Corel Draw 9

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With its new formatting options, artistic brush controls and Acrobat output, Corel Draw 9 maintains its lead as the best all-round drawing solution but is losing some of its edge.

Corel Draw 9

The first version of Corel Draw appeared back in 1989 and in the ten years since over  ten million copies have been sold. During that time it has become established wisdom  amongst Draw users that Corel saves up the most important upgrades for  the program.'s odd-numbered versions. As such, and with the suite's   new shift to an eighteen rather than a twelve-month production cycle, hopes for  a watershed release with Draw 9 are high. So does it live up to  expectations?

One of the indications that Draw 8 was something of an interim release was the fact that the major interface changes it introduced were only half-carried through. In particular the replacement of the previous clutter of floating roll-up palettes with the neatly tabbed docker window down the right of the screen was a major advance but many of the onscreen palettes, such as those handling transformations, were left untouched. That's now been remedied with all former roll-ups now docked by default and floatable when required. The program's unmatched customisability has also been further enhanced right down to the ability to associate sounds with specified events. Combined with the efficiency of its unique context-sensitive property bar, Draw 9 should now be able to offer the most streamlined, controllable and productive interface of all the professional drawing packages.

Unfortunately there's a big difference between potential and realisation. The interface's first problem is that it is simply overwhelming. There are no less than eighteen dockers many of which could be combined. Is it necessary, for example, to have separate Object and Object Data Managers and three Web-related dockers? Offering different ways of doing the same thing . over six ways of specifying fills . might suit expert users, but more often than not it just ends up confusing. Making things worse is the fact that there's no consistency between how each of the dockers operates with some offering commands only at the top of the docker, some at the bottom and others in the middle. Within each docker there's also plenty of scope for rationalization so that, for example, all of the separate tabs on the Transformation docker . position, rotate, scale, size skew . could easily be combined and offer more power as a result.

Draw 9's new colour palette handling is another example of how Corel seems to do all the build-up work and then misses the open goal. The range of fixed colour palettes provided has been extended with the provision of themed selections, such as the shades of spring, summer, autumn and winter, and a full range of the important Pantone PMS, Hexachrome and Pastel colour libraries in both coated and uncoated versions. Draw 9 also adds the ability to open multiple palettes simultaneously so that if you were drawing a fruit bowl, for example, you could have each of the apples, bananas and wood themed palettes available. Such extra power is welcome but both the implementation and resulting functionality are flawed.

To begin with Corel has gone over the top. The provision of the fifty themed palettes in both RGB and CMYK format is largely redundant because Draw already allows you to select from themed variations on a colour simply by holding the mouse on a colour swatch. The provision of yet another docker window, the Colour Palette Browser, rather than a simple dialog for what will at most be an occasional one-off choice of palettes is perverse. Even more worrying is the way that Draw loses sight of what users actually want. By far the most practically useful fixed palette is the collection of 216 Web-safe colours viewable under both Navigator and Explorer - and Draw fails to offer it. Instead Draw confuses the issue with two sets designed to be safe under one browser but not under the other.

Sadly this more-is-better prejudice is typical of Draw's kitchen-sink mentality and largely undercuts the potential efficiency of the program's streamlined infrastructure. At least there is one sign of a possible turn in the tide. You can now restore the over-complex Object Manager listing every object in every open publication to a simplified Layers-only view of the current drawing. On the other hand, as this layers view isn. t the default, you have to be something of an expert before you can find out how to make things simpler!

In terms of its interface changes then Draw 9 is a missed opportunity with the need for some serious user-focused rationalization. So what about Draw's traditional strong suit - its power? Further extending its colour handling, Draw 9 offers two major new tools. The first is the eyedropper that allows colours to be picked up from any object onscreen and then, by holding down the Shift key, applied to any other. The advantage over the existing Copy Properties command is that the tool is more interactive, can pick up individual colours from pattern and gradient fills and can apply colours to either fill or outlines.

Much more advanced is the new Gradient Mesh tool. Click on an object with this tool and it is automatically filled with a grid of rows and columns mirroring the object shape. Colours can then be dropped onto the nodes of the grid to create smooth multi-point fills. The numbers of rows and columns in the grid can be quickly changed with the property bar and the individual nodes can be repositioned and their properties changed to control exactly how the mesh colours blend together. The subtleties this opens up in terms of shading are immense and were previously only possible through complex blending techniques. Taken together with Draw's existing controls over fractal fills and transparency it means that Draw's formatting power is unmatched.

