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Enhancements to R.A.V.E and PHOTO-PAINT, but disappointingly little new power for the DRAW user.
At one point the launch of each new release of the CorelDRAW suite was a major event - much like each new version of Photoshop is today. Over the last five years, however, Corel has squandered its early dominance of the PC design world and now Adobe and Macromedia lead the pack. So does this latest version 11 mark a return to form or a further decline?
In terms of its core drawing capabilities I've always been a fan of DRAW's tools and approach, but there's certainly no harm in improving the basics. To help in this there are new tools for drawing rectangles, ovals and curves by specifying three points, a new Pen tool which acts as simpler version of the existing Bézier tool and a Polyline tool which lets you quickly alternate curved and straight lines. You can also now set the snapping threshold that controls how near objects must be before they exert a magnetic pull on others.
Once you've drawn your lines and objects you've also got more editing options. Particularly useful is the ability to quickly join multiple paths into a single object with control over how the line segments close. There are also three new options - simplify, front minus back, back minus front - for combining and intersecting objects. Most useful of all are the new pressure-sensitive Smudge and Roughen tools which add bulge and ripple effects to an object's outline - ideal for preventing vector artwork looking too clinical.
The feature that Corel is highlighting most in the new DRAW is the ability to turn your objects into symbols. This is certainly simple as all you have to do is drag your selection onto the new Library docker window. From here you can drag multiple copies or "instances" of the symbol back onto your image that you can resize, rotate and reposition. As well as consistency the main advantage is that if you edit the master, all instances are also automatically updated.
DRAW's biggest new feature is support for symbols.
Existing users are probably thinking "what's so new about that?" as CorelDRAW has long offered object cloning which offers the same benefits. And to my mind they'd be right. The new symbol handling really doesn't make much difference to image creation - especially as CorelDRAW doesn't offer the advanced symbol brushes and restyling capabilities of the recent Illustrator 10. Where symbols are important is in Web imaging as they enable output file sizes to be crushed.
Of course symbols aren't much use for bitmap output, but at least Draw's GIF and JPEG optimization has seen some improvement - you can now save settings, for example, and output to JPEG2000 format (though browser support for this is currently negligible). Where symbols do become important is for Web vector formats. Draw's SVG output has been radically improved with support for compressed SVGZ format, presentation attributes styling, character sub-setting and so on.
The most popular Web file standard where symbol-based handling really comes into its own is the Flash SWF format. Flash authoring is seeing explosive growth at the moment and Corel offers the dedicated R.A.V.E. 2 (Real Animated Vector Effects) application for exactly this purpose. It might be a dedicated application but effectively it's just DRAW with a Movie menu and a Timeline and I still can't see why its functionality isn't offered within the main application (except for the obvious marketing benefits to Corel).
Other than these doubts about its standalone nature, my opinions of the first version of R.A.V.E. were mixed. With the ability to create animations by handling editable blends it certainly let you produce striking effects very quickly. Set against this though was the difficulty of handling more complex animations, the bandwidth-demanding end results and the lack of any interactive control. Ultimately I felt that R.A.V.E. wouldn't really get used that much.
In this new release R.A.V.E's impact factor is even greater. You can now tween text on a path - animating such factors as text position and text properties; tween Perfect Shape properties - animating size, position, fill and outline properties; and even tween 3D vector extrusions - animating light source, colour and intensity. You can also now quickly preview your animations in your favourite browser.
R.A.V.E. also includes more serious professional capabilities such as the ability to set up nested sprites. Sprites are re-usable symbols with their own independent timeline - essential for example to set up an animation of a man walking across the screen. To help ensure minimum file sizes as well as symbol support R.A.V.E. now allows text to be output as system text rather than curves. Most important of all is the new support for behaviours. These are very basic compared to Flash MX's ActionScript but they do let you control the timeline, fetch URLs and load new movies.
As well as symbol support, R.A.V.E. sees the introduction of basic behaviours.
All told, R.A.V.E. is certainly no longer a gimmick and can be used to produce some impressive work. Even so it still majors on bandwidth-heavy high impact animations and it just can't compete with the latest Flash MX in terms of efficiency, multimedia capabilities or interactivity. In other words, while R.A.V.E. 2 now makes a useful Flash add-on utility, I still doubt whether many users are going to use it to produce finished work.
Ultimately I'm just not convinced that R.A.V.E. or the latest PHOTO-PAINT (see boxout) really cut it. If you don't already have a photo editor or Flash authoring package they'll get you up and running, but advanced users will soon hit a ceiling and professionals will have to look elsewhere. In the final analysis the Corel Graphics Suite stands or fails by the central DRAW module - so what else is new?
Not a lot. There are a couple of minor text handling improvements with the ability to keep or discard formatting when cutting and pasting from other applications and the ability to directly convert paragraph text to curves while maintaining formatting such as justification and bullets (this is particularly useful as it allows you to then apply effects such as graduated transparencies to your text). Import and export filters have also been updated including an enhanced Micrografx/Corel Designer DSF import that supports layers, fills and text formatting, an enhanced Photoshop PSD export that supports layers and transparent backgrounds and an enhanced Acrobat PDF engine that supports symbols, transparency types and mesh fills. But that's about it.
