- Contains CorelDRAW 11
- includes lots of useful ancillary utilities, including a bar-code creator
- comes with a huge bundle of high-quality clip art, fonts and images
- excellent value.
- RAVE's animation features are rudimentary.
Looking to establish a digital-graphics studio? Consider an all-in-one graphics solution. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 11 has applications for professional-level illustration, image editing and Web graphics. CorelDRAW 11 serves as the main course of Graphics Suite 11, but the side dishes are certainly worth a look. Photo-Paint (image editing) and RAVE (Web graphics animation) pack enough features to satisfy most home users who want to edit digital photos or create simple flash animation. Best of all, you get these applications for just £377 (ex. VAT; £443 inc. VAT) -- a great bargain for an all-around, well-integrated solution. However, for top-of-the-line image editing and animation, professional graphic designers should shell out the extra cash for Photoshop and LiveMotion.
Of all the technical drawing tools currently available, CorelDRAW is our runaway favourite. Its easy-to-master interface and exhaustive feature set, which includes pressure-sensitive brushes and myriad filter effects, provides designers with the tools and muscle they need to create complex, professional vector illustrations. At last, CorelDRAW 11 supports symbols, which are pieces of artwork that you can save to a central library, then drag and drop into any document. Symbols are faster and less resource intensive than copying and pasting objects, and you can change all instances of an object simply by editing the master symbol. Best of all, CorelDRAW's cross-platform support makes it an ideal application for integrated offices with both Macs and PCs.
As a free adjunct to CorelDRAW, Photo-Paint has a lot to like. But as a direct competitor to Adobe’s Photoshop 7.0, it leaves much to be desired. Although Photo-Paint and Photoshop offer roughly equivalent tools for selecting and editing images, the two are miles apart in both feel and performance. Where Photoshop is streamlined and speedy, for instance, in applying paint to canvas, Photo-Paint is clunky and hesitant. Although Photo-Paint complements and supplements the CorelDRAW suite as a whole, it won't suffice as a high-performance, feature-filled image editor. Photo-Paint does, however, have most of the basics covered. At first glance, Photo-Paint's brushes, pencils and other implements deliver professional-calibre image editing. For example, you can add trendy special effects to your images using Photo-Paint's filters, lighting, natural media paintbrushes and image sprayer, which squirts single or multiple objects onto the canvas randomly or in a sequential pattern. Photo-Paint can even make common tasks a little easier to perform. For example, the new Cutout masking dialogue box lets you easily isolate and remove sections of a picture so that they can be edited or used elsewhere. In our tests, we were generally pleased with the results, but Photoshop's similar Extract command provides more control for selecting images with subtle edges, such as hair. If you want to generate Web graphics, Photo-Paint now easily creates rollover images, such as buttons or graphics, which change appearance depending on the position of the cursor. And the new slicing tool lets you divide an image into smaller pieces so that it will load more efficiently in a surfer's browser. Sadly, Photo-Paint suffers from jerky scrolling and an all-too-perceptible delay between applying your paintbrush and seeing the stroke appear on the canvas. Worse, it took Photo-Paint 78 seconds to load a 118MB file into the main screen, using a 1.2GHz PC with 512MB of RAM. Photoshop accomplished this task in 6 seconds with the same setup. We consider Photo-Paint virtually useless for files larger than about 50MB -- especially in a production environment where time is money. For photographers, Photo-Paint offers slightly brighter news. Version 11 now contains a red-eye-removal tool, as well as a stitching feature that can piece multiple photographs together into a single image.
RAVE, Corel's animation program, doesn't pretend to be Macromedia’s Flash, so don't expect to design interactive Web sites with it. However, RAVE is effective for creating and previewing animated GIFs as well as flash, AVI and QuickTime movies almost instantly. And it’s infinitely easier to use than Flash. If you're familiar with CorelDRAW, it won't take long to master RAVE. But if you want an animator with some serious functionality, pick Adobe’s LiveMotion. You don't have to work very hard to create animation with RAVE. As you work, the Timeline Docker (Corel's name for the palette) displays each object in your animation as a series of frames, or still pictures. Unlike many other animators, RAVE generates its animation by simple blending. You define a starting and ending object -- a small cube and a large one, for example -- and then use the Blend command to make as many intermediate steps as you like. To create an animation sequence directly without using the Blend feature, you define key frames in the Timeline (snapshots of an object at a specific point in time), and the program automatically generates as many intermediate steps as you want. When you're ready to export your movie, RAVE offers a great deal of flexibility and control. For example, you can set your movie's resolution and other parameters so that it will download and play more efficiently in Web browsers. Nevertheless, RAVE lacks an easy way to create the many neat, sophisticated effects that Flash and LiveMotion offer, such as bounce, vibrate and zoom. You can create such effects in RAVE, but you'll have to work hard to get them.
Corel has traditionally stocked every graphics suite with a mammoth assortment of high-quality TrueType and Type 1 fonts, clip art and other images, and several neat utilities. The applications change with each iteration of CorelDRAW. Here's a taste of the current mix. The included Bitstream Font Navigator application hasn't changed since the last release, but it remains a powerful and elegant application for organising and exploring fonts. The program searches your drives for all the fonts they contain and creates a type library. From there, you can install or uninstall fonts to your operating system by dragging and dropping them, view type samples and character sets, and create font groups, which is useful for packaging a set of fonts to send to a DTP service bureau. Unfortunately, Font Navigator lacks OpenType support, an increasingly popular format on both Macs and PCs that contains characters from almost every language imaginable. Another useful program, CorelTrace 11, lets you trace (outline areas of a photo to turn them into vector objects) both monochrome and colour images so that you can edit them in CorelDRAW. We found this tool to be remarkably accurate and fast. Corel Bar Code may not have much sex appeal. But when you consider that some companies charge £60 or more to create a single bar code, this little utility can save you money if you ever have to slap a bar code on a product like a book jacket, for example. Plus, it's dead-simple to master. Just select the type of bar code and enter the required information (price and so on) into the dialogue box. You can save the resulting bar-code image in several popular formats and then, for example, import it into FrameMaker or InDesign for correct placement on the back cover of your book. Corel's standard support options are pretty stingy: after 30 days of complimentary phone support, you can choose from one of several fee-based support programs or use the free Corel Newsgroups and FAQ collection to get answers to your questions. There's no email technical support service direct to Corel itself. All told, Corel's graphics suite is a tremendous bargain. It's true that, aside from CorelDRAW, the individual applications can't match their Adobe counterparts. But if you want a full set of well-integrated graphics programs and expect to spend less than £500, this is your baby.