Corel Designer 12 review

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DESIGNER is upgraded to suite status and with plenty of new technical drawing functionality – but Corel is still up to its marketing tricks.

corel designer 12 suite

Existing Micrografx Designer users were in for a shock when the first major release under the Corel brand was launched – it was unrecognizable. The DESIGNER 10 interface was radically different and so was the program’s functionality with many welcome new features – gradient meshes, fractal fills and so on - but some core technical capabilities gone awol – hatching, filleting and so on. It wasn’t clear whether this was an upgrade or an entirely new release. In fact it was neither: rather than developing the Micrografx program, Corel had instead reworked its existing DRAW engine to target the more technical user!

Corel’s dual development approach is immediately apparent in the new DESIGNER 12 (version 11 has been skipped to bring the numbering into line) which sports a host of features imported directly from DRAW 12. For example, when you first load the program, you are now presented with a small dialog in which you can choose your preferred workspace with options provided to mimic Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Visio or Micrografx Designer. Behind the scenes DESIGNER 12 benefits too from Corel’s recent work on enhanced Unicode and double-byte text support and dynamic language switching.

The most obvious change, and another direct lift from DRAW 12, becomes apparent when you begin drawing. As you move your cursor, you can now pull out Dynamic Guides at set angles from existing objects’ snap points - center, node, quadrant and now text baseline too. This makes it much easier to align the objects in your drawing and to draw objects in relation to each other. Particularly useful here is the brand-new ability to hover over an existing line to pull out a dynamic guide to ensure that the current line is being drawn parallel to it. Combined with existing features, such as virtual segment delete and node reflection, dynamic guides really do make DESIGNER’s core drawing environment well suited to technical illustration.

And DESIGNER 12 adds a host of new technical features too beginning with new dimensioning options and an enhanced Object Manager. Rather more eye-catching are DESIGNER’s projection capabilities designed to help create the illusion of 3D objects on the 2D page. Here, the Transformation Docker has been enhanced to enable objects to be easily projected onto, and now unprojected from, Top, Front or Right drawing planes. And DESIGNER’s new Drawing Plane toolbar lets you select one of the three customisable planes and interactively add correctly projected objects to it (even the Pick tool’s marquee is projected to help selection).

corel designer 12 technical

Designer12technical.png: DESIGNER 12 boasts a host of advances in technical drawing.

Particularly important for DESIGNER’s technical market – and especially so as Micrografx Designer used to offer it – is the new B- Spline tool, which lets you draw absolutely smooth lines between set control points. The same is true of the new Fillet / Chamfer / Scallop docker window which enables corners to be instantly and accurately rounded, beveled or notched. It might not sound that significant but it can save the technical illustrator hours of painstaking work.

DESIGNER 12 also catches up with the old Micrografx Designer when it comes to technical formatting with two major additions or rediscoveries. Enhanced line styles let you choose from a fixed range of outline pattern presets such as zig-zags and waves and specify the pattern width precisely. Particularly welcome is DESIGNER 12’s new support for vector-based hatching patterns which are a staple of technical illustration where they are commonly used for indicating different material types. Corel provides the Micrografx Designer and AutoCAD preset hatch patterns as libraries and you can also create your own.

A successful technical illustration package must be able to work as part of a wider workflow and DESIGNER now supports no less than 75 import/export filters. For output, DRAW 12’s Export to Office capability has been added along with its support for the Acrobat 6 PDF format. Even more focus has been paid to import and especially to the major technical drawing standard formats with seriously enhanced CGM (including version 4) and DXF/DWG support – a number of test DXF files that failed with DESIGNER 10 opened happily into 12. Of most relevance to longstanding users will be the improved – though still not perfect - support for Micrografx Designer 3.1-9’s own DSF files which now preserves hatch fills and enhanced line styles.

corel designer 12 suite

The bundling of TRACE, CAPTURE and PHOTO-PAINT turn DESIGNER into a suite.

The comprehensive improvements to DESIGNER represent a major overhaul but the biggest change in this latest release, or at least the most trumpeted, is Corel’s decision to upgrade the program to become a full Technical Suite of connected applications – though less attention is being drawn to the accompanying price hike. Particularly useful in the technical context is TRACE, a powerful bitmap-to-vector conversion utility, though the impression Corel gives that this will be able to instantly turn scanned plans into precision drawings is misleading. In any case TRACE was already bundled with DESIGNER 10 which means that the additional applications justifying the new Suite status are CAPTURE, a basic screen capture utility, and Corel’s longstanding bitmap editor PHOTO-PAINT.

PHOTO-PAINT is certainly a capable performer and integrates well with DESIGNER enabling features such as one-click image opening, direct application of special effects and combined VBA-based scripting. However the program has been allowed to fall behind the competition in recent years. More to the point, existing users will almost certainly already have their own preferred bitmap editors - most probably Photoshop or Micrografx Designer’s old partner, Picture Publisher. As such to see a price hike of 50% to pay for a supporting application most users don’t want and won’t use is galling.

Ignore the marketing and the sour taste however, and look at the end product and it’s a very different story. The major holes have now been filled in and if you compare Corel DESIGNER Technical Suite 12 to Micrografx Designer 9 there’s no comparison – the Corel product is a better, more efficient technical package and one with some amazing creative power to call on too. In fact in many ways Corel’s underlying drawing engine now seems better suited to DESIGNER and its technical requirements than it does to DRAW.

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ratings out of 6

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System requirements: Pentium III 600MHz, 256/512MB of RAM , 700MB of hard disk space, Windows 2000 or XP, 1024 x 768 display, CD-ROM

Tom Arah

June 2005

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