CorelDRAW 11

  • Editors' rating
    9.3 Spectacular

Pros

  • Wonderful, configurable interface
  • heavy-duty drawing toolbox
  • phenomenal range of import and export filters
  • excellent color-matching features
  • great PDF output.

Cons

  • Terrible macro recorder
  • Very poor performance (from beta version).

Several years ago, the author of a book about an illustration program -- not CorelDRAW -- created his book's graphics with CorelDRAW. Why such blasphemy? Primarily because the application he was writing about was harder to use and had fewer features. To this day, we agree: CorelDRAW is an easy-to-master, exceptionally powerful program with a luxuriant toolset and a lucid interface. Version 11 adds several new illustration tools and better import/export filters. Although CorelDRAW won't set any speed records when handling complex files, its many outstanding features make it the best illustration program in its class.

CorelDRAW's completely configurable interface helps solidify its supremacy over the competition. The program makes it easy to create your own toolbars, menus and macros as you work, and then save that customised workspace for specific tasks. For example, if you build lots of flowcharts, you can design an interface that puts all the most important flowchart tools right at your fingertips.

We also love CorelDRAW's cross-platform support and vast range of import/export filters. The filters let you port files to and from other design programs, including Photoshop, Illustrator and Visio. For example, when we exported a multilayer CorelDRAW file to a Photoshop file, the layer arrangement remained intact. And since CorelDRAW 11 is optimised for Windows XP and carbonised for Apple OS X, the program can take advantage of pertinent operating system features, such as XP themes and security settings.

Graphics professionals get some good news, too: CorelDRAW 11 finally supports symbols, so you can save artwork (a symbol) to a central library, then drag and drop it into any document as many times as you want. In the past, if you wanted to reuse objects such as arrows or call-out boxes, you had to save each image to a new file, then copy and paste this file into your illustration -- a time- and resource-consuming process. Symbols are faster, easier, and don't significantly increase file size.

Version 11 also introduces a few new tools, including pressure-sensitive smudge and roughen brushes that respectively blur and texturise object outlines. These brushes, unfortunately, aren't as responsive as similar tools in Adobe’s Illustrator, but we give a big thumbs-up to a major enhancement that lets you convert paragraph text to curves, then apply artistic effects, such as drop shadows, without losing paragraph formatting.

Fortunately, even with all these fancy new features, CorelDRAW remains easy to use for novices and pros alike, thanks to its self-explanatory tools and intuitive, customisable interface. Anyone who can print a Word document can get to grips with CorelDRAW in an hour or two. However, we recommend this program primarily for serious amateur and professional designers.

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Our biggest gripe with CorelDRAW? Its appalling Visual Basic scripting (macro) program. Traditionally, macro recorders let you automate a process (say, batch-converting files) by remembering each keystroke, mouse click and cursor movement you make. Thereafter, you can re-create the process with only a few commands. In our tests, most of the processes we tried to record didn't register with CorelDRAW.

Another flaw: the program we tested ran rather slowly on our 1.2GHz Windows XP system with 512MB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. Let's hope Corel releases a fix soon. As far as online support is concerned, Corel's FAQs and knowledge base are extensive, and in our tests, the email support desk returned answers within 24 hours.

CorelDRAW remains one of the best illustration bargains around -- especially considering the applications it ships with: the excellent Corel PhotoPaint image editor and the RAVE Web graphics program. Look out for our review of the whole suite soon. This program’s sluggish performance is disappointing, so you might want to wait for a performance update before you buy it. Nevertheless, CorelDRAW 11 still wins our vote for the best illustration tool we've seen.

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