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CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X6

The latest update to Corel's venerable vector drawing package brings several overdue features, does some catching up with Adobe and adds useful new tools for working with vectors. It all adds up to a powerful but still-challenging graphics suite.
Topic: Developer
  • Editors' Review
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Some of the improvements in CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X6 are arguably overdue. It seems strange, for example, that this is the first version of the suite to take advantage of 64-bit and multi-core processors — especially when commercial artists often work with such large images. Even belatedly this is very welcome: large images open and save quicker, and pasting from one image to another is definitely speedier than in previous versions.

Smear is useful tool for taking a too-regular vector shape and getting something more organic

CorelDRAW already has a comprehensive set of vector drawing tools. Four new tools give you a more intuitive way of getting more fluid effects than endless clicking to set Bezier control points. Although the swirls and spirals of the Twirl effect give a fun (but very specific) effect, the Smear, Attract and Repel tools let you tweak, pull and push the edges of a vector object precisely but creatively — making it much more like drawing.

It's not perfect, but the Photoshop-like Smart Carver in PHOTO-PAINT lets you slice sections out of photos to make them fit the space required

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Corel PHOTO-PAINT gains similar features to the content-aware fill and resizing in recent versions of Photoshop, for slicing whole areas from bitmaps. If you take the time to mark up an image carefully, these can produce impressive effects for changing the proportions of a photo without cropping it, or getting rid of the infuriating person who wandered into an otherwise perfect photo.

CorelDRAW X6 makes it easy to see what stylistic alternatives in an OpenType font will look like

A feature rarely seen in graphics packages is full support for Advanced OpenType features: InDesign and Word 2010 have it, but Photoshop doesn't — even though the text in a graphic is often heavily styled. CorelDRAW X6 has a new typographic engine that adds support for complex scripts, including ligatures and OpenType stylistic alternates, and includes several fonts with them to use. The preview for this is extremely clear — more so than in some page layout packages. If you're putting together a brochure or flyer in CorelDRAW you'll appreciate being to set page numbers and baseline alignment properly, while the new PowerClips are a nice way of handling images you need to place on a page. Set a frame as a PowerClip and you can quickly centre, fit or resize the content you drop onto it without losing the proportions of the space in which you want to use it.

PowerClips make it very simple to fit content into a specific space and proportion

You can explore and organise clip-art and useful images from the Corel library and online sources in CONNECT, which warns you about any associated content licences

Other improvements are about making CorelDRAW more efficient for all the different stages of design. To get the content you want to put in a PowerClip, take a look in Corel CONNECT. This lets you explore the generous selection of clip-art and images included with the software, and you can search Fotalia, iStockphoto and the Creative Commons areas of Flickr directly. Grab the images you're considering using and drag them into a tray that you can dock at the bottom of any of the Corel apps. This is a great way of selecting and grouping images that you can then drag into documents or share with colleagues.

Now you can see all the settings for an object and edit them in one handy place

The single most welcome tool may be the new Object Manager, which not only shows all properties of the selected object, but gives you one handy place to edit them. The new colour and style tools are also huge time savers. Design an object on the canvas then drag it into the Object Styles docker and CorelDRAW makes a style based on the object that you can apply to other things you draw — and then change all of them at once. You can make colour styles in the same way, specifically for tracking and changing colours throughout a document.

Drag an object into the Color Harmonies docker to turn its colours into a smart colour palette that you can quickly move to a different base colour, with matching hues

The new Color Harmonies feature makes this even more powerful. When you drag an object with multiple colours into the docker, this extracts not just the colours but the relationship between them. If you're using a range of shades, you can set that as a gradient and when you change the main shade from green to red, the light and dark shades of green change to light and dark shades of red. If you have a mix of different colours, you can drag the points on the colour wheel that represent them around the colour wheel to get a new selection of colours that co-ordinate or contrast in the same ways as the original set. This is a great way to produce a selection of colourways for a range of related images very quickly.

As you select objects and tools, the Hints docker tells you how to use them — but it doesn't help you find a specific tool that's buried in a toolbar

As with many of the tools, it may not be immediately obvious how to manipulate Color Harmonies, but once you get the trick of it, it's easy enough. The how-to instructions that appear in the Hints docker tell you what to do with the tools and objects you select, and there are short video clips to explain some of the features (and more help in separate tutorials).

Even with all this assistance, CorelDRAW X6 still requires you to invest plenty of time in order to become an expert. If you do, you can create some truly impressive art: CorelDRAW is a standard tool for commercial designers who make banners, boxes, signs and posters thanks to its wealth of tools. The suite's new features should provide a welcome boost to productivity as well as fostering creativity. 

There's still a wealth of useful tools in the CorelDRAW suite: Capture X6 for screen captures, Trace for turning bitmaps into vectors and Corel Website Creator for artists who want to turn their designs into a simple web site quickly and easily. 

All this functionality does make for a potentially daunting array of dockers, palettes and toolbars, and you may find yourself longing for a better way of laying them out on-screen. There's plenty on offer here, but you'll need to take the time to learn how to make the most of it.