Corel's New Graphics Tools Are Picture Perfect

CorelDRAW X3 is a nimble -- and budget friendly -- choice for small business graphics jobs.



Most small businesses do some kind of work with graphics, whether it is for Web content, brochures, or catalogs. Unfortunately, many of these companies simply don't have the experience needed to produce professional-quality results, partly because they only use the software tools occasionally and don't get enough practice using the nuances of complex graphics applications. Corel knows about these people, and the company's new CorelDRAW X3 graphics suite hits their sweet spot in several ways.

The first attribute many buyers see is CorelDRAW X3's comparatively low retail price point. At $399, it delivers a set of graphics capabilities that compare favorably to Adobe's combination package selling at as much as $1,000. To be sure, Adobe's Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are more robust applications, but the small business user is unlikely to notice these limitations. In fact, they are likely to accomplish more with the CorelDRAW components because of the aids Corel has included with the package.

Help in the box

CorelDRAW X3 is definitely a software application you will want to purchase as a physical unit rather than as a download because of the printed material that comes in the box. In addition to the printed documentation, there is a catalog of all 10,000 clipart and images you'll find on the CD. It's possible to view these through software of course, but the printed book makes finding the right image a little easier.

The software bundle includes the main applications; CorelDRAW X3, Corel PHOTO-PAINT X3, PowerTRACE X3, CAPTURE X3, Pixmantec RawShooter essentials, and Bitstream Font Navigator which is a great tool for managing and viewing the fonts you already have installed as well as the additional 1,000 fonts that come with the package.



CorelDRAW X3

CorelDRAW X3 is a graphics design application that works primarily in vector formats, while Corel Photo-Paint X3 deals with bitmap images. These are roughly equivalent to Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop respectively. Used together, it is possible to create images from scratch by drawing lines and shapes, as well as edit digital photos, clipart, and scanned images.

CorelDRAW X3 adds some features to its already robust previous version that ease some complex tasks, putting them within easy reach of business people who simply need to get a task completed. The Star tool and its companion, the Complex Star tool have been added to the toolbar. Simply selecting the tool, then dragging the mouse across the workspace creates a star. The nice thing about having a dedicated tool for this job is that the stars are always correctly proportioned. But if you don't want full symmetry, it's easy to manipulate the points to get exactly what you need.

Enlarging a design from either a print or Web image generally produces jaggy images that are not suitable for printing--or even viewing sometimes. Corel PowerTRACE is surprisingly capable of finding the edges in even relatively complex designs and using those edges as vector drawing lines. Once an image has been converted to vector format, it is possible to resize the image to any size necessary without loss of resolution. Making signs or brochures from business card logos or Web logos becomes simple with this tool.



Corel PHOTO-PAINT

People who work with digital photos and scanned images will find a lot to like in PHOTO-PAINT. It includes a full range of image color, tone, and contrast adjustments along with a full pallet of filters and effects adjustments.

Because image manipulation software like PHOTO-PAINT have so many tools and options, it's sometimes difficult to know how to use every tool. To make the tools easier to use, context sensitive help panels appear by default whenever a tool is selected. I found the hints helpful in using the tools to their best advantage, especially when using them for the first time.

The Adjustment Lab function allows a dual-view (before/after) of the image, making it possible to experiment with different settings and adjustments to the image. Its snapshot bar lets you collect variations of your modifications when you want to save them for later comparison. Simply clicking one of the snapshots lets you return the image to the snapshot's state.

Cutout Lab is a lifesaver for extracting portions of an image from messy backgrounds. I was able to select a complicated flower from a complicated background by simply drawing around the edges of the flower. I was also able to easily touch up areas that picked up too little of the flower or too much of the background with the Add and Delete Detail tools.



Cutout Lab makes extracting important parts of an image simple.
(Click for full screen.)



Documents

CorelDRAW X3 is a multipage editor, making it useful for creating documents like brochures and signs. Like Adobe's InDesign and Microsoft's Publisher, it is possible to flow text in columns from one page to another. All CorelDRAW's design tools are available as well, which lets users integrate line drawn images, text-on-curves, and bitmap images in a single work space.

There is much more to Corel's new package. Fortunately there is plenty of help for the uninitiated graphics worker, or even the experienced designer who needs to use a new feature. The package's low $399 price point makes it attractive even for die-hard Adobe fans faced with adding new applications or upgrading to the latest versions of applications they already possess.

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