Several years ago, the author of a book about an illustration app--not CorelDraw--created his book's graphics with CorelDraw. Why such blasphemy? Primarily because the application he was writing about was harder to use and had fewer features. To this day, we agree: CorelDraw is an easy-to-master, exceptionally powerful program with a luxuriant toolset and a lucid interface. Version 11.0 adds several new illustration tools and better import/export filters. Although CorelDraw won't set any speed records when handling complex files, its many outstanding features make it the best illustration app in its class. Several years ago, the author of a book about an illustration app--not CorelDraw--created his book's graphics with CorelDraw. Why such blasphemy? Primarily because the application he was writing about was harder to use and had fewer features. To this day, we agree: CorelDraw is an easy-to-master, exceptionally powerful program with a luxuriant toolset and a lucid interface. Version 11.0 adds several new illustration tools and better import/export filters. Although CorelDraw won't set any speed records when handling complex files, its many outstanding features make it the best illustration app in its class.
CorelDraw's completely configurable interface helps solidify its supremacy over the competition. The program makes it easy to create your own toolbars, menus, and macros as you work, then save that customized work space for specific tasks. For example, if you build lots of flowcharts, you can design an interface that puts all the most important flowchart tools right at your fingertips.
We also love CorelDraw's cross-platform support and vast range of import/export filters. The filters let you port files to and from other design programs, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Visio. To wit, when we exported a multilayer CorelDraw file to a Photoshop file, the layer arrangement remained intact. And since CorelDraw 11.0 is optimized for Windows XP and carbonized for Apple OS X, the program can take advantage of pertinent operating system features, such as XP themes and security settings.
A new bag of tricks
Graphics pros get some good news, too: CorelDraw 11.0 finally supports symbols, so you can save artwork (a symbol) to a central library, then drag and drop it into any document as many times as you want. In the past, if you wanted to reuse objects such as arrows or call-out boxes, you had to save each image to a new file, then copy and paste this file into your illustration--a time- and resource-consuming process. Symbols are faster, easier, and don't significantly bloat file size.
Version 11.0 also introduces a few new tools, including pressure-sensitive smudge and roughen brushes that respectively blur and texturize object outlines. These brushes, unfortunately, aren't as responsive as similar tools in Adobe Illustrator, but we give a big thumbs-up to a major enhancement that lets you convert paragraph text to curves, then apply artistic effects, such as drop shadows, without losing paragraph formatting.
Fortunately, even with all these fancy new features, CorelDraw remains easy to use for novices and pros alike, thanks to its self-explanatory tools and intuitive, customizable interface. Anyone who can print a Word doc can figure out CorelDraw in an hour or two. However, we recommend this program primarily for midrange and professional designers.
Our biggest gripe with CorelDraw? Its appalling Visual Basic scripting (macro) program. Traditionally, macro recorders let you automate a process (say, batch-converting files) by remembering each keystroke, mouse click, and cursor movement you make. Thereafter, you can re-create the process with only a few commands. In our tests, most of the processes we tried to record didn't register with CorelDraw.
Another flaw: the program we tested ran rather slowly on our 1.2GHZ Windows XP Pro system with 512MB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. Let's hope Corel releases a fix soon.
Good as the gold code
As for Corel's tech support, it's the same-old same-old: acceptable but nothing fancy. CorelDraw's free phone support (via toll line, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday) lasts 30 days, after which you'll need to sign up for a fee-based plan. Fortunately, Corel's online FAQs and knowledge base are extensive, and in our tests, the e-mail support desk returned answers within 24 hours.
CorelDraw remains one of the best illustration bargains around, especially considering the apps it often ships with: the excellent Corel PhotoPaint image editor and the RAVE Web graphics program. Look for our review of the whole suite soon. This app's sluggish performance disappoints, so you might want to wait for a performance update before you buy it. Nevertheless, CorelDraw still wins our vote for the best illustration tool we've seen.