The same is true of Draw's effects. There are no new tools to add to the existing blend, contour, distortion, envelope, extrusion and shadow effects but two have been reworked. The Contour tool has been made more interactive with a control line appearing on the object, drag the new slider on this and the number of steps changes accordingly. Much more regularly useful is the new Perspective option on the Drop Shadow effect. If you drag out from the centre of the object the resulting shadow is flat-on as previously, but if you drag from the object's edge a realistic perspective shadow is produced as if the object was lit from the side.

Drop shadows are an amazingly common and striking design effect and the Draw implementation leaves all the other packages looking seriously underpowered. The central difference is that Draw's shadows . like its extrusion effects . are rendered bitmaps which allows their opacity and feathering to be controlled to produce photo-realistic results. This willingness to swap seamlessly between vector-only and bitmap effects is a defining difference between Draw and its more traditional rivals and means that Draw can produce a range of work that would simply be beyond the likes of Illustrator and Freehand without outside help from a bitmap editor. This tight integration between vector and pixel has been further enhanced in Draw 9 with a new resolution limit when converting to bitmap of a massive 10,000 dpi.

For handling converted or imported bitmaps, Draw 9 also offers a range of new power. The vast majority of filters available from the dedicated Photo-Paint (see separate review) are now also available from the Bitmaps menu. This includes over thirty new effects most of which are found in the Art Strokes, Creative and Texture categories. If you want to give your design an artistic stained-glass, watercolour or charcoal effect look no further. More fundamental colour correction control, including Tone Curve and Level Equalization dialogs, are available from Draw's Effects menu and you can also now permanently crop embedded images.

Draw's integration with external bitmap editors has also been improved. There's new support for multi-layered Photoshop PSD files and also for Metacreation Painter's RIFF format. Most bitmaps are embedded on import, but now you can also choose to link to the external file. All referenced files are then viewable in the new Links docker which shows if the link is valid, broken or out of date. Crucially, Draw 9 also now adds the ability to export embedded files which means that any work that you do on a bitmap can be brought into other workflows. Draw 9 now offers 90% of the global control of a professional bitmap application and, where this power is insufficient for advanced work or local editing, it also works more closely with dedicated editors.

Most obviously of course it works hand-in-hand with the bundled Photo-Paint 9 through the Edit Bitmap command. Disappointingly, however, such loading and editing is slow and awkward and OLE-based in-place editing isn. t functional. While Draw's bitmap handling again leaves Illustrator and FreeHand trailing, it could so easily offer more. A truly integrated Draw-Photo-Paint combination would be an unbeatable graphics combination, but as things stand the way is left open for others. In particular Deneba Canvas is able to offer the most powerful integrated mixture of traditional vector and pixel handling currently available while Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000 shows what can be achieved with a modern object-based approach.

Draw 9 might not offer the advanced bitmap-based photo brushes found in PhotoDraw, but it has completely revamped its range of vector-based brushes. The former Natural Pen tool has been renamed as the Natural Media tool and offers access to five variations. The Preset, Calligraphic and Pressure options were available previously and work by converting the line you draw onscreen into a filled shape rather than an outlined stroke - a feature that can be emulated with any stroke thanks to the new Convert Outline to Object command. The Natural Media tool's new Brush option takes the same idea and runs with it by providing a range of advanced brush shapes ranging from arrows to artistic flourishes that can be draped along the length of the stroke. The final Sprayer option works by distributing multiple objects, such as flowers or beetles, along the path that you draw.

The beauty of all the Natural Media tools is that their effects remain live and completely editable. Using the Shape tool you can edit the stroke's control curve to redraw its path while using the property bar you can edit its properties. Select a Brush stroke, for example, and you can change its width or smoothness. Select a Sprayer stroke and you can control the placement, rotation and sequence of objects along the path. Alternatively by opening the dedicated Artistic Media docker which lists all available brushes you can change between brush types. This opens up huge possibilities with the ability to instantly stylize existing artwork, for example, swapping between watercolour and charcoal effects.

The creative options that the Natural Media tools open up are enormous which makes it doubly disappointing that the normally prodigious Draw offers a measly selection of just twenty Brush stroke samples. In fact this is less of a limitation than it first appears . at least for expert users - because you can create your own. Select an object or group of objects and using the command on the property bar you can save them as a brush stroke. This opens up some amazing effects. Save a line of text as a stroke, for example, and you can then squeeze it onto your drawing like toothpaste.

