The latest update to the CorelDRAW commercial illustration package does more than add the usual extra tools and effects to an already powerful application. It brings exactly the same features to the Mac, built as a true macOS application – complete with macOS Mojave Dark Mode – and even adds a web version that's more than a file viewer, although a lot less than a full online vector package.
CorelDRAW for Mac is built from the same code as CorelDRAW for Windows, so it has all the same features – even down to the symmetry tools for drawing both halves of a complex image at once, and the live sketch pen that turns rough lines and shading into smooth curves. Photo management, including RAW support, and tools like PowerTRACE are there too, although the Visual Basic automation included on Windows are absent. It looks and works like a real Mac app using the standard installer, the standard toolbar widget and the Touch Bar on a MacBook Pro for context-sensitive tools.
We found performance could be a tiny bit sluggish on our test MacBook Pro, although that was more around tooltips taking a second or two to appear than rendering effects being slow, and we expect this to improve as Corel continues to work on the Mac release. The interface has a dense set of tools that may confuse new users on the Mac. Still, that's equally true on Windows and power users will find all their tools where they expect them. (Windows users also get a dark mode.) Corel tells us to expect an iPad version down the line as well.
Understand and navigate designs
The new features are also on both versions. The new Object Docker shows you the structure of your design with every page, layer and group neatly nested, so you can see exactly how a complicated design is put together. If you inherit an illustration from another designer that you need to update (or you just forgot how you designed something you last worked on a year ago), you can open a group and drill in to find every single object and curve, making it a great way to find exactly what you want to work on. You can name objects here, to make them easier to find – and you can search by name, so you can filter to see just the curves, rectangles, ellipses or any other element.
You can also use the Object Docker to move, group and ungroup objects. If you drag a shape up and down the list, it also moves on top of or behind the other objects, so it's a quick way of reordering them. Drop it into a group and it becomes part of the group; drag it out and it becomes a separate object. If you're dragging an object up and down the list to see whether it looks better in front of or behind another object and you accidentally drop it into a group, the ability to search for it by name is invaluable (you can then just drag it back up a level to get it out of the group), so naming objects and layers as you go makes this a huge time saver.
Find and replace is also more powerful, working on both text and objects; you can find any state, treatment, fill, object type or effect in the design and change all of them at once. You can also save queries, which allows you to reuse them across multiple designs – if you need to change the logo in a dozen different illustrations, for example. Again, this is a huge time saver: just about the only thing we couldn't find and replace was fonts.
Another handy improvement is the new pixel workflow. Vector graphics let you draw smooth, perfect shapes. When you come to print those or load them into a website, the pixels of the printing process or the screen cannot always give you that same perfection. CorelDRAW now lets you align vector objects as well as bitmaps to the pixel grid: set the unit of measurement and the view mode to pixel (or use the web preset to turn that on automatically) and right-click to choose Align with Pixel Grid. If you've drawn an object that isn't a precise number of pixels it will automatically be resized to make it an exact pixel size, avoiding blurred edges in the output image. We'd like to see this become an option for the whole image rather than having to do it manually, but it's a useful start.
Vectors also get non-destructive bitmaps effects in the new version: you can dodge, burn, blur, crystallise or make a vector shape look like it's made of fabric – and if you don't like the result, you can undo it or hide it in the new Fx tab of the Property inspector.
The Mac isn't the only new platform for CorelDRAW – it's also moving to the web. The CorelDRAW.app site uses the Corel account you have to create to install the software to open CDR files you upload. If you get the CorelDRAW enterprise licence you can integrate with Office 365 or Google Drive, so users don't have to remember the details of yet another account and you can control graphics files like other corporate documents. We'd like to see that extend to any CorelDRAW licence because lots of smaller design agencies will want to keep their illustrations with their other cloud files.
The web app is useful for showing clients a design and letting them add some ideas that are stored in a new, editable layer (so you can reimplement them with more precision back at your computer), or for mocking up a quick design while you're with a customer that you can then work from.
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This is very much a subset of CorelDRAW, but you'll recognise tools from the interface: if you create a polygon or mirror an object horizontally or vertically, you're working with familiar controls even though you don't get all the features. You can draw shapes and lines, insert pictures, apply fills and effects and arrange objects in front of or behind each other. Again, this is focused on making busy designers working with a group of customers more productive, and Corel says it will get quarterly updates to make it more useful.
After so many years, CorelDRAW is still getting useful improvements. But with this release, those tools are now available to a much wider group of users on a widening range of platforms.
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