs with tiny previews, little optimization control and no ability to compare one set of optimization parameters against another. Now the Publish to the Web command offers a new Web Image Optimizer module which lets you compare up to four large previews, quickly choose between a range of preset optimizations and call up a dedicated dialog for fine-tuning.

The final Publish to the Web option, Publish to HTML, is the most comprehensive of all. The dialog offers no less than six tabs in which you can do everything from set up whether the output should be based on tables, CSS styles, or a single image with image map, through to viewing potential problems and a table of download statistics. Most impressive of all is the Images tab which shows all automatically generated image slices and again lets you choose between a range of preset optimizations.

All told this is unquestionably a serious overhaul and for the first time Draw seems to be giving almost as much thought to Web output as to print. However I'm still not convinced. Rollovers might be simple to create, for example, but without style and effect-based formatting it's not possible to quickly set up the most common click-button effect. The lack of interactive image slicing is also a major limitation. Most disappointing of all is the GIF-based optimization. As soon as you stray away from the provided presets, you are thrown back to the old Convert to Paletted dialog with its tiny preview and inability to compare one setting against another. Even worse is the lack of a Websnap palette and the ability to shift individual colours to their nearest Web-safe equivalent. Optimization is absolutely crucial when outputting graphics-heavy pages and, when it comes down to it, Draw 10 still falls short.

Draw now offers Web optimization comparison - but the overall control is still disappointing.

Corel RAVE 1

Ultimately then, while the features look reasonable on paper, I doubt whether many users will actually use Draw to produce their Web images and Web pages. Rather than a moonlighting print-oriented design package, most users will instead be turning to dedicated Web imaging packages such as Fireworks or Xara. And increasingly of course they will be turning to the new breed of Web imaging applications, such as Flash and LiveMotion, that are able to bring sites to life through interactive SWF animation. Thankfully Corel has recognized this and has come up with its own dedicated, SWF-based, vector animation solution - Corel RAVE (real animated vector effects). 

It's been a while since Corel has produced a new design application and I was interested to see how it would take advantage of a fresh start to rethink the RAVE interface. Of course as part of the Draw suite I expected it to share the same look and feel, but RAVE doesn't just look like Draw, it is Draw. The only noticeable features that have gone missing are certain print-oriented commands, such as the Layout menu and overprint controls, and the occasional effect, such as the Perspective and Extrusion options. Otherwise, from PerfectShapes through Bitmap filters to final SWF export, RAVE 1 and Draw 10 are more or less identical.

The obvious question is so what does RAVE offer that Draw doesn't? The answer is a new Timeline docker that appears at the bottom of the screen and a new Movie menu. All objects in your image automatically appear listed on the Timeline and their time onscreen is shown by their lifespan marker. By default each object only appears on the frame on which you draw it, but by dragging out its lifespan marker you can extend its time onscreen. By repositioning the time marker at the top of the timeline you can change the current frame, and by adding objects on different frames and controlling their lifespans you can build up frame-by-frame animations.

Two commands on the Movie menu greatly extend RAVE's frame-by-frame animation capabilities. The Create Sequence from Group command automatically moves all the elements of a group onto their own consecutive frames. If you break up a section of artistic text into words or characters, group them, apply the command and then preview the effect, you will see each character or word flash up onscreen. By then extending object lifespans, you can quickly create the effect of text being typed onscreen.

Animated typewriter effects can be easily produced.

The Create Sequence from Blend command is even more powerful. Using the Interactive Blend tool you can create blends between any two objects and then automatically copy each step of the blend onto its own frame. If you create a blend between the same object in different positions, the end result will be a smooth animated movement. You aren't restricted in any way, however, so it's just as easy to create an animation in which the animated object changes shape and colour while its graduated transparency and drop shadow move and change intensity! Even better, using the Blend tool's property bar you can control features such as the direction and acceleration of the blend and of the resulting animation.

The secret of RAVE's success is its ability to turn any blend into an animated sequence.

This is both powerful and straightforward, but RAVE takes things even further. If you simply drag out your object lifespan and then hit the Insert Keyframe command, RAVE automatically sets up a "tween" between the start and end keyframes. Go to either keyframe and change your object's position, size, colour, drop shadow, gradient mesh or whatever, and RAVE automatically generates a smooth animation between the two states. The beauty is that the tween remains live so that if you change either keyframe or the lifespan, RAVE automatically takes care of creating the blended versions of your two objects for each intermediate frame.