After you. ve created your drawing you. ll want to output it. Nowadays every program has to offer advanced Web support and Draw is no exception. All objects can be given URLs and these are now live so that if you right-click on an object you can check the link in your browser. Draw also offers some surprisingly advanced features for a drawing program such as the ability to add HTML form controls. Export options in the Publish to Internet dialog have also been enhanced with a new web statistics summary page and the ability to produce output as tables, layers or CSS - though the previous Barista support has been dropped. Draw 9 is also intelligent enough to ensure that if an imported bitmap is repeated in a layout only one copy of the linked file will be exported so keeping bandwidth demands down.

The control might look good on paper but in practice it is less impressive. To begin with Draw's internal web features are overcomplicated. Links can be handled via the Object Properties command, the new Internet Object toolbar, the Internet Bookmarks docker and even the new Links manager (when it's not being used for controlling importing bitmaps). More disappointing is the lack of important features when it comes to export. Without features like the ability to target frames let alone to add rollovers, Draw's role is likely to be limited to outputting JPEGs and GIFs. Even here though the control is rudimentary with no ability to set different options for different areas of an image and, crucially, no way of optimising the output of the all-important GIF.

Ultimately then Draw's web output flatters to deceive. For printed output, however, Draw comes into its own. The power of the existing print engine was already unmatched, with features such as the ability to preview individual colour-separated plates, and has now been further improved with an optional miniature print preview within the dialog and a preflight tab for picking up potential problems before they occur. Other additions include the ability to downsample bitmaps, to rasterize the entire page and also to print multiple open documents.

Draw 9 also offers a number of new features to help designers producing commercial print. The biggest behind-the-scenes development is the support for embedding and reading ICC profiles which should enable accurate colour management throughout the production workflow. For high-end output, Draw now picks up individual Postscript Printer Description files and can produce device-independent Postscript that adheres to the Adobe Document Structuring convention (DSC) which is ideal for post-processing. In fact, thanks to the combination of the previous Signature Layout and N-Up tools into a single Imposition Layout tool offering advanced control over bleed, fold marks and gutters, much of such processing can now be done from within Draw.

When it comes to preparing your files for commercial output, Draw offers its Prepare for Service Bureau wizard to gather all files associated with a publication. The wizard now offers a second mode that can run from a profile supplied by your service bureau and also now offers to create a full prepress PDF version of your document. In fact it's this ability to produce an Acrobat version of your files, either through the wizard or the dedicated Publish to PDF command, that is the biggest development in Draw 9's output capabilities as the output is managed entirely within Draw and without the need for Adobe's Distiller program.

On export, Draw offers four in-built PDF styles optimised for document distribution, web download, future editing and prepress which take care of all advanced settings - text and font handling, bitmap downsampling and compression, link handling and colour management - though these can all still be set individually if desired. Depending on the option you choose, the resulting PDF can be distributed electronically or posted to the Web (with all links kept live), but its most important role is to act as a prepress format for producing commercial print. With all fonts and images embedded in the PDF the format should spell the end of publishing nightmares and see commercial print become a natural extension of desktop print.

It's too early to tell how quickly and how successfully output bureaux will make the shift to an Acrobat-based workflow, but the advantages are so enormous that it's almost certainly just a matter of time before a large proportion of commercial print is produced in this way. If the shift does happen then there's no question that Draw 9 will be seen as a watershed release. Factor in the additional creative possibilities opened up by Draw's major new features and the whole host of minor productivity enhancements (see And Another Thing box out) and it's clear why leading-edge designers will want to get their hands on Draw 9. In terms of all-round drawing power, from simple logo to special effects poster to multi-page layout, it's still true that no program comes close to Draw.

However there's more to a program than just its power (see Reliability and Value box out) and on these grounds Draw 9 is more disappointing. Too often Draw seems to be concerned with expanding its feature list rather than providing the practical functionality that users are actually looking for. In many ways Draw seems to be trying to impress for its own sake rather than for the work that can be produced with it. As such many users will prefer a narrower and more focused solution choosing FreeHand for web-orientated design, Illustrator for illustrative work and Canvas for advanced layouts mixing bitmaps and vectors.

