Serif DrawPlus 8

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With its improved interface, colour handling, image adjustments and brush-based artistic creativity, DrawPlus moves onto a new level.

serif drawplus 8 brushes

When you think of vector drawing applications it’s the longstanding giants such as Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW that spring to mind. However there’s another simpler and cheaper alternative that has also stood the test of time – Serif DrawPlus.

For over a decade DrawPlus has offered its users an easy and productive interface based on a transparent toolset and clear palette-based control via the main Studio panel. In version 8 the various Studio tabs have been rationalized and radically enhanced with the ability to dock, group, collapse and resize and to save setups as re-usable workspaces. In addition DrawPlus has finally caught up with the rest of the world by offering perhaps the most important usability feature of all – a context-sensitive toolbar. Put it all together and the end result is an interface that’s modern and intuitive – and which puts the major players to shame.

serif drawplus 8

The DrawPlus interface and colour handling have been overhauled.

And it’s not just the interface. The latest DrawPlus also attempts to get its users off to a flying start by providing a selection of preset design templates, accessed via a StartUp wizard, and a selection of preset design elements, accessed through the Gallery tab. In practice the ranges on offer prove too limited to be much more than a sampler of what’s possible - but the ability to save and re-use your own templates and building blocks is genuinely useful.

As is DrawPlus 8’s overhaul of its core colour handling. The central Colour tab now offers five main colour mixing modes – the standard RGB and CMYK, the more intuitive HSL Square and HSL Wheel and a special Tinting option for creating shades of the current colour. Also new is the Swatches tab which, alongside access to gradient and bitmap fills, lets you load preset RGB, CMYK and themed colour palettes. Using the Document palette you can also view and edit all colours used in the current image. Completing the circle you can create a base colour in the Swatches tab and then apply shaded variations with the Colour tab knowing that any changes to the base will be reflected throughout the drawing – very useful if you are creating a realistic illustration of a car, for example, and want to be able to experiment with different colours.

The handling of imported files has also been comprehensively improved. Select a placed bitmap image and the context-sensitive toolbar lets you quickly manage brightness and contrast and the removal of red eye. Much greater power is available from the new Image Adjustment dialog where you can choose from a range of powerful colour correction commands designed to mimic those in Photoshop – Levels, Curves, Channel Mixer and so on. All adjustments are applied non-destructively so that you can fine-tune to your heart’s content, but it’s disappointing that the same control isn’t offered for plug-in filters or for vector objects.

Compensation comes in the form of new import support for Photoshop’s PSD format, for the common CAD DXF/DWG exchange standards and for Acrobat PDF. This latter is particularly useful as it means that DrawPlus can now be used to add graphical flair to work produced in any other application (assuming you have a PDF writer installed). PDF export has also been improved with the ability to include calibration bars and registration targets alongside crop marks and to output to the press-friendly PDF/X-1 and PDF/X-1a formats.

All this is impressive, but DrawPlus 8 offers one feature that stands out above all others – its brush handling. Using the new Paintbrush tool and Brushes tab you can select from a range of 200 provided brush types arranged into categories such as acrylic, watercolour, pastel and photo. Each brush works by draping vector shapes or bitmap images along the length of the stroke enabling vector work to be taken in completely new creative directions. It also means that you can retrospectively edit the stroke’s path, colour and width to get exactly the effect you want. It’s the best of both worlds: bitmap-based creativity and vector-based control.

serif drawplus 8 brushes

Brushes help take vector artwork in new creative directions.

To be honest, based on its budget price, I wasn’t expecting too much of DrawPlus’s brushes, but the implementation is excellent. It’s simple to create your own brushes complete with straightforward but powerful control over end sections, repeating and stretching. The feature also supports varying opacity and width for those with pressure-sensitive tablets while mouse users can quickly apply and customize pressure profiles. Most importantly the brush handling is fast and responsive so it quickly comes to feel a completely natural part of working in DrawPlus.

To top it all, DrawPlus offers another art-inspired feature and one that I haven’t seen elsewhere – the ability to instantly apply a paper texture effect to all objects on a layer. Obvious options include canvas, cartridge and parchment effects but there’s nothing to stop you applying abstract bitmaps to produce special eye-catching effects. Together with the artistic possibilities provided by brushes this is a fantastic way to take a typically clinical vector drawing and to quickly give it some real character.

Throw in some major productivity enhancements such as the ability to edit objects within groups, the ability to pick up, customize and restore default settings from existing objects and to vector clip multiple objects and it’s clear that this is a major release. Factor in the strong feature set that DrawPlus has built up over the years including support for multiple-page documents, advanced transparency, gradient meshes, web output including rollovers and animations, basic bitmap tracing, flow diagram and technical drawing capabilities and its particularly impressive in-built 3D handling, and it’s also clear that DrawPlus deserves a great deal more recognition.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

April 2006


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