This is impressive stuff. Effectively you have 90% of Draw's formatting power in an environment that is immediately familiar, combined with an approach to animation that is far simpler than either Flash's layer-based or LiveMotion's property-based methods. It certainly shows up the much-touted animation features of the latest Illustrator and Freehand as the clumsy frame-based workarounds that they are.

But let's not get too carried away. Can RAVE really compete with the dedicated Flash and LiveMotion? In terms of formatting control, RAVE leaves Flash for dead, but it's important to realize that many features, such as graduated transparencies and gradient meshes, can only be generated as bitmaps which goes against the whole principle of the SWF format's vector-based efficiency. More importantly, when it comes down to interactivity and programmability, RAVE's simple rollover and sound support is left for dead by Flash. In other words RAVE can produce an animation, but there's not much you can do with it. You can't even load a new movie or programmatically change an object property, let alone produce a fully functioning interactive Web site.

The comparison with LiveMotion is much closer though again LiveMotion offers considerably more control over interactivity. The real difference though is in terms of the timeline-based animation. As with RAVE, LiveMotion offers control over all transformation and formatting properties but each property is handled independently. Suddenly the RAVE single object, single blend approach is revealed for what it is - a clever workaround. How, for example, can you set up a nested animation of a walker walking across the screen? In most cases it won't be an issue but, especially for the professional needing absolute control, it represents a definite ceiling.

Animations can be advanced but the single blend approach does lead to a ceiling on functionality.

Sadly this ultimate lack of professional power is now true of the Draw 10 suite as a whole. Whereas in the past Draw managed to lead the field more or less across the board, now it can no longer hold its own against the dedicated specialists. When compared to its traditional rivals, FreeHand and Illustrator, Draw 10 still offers the most power overall and the widest range of functionality. Over the last few years, however, Macromedia and Adobe have both broadened their attack with applications such as Fireworks, Flash, Dreamweaver, LiveMotion, GoLive and Photoshop/ImageReady - and Draw just can't compete. If you could only choose one package for all your design needs, Draw would have to be it - but if you want the best solution you should pick and choose.

It might seem harsh comparing a single application against entire production workflows, but Corel has brought it upon itself. While Macromedia and Adobe recognized that design had to embrace the Web and built up their dedicated Web-based offerings accordingly, Corel instead put all its efforts into its WordPerfect and Linux operations. With the announcement of RAVE it looked like Corel might finally have learned the lesson and begun to develop its own dedicated Web solution. As it turns out there is absolutely no reason that the RAVE functionality couldn't have been incorporated directly into Draw - apart from the marketing benefits of making it look like Corel has done more development work than it has and persuading you that you're getting more for your money.

Ultimately the Draw suite remains a good general solution. However, without serious development across the board, Draw 10 will have to content itself with being a good all-rounder rather than leader of the pack.

 

Features
5
Ease of Use
4
Value for Money
4
Overall
4

ratings out of 6

 

Corel Photo-Paint 10

It's sometimes easy to forget that the Draw suite doesn't only include the vector-based Draw module, it also includes the bitmap-based Photo-Paint. Sadly Corel seems to have made the same mistake. Thankfully the program hasn't been totally ignored so that features shared between the two modules have been updated. The new colour management system, in-RIP trapping, workspace customization, revamped Colour docker, unimpressive Web Image Optimizer and presets for tools are all there.

New dedicated features though are thin on the ground. Text handling has seen the greatest changes with new anti-aliasing options to improve the quality of text at small point sizes and new control over text on a path. In addition there's a new Channel Mixer that lets you interactively merge colour channels, an incredibly crude RedEye Removal filter and a so-called Smart Blur filter for blurring objects but not their edges, and new interactive control over drop shadow opacity and feathering. And that's just about it.

As with the main Draw module, the threadbare new development doesn't mean that Photo-Paint has suddenly become a bad program. The application even offers some unique strengths such as its in-built movie editing and artistic brushes. In the past though Photo-Paint had its sights set on the high-end Photoshop, now it must aim considerably lower.

Tom Arah

Corel Draw
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December 2000

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