So what's the final verdict? A market-leading solution doesn't become a bad choice overnight and there's still a vast amount of power in the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite box. Having said this, DRAW has been desperately treading water for the last few releases and now it's definitely getting weaker. Even worse, what little development there has been has been focused on R.A.V.E. and PHOTO-PAINT - satellite applications which many users won't even install! Without a cutting edge there's little reason to upgrade and advanced users will look elsewhere. There's more to attract the mid-range user but, if the latest features really aren't important, why not choose Corel's own cut-down and excellent value Essentials?
It wasn't too long ago that Corel was advertising the CorelDRAW Graphics suite as "the choice of the professionals" - sadly it's getting increasingly hard to make that case.
ratings out of 6
System requirements: Pentium II 200MHz, Windows 98, Me, NT4, 2000 or XP, 128MB of RAM, 200MB of hard disk space, 1024x768 monitor, CD-ROM
Corel PHOTO-PAINT 11
At one stage Corel had ambitions for PHOTO-PAINT to become a serious rival to Photoshop. In fact with its pioneering introduction of features such as re-editable vector text and a multiple undo, there was a period where it was arguably the more powerful. PHOTO-PAINT never really made it as a standalone contender however, and now is only available as part of the Graphics suite.
In the last version 10 release it almost looked as if Corel had stopped development entirely, but thankfully that's not the case. To begin with, the clean modern and streamlined interface which has always been one of PHOTO-PAINT's major strengths has been given a revamp. The most obvious differences, apart from the same ugly command icons as used in DRAW, are the colour control box at the bottom of the toolbox and the simplification of the context-sensitive Property Bar to prevent the more advanced options from intimidating users.
This new mid-range focus is also clear in PHOTO-PAINT's new power which is heavily focused on the PC photography user. There's support for accessing digital cameras via Windows Image Acquisition under Me and XP as well as support for EXIF camera-based data. There's also a new Red Eye Removal tool that replaces any unwanted red hue with its grayscale equivalent.
PHOTO-PAINT's new filters are also concented on the digital camera user. The Spot Filter effect is particularly good for simulating depth of field settings so that you can retrospectively set the focus of your image while the Lens Flare lets you add the rings of light that you get if you point your camera at a bright light source. The Lighting Effects and Dust and Scratches filters have also been enhanced to help bring existing photos to life, while the Photo Stitch dialog now lets you rotate your component images to help in the production of panoramas.
Features like red-eye removal and lens-based effects are aimed at digital camera users.
After PC photography, PHOTO-PAINT 11's secondary focus is the Web. One of the most common of Web effects is the 3D button and PHOTO-PAINT now offers a dedicated Bevel effect complete with control over edge texture, and lighting brightness, ambience and direction. Once created, you can now treat your buttons separately by dividing your images into sections with the new Image Slicing tool and specify links and optimization settings in the Image Slicing docker which provides the same customizable presets as DRAW. Using the new Rollovers palette you can also turn your slices into image states and Corel PHOTO-PAINT will manage their output and the HTML code necessary to bring them to life.
Image slicing and web optimization have been improved.
These are useful advances, but it's a sign of how far PHOTO-PAINT has fallen behind that they weren't already there. More to the point, even now, none of the features is exactly state-of-the-art. The Bevel effects aren't live and editable, for example, and are seriously underpowered when compared to rival packages' style-based formatting. Likewise with the optimization control which is still awkward and under-powered while the rollover handling is definitely only intended for occasional use.
This settling for acceptable power rather than aiming higher is true of PHOTO-PAINT as a whole. This is particularly clear with PHOTO-PAINT's new masking capabilities. This is an area where Corel has particular expertise with its dedicated KnockOut application but instead of grafting on similar professional control it has opted for a much simpler and cruder solution.
While PHOTO-PAINT retains some unique strengths, such as its frame-based video editing and creation and its modern streamlined interface, it's no longer aimed at the high-end professional - or even the aspiring user.
The Rest of the Suite
CorelDRAW has never been a standalone application, it has always come as part of a suite and it's no different in this release. Alongside the main trinity of DRAW, PHOTO-PAINT and RAVE, you'll find a whole range of supporting utilities including CorelTRACE for converting bitmaps to vectors, CorelCAPTURE for managing screenshots and Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications for developing custom solutions. There are also bundled applications from other developers including a cut-down version of ScanSoft OmniPage for OCR and Bitstream Font Navigator for managing your fonts. And as usual a wide selection of fonts and clipart are also included in the box.
If you think of these add-ons as free they're undoubtedly welcome additions. More realistically, you are paying for them at some level and, if you don't use them, the benefit of Corel's bundling strategy is much more debatable.
Supporting applications include the excellent CorelTRACE.
System Requirements : Pentium 200 or higher, 64/128Mb of RAM, 300Mb of disk space, Windows 98, ME, 2000 or NT 4.0, SVGA, CD-ROM
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