While Draw 9 keeps its all-round advantage then it can no longer claim to be the best solution whatever your interests. Even more disappointing is the way that the program has generally lost its edge. With features such as its transparency handling, lenses, 3-D extrusions, fractal fills and so on, Draw used to set the standards that others followed. With Draw 9 each of the three main show-stoppers - gradient meshes, natural media brushes and PDF output - is a direct copy of the feature introduced in Illustrator 8. The fact that Corel has added on the odd extra bell or whistle doesn. t hide the fact that Draw 9 is largely playing catch up. Ultimately Draw 9 remains the best all-round graphics drawing program around and adds enough new functionality to deserve its recommended award. What's disappointing is the fact that the credit for this belongs more to the developers at Adobe than those at Corel.

Let's hope that for version 10 Corel is determined to prove that Draw's even-numbered releases can be just as significant as its odd.



Ease Of Use


Value For Money




 Tom Arah

The Rest of the Suite

Since the high-water mark of Draw 5, Corel has been gradually cutting down the applications bundled in the Draw suite. Chart, Move, Show and Depth have all been dropped and now in Draw 9, Corel has finally put Dream3D out of its misery. The suite is now completely focused on Draw and Photo-Paint, but that doesn. t mean they are the only applications you. ll find in the box.

Corel Trace is still there for converting bitmaps into vectors and is now accessible from within Draw. Corel Capture offers screen capture and Corel Texture enables you to create your own customised backgrounds and fills. There's also plenty of clipart with 25,000 vector images, 1,000 photos and 1,500 floating objects which can now be organised and accessed with a cut-down version of Cumulus Desktop. Bitstream Font Manager does the same job for the selection of 1,000 TrueType and Type 1 fonts (which now include Euro symbols).

The most significant add-ons in the box, however, are the two scripting utilities. Corel Script Editor 9 offers access to Corel's own programming language, Corel Script. This offers serious command-driven power and can be used to control both Draw and Photo-Paint and can even create standalone integrated solutions (see RW Publishing/Graphics article). Even more significant is the addition of Visual Basic for Applications support (VBA). This offers a number of advantages ranging from object-orientated power to better form support. Most important of all it offers an environment familiar to over three million existing programmers.

Corel might be cutting back on the add-ons it provides, but the advanced programmability of the Draw/Photo-Paint combination should lead to a boom in dedicated third-party plug-ins to fill any gaps.

Reliability and Value

The most important features of any new release are its usability and functionality but of course there's more to a program than that. Another crucial factor is reliability and Corel Draw's record in this regard has been suspect to say the least. With its new emphasis on the Draw suite as "the choice of professionals" and a longer product development cycle, Corel promised to put things right with this release and to offer rock solid reliability. So does it live up to the promises?

First impressions couldn. t have been worse on my first test machine as neither Draw nor Photo-Paint would even load! Thanks to some quick work from technical support, however, the problem was soon isolated as a VBA-based clash with the Office 2000 beta on my system. Once this was sorted, the programs loaded fine and generally behaved themselves. However, while there weren. t any blatant bugs, such as the infamous bitmap-mask crash in version 8, the programs still sometimes behaved strangely, for example, with rendered bitmaps occasionally appearing blank. Significantly I still found myself instinctively saving before rasterizing or applying special effects.

If maximum reliability is crucial to you, probably the best advice is to wait for the almost inevitable service release. Users of other programs and early releases of Draw might also want to see if Corel produces a budget Corel Select edition of Draw and Photo-Paint 8 as it did of version 7. As things stand Corel seems to have tied itself in knots charging the price of a full product for upgrades while selling a full product for the price of an upgrade.

And Another Thing

Draw is such an all-encompassing beast that along with the main innovations each release also brings a whole raft of smaller improvements across the board. The following small changes could each make a big difference . or you might never notice them.

  • When setting up layouts: you can change the size and orientation of individual pages and  precisely position guidelines with the property bar.
  • When drawing: you  can extend a selected line by drawing near its start or end point and control  the number of defining nodes on an object with the new Curve Smoothness option  on the property bar.
  • When node editing: you can automatically select all nodes on an object, reverse the direction of  the path, create individual rounded corners on rectangles and the cursor now  indicates if an open path is about to be closed.
  • When editing text: you can drag elements in or out of the current text block, choose more  wrapping options and the MRU (most recently used) font list is now static.
  • When applying any action: the ESC key now lets you cancel any creation or editing action.

ratings out of 6

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System Requirements : Pentium 200 or higher, 64/128Mb of RAM, 300Mb of disk space, Windows 98, ME, 2000 or NT 4.0, SVGA, CD-ROM

Tom Arah

June 1999

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