CorelDRAW 2018, First Take: Saving time for graphics professionals

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CorelDRAW is popular with commercial artists who are often working to deadline, which is why many of the new tools in the 2018 release are quicker ways of doing things you could already do, replacing lots of tedious and time-consuming steps, rather than brand-new features. The new Symmetry tool, for example, is a fantastic shortcut; it produces a mirror image of whatever you select, and keeps the two versions in sync for as long as you like. You can use this to draw half of something like a face (or the pieces of a garment pattern) and then reflect the second half.

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Select an object and create a symmetry to get one or more mirror images.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet
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Add multiple mirror lines to create a wreath, border or mandala; all the edits you make to the original selection apply to the mirror images.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

Until you click the tools to break the symmetry, you can carry on editing nodes and paths, applying colours and shadows and using the full range of drawing tools on the original half of the drawing and the other will update as well. Or you can choose multiple mirror lines -- and what angle they're at -- to produce something more complex like a flower, a border or a mandala. Pick something other than the standard angle for the lines and you can get interesting overlaps, and you can drag the origin point for the reflection around to get very different effects. Drag new objects you draw onto the symmetry and you get a tip on how to add them to the group so they get reflected.

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The default outline mode lets you concentrate on any edits you're doing to the original selection; the full preview mode lets you see the final version, so you can get the full effect, which can be an obvious symmetry or as subtle as you want.

This is a great way to create repeating elements, or just to halve the amount of work you need to do on a complex drawing without a lot of tedious copying and pasting. It's such a useful tool that the whole logo design for this version of CorelDRAW is a flower created using symmetry.

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Unlike the drop shadow on the branches, the block shadow behind the letters is a connected 3D extrusion ideal for stencils; drag the pale blue outline to choose the direction and distance the shadow extends.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

The new block shadow tool offers the same kind of speedup. Unlike the drop shadow tool, which creates a fairly realistic shadow making objects look three dimensional, as well as making text stand out, the block shadow tool creates a very solid, connected shadow that's ideal for adding impact on a sign or a screen print -- without any fiddly holes or gaps that would make it tricky to cut a stencil. Drag an outline of the object the shadow comes from into position to get the depth and angle of shadow you want, and a fill tool appears on the selection so you can pick the colour quickly. If this is something you do dozens of times a day, it's going to be much less work.

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There are also improvements to existing tools, making them more effective or extending them to cover many more scenarios. If you just want to align nodes to line them up to the edge or centre of a page or distribute them so they're evenly spaced, you had to do that by hand in previous versions. Now you can align or distribute nodes the way you can objects -- even if the nodes are in different curves. For the kind of precise vector work at which CorelDRAW excels, this is another huge time-saver.

CorelDRAW comes with Corel PHOTO-PAINT, which gets some useful updates, like AfterShot 3 HDR for creating HDR images. The photo-editing tools catch up with the kind of modern photo editing interface Photoshop users will be familiar with; you can interactively straighten photos where the horizon is at an angle or fix the perspective of objects that should be full on rather than running off into the distance. As always, the results depend on the quality of the original photos, but what's nice is that if you place a photo in CorelDRAW and then choose to straighten or correct the perspective in PHOTO-PAINT, when you get the edited photo back into CorelDRAW it takes up the same space on the canvas so you don't have to rework your design around a photo that's been straightened and cropped.

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As well as the perspective tools in PHOTO-PAINT, you can now apply perspective to bitmaps in CorelDRAW to make them fit into the scene.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

The perspective correction also works inside CorelDRAW. You've been able to change the perspective of vector objects before, but now you can do it to bitmaps, which is a fast way of doing product mock-ups. If you want to show what an ad will look like on a billboard or the side of a bus, or what a product box design will look like on the shelf, you can start with a photograph of the billboard, the bus or the supermarket shelf and click and drag the design to match the perspective of its destination; a grid of lines helps you quickly align to the horizon and uprights of the image you're adding the design to.

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Wrap a bitmap image around a 3D object in a design using the envelope tool to create a quick mockup.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

For more complex shapes like mugs or car wraps, you can now use the Envelope tool to make a bitmap fit into a specific shape, so you can drag and curve a photo to fit onto the side of a mug. The straight-line mode makes this more realistic, and again it's a quick way of seeing how something will look.

Little changes offer speedups, too. There's a new keyboard shortcut -- Alt-Q -- to turn off snapping as you move a selection; while it's usually helpful to have the selection you're moving snap to edges, margins and other objects, sometimes you just want to drag something precisely by hand. When you have a dashed outline around an object it can look strange if the end of the dash isn't in the same place on each corner, so you can down align dashes evenly at the corners or make the corner dashes shorter.

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If you use a pen to draw in CorelDRAW, the LiveSketch tool that tidies up the lines you draw is faster and smoother in this release; if you find it hard to draw neatly, this will make your life far easier, and if a line comes out wrong you can draw over it quickly and CorelDRAW combines the two to get the line you were trying to draw. Trained artists who use a lot of short 'chicken scratch' strokes to approximate a complex line can still do that and get the final, neat, complex line those strokes produce. Even better, CorelDRAW finally lets you turn the pen over and use the eraser end, and press harder or tilt the pen to change your stroke weight.

The warning that you're saving a file with fonts that can't be embedded is going to save a lot of frustration (and like the new indicator that tells you which files you haven't saved, it's surprising it wasn't there already). You can also avoid font problems in the first place by filtering out fonts that can't be embedded.

The ability to see files from your OneDrive account in the CONNECT content search window is handy (although it can take a while to access large folders), as is the ability to sync the 'trays' that store things like the colours you've used in a document between your different computers via OneDrive. And if you're publishing to WordPress, you can save selected objects or the whole image as a JPG, GIF or PNG and upload it into the media folder of a WordPress site straight from the CorelDRAW interface.

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CorelDRAW is available as a subscription or a perpetual licence; the upgrade offer gives perpetual users a cheaper way to get new versions and will soon be the only upgrade option.

Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

Some of the tools you could buy as bonus features are now included as standard -- and again, many of them speed up tasks you could spend a long time doing by hand. CorelDRAW has allowed you to fit text along a path for a long time; now you can arrange any objects on a path as well. This is more flexible than distributing objects by spacing them out; you can draw a spiral or a curve and fit your drawing elements along it, choosing the spacing and rotation. The Impact tool adds parallel or radial movement lines -- you can make it look as if a cyclist is racing downhill, make a price sticker pop out of the background or fill in fine lines to get the effect of eyelashes.

The PhotoCocktail effect lets you create photo mosaics; the Pointillizer is similar, but you can use vector or bitmap images for the individual points, allowing you to use it for infographics -- a map made up of icons for local industries, for example. And the Project Timer tracks how long you've been working on a design; it's tied to a specific file and you can set how many minutes you can be inactive before the timer turns off (looking at a client website to check a name rather than going off to make a cup of tea, for example). It would be nice to see that save into Excel or an accounts package to help designers with invoicing, but like the other updates in this version of CorelDRAW, it's all about saving time for commercial artists and making their lives a bit easier and less frustrating.

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