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Year after year, CorelDraw Graphics Suite returns to compete and hold its own against the major players in the field, Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop. And no wonder; the award-winning suite is a superstar graphics package with a brilliantly designed interface. Version 12.0 is no different. All three of its apps--illustration (CorelDraw), image editing (Corel Photo-Paint), and animation (Corel RAVE)--sport highly usable, totally configurable interfaces. For example, you can create separate work spaces and toolbars for specific tasks such as brochures or creative illustration, then save the entire setup to reuse later. As a result, the whole package lends itself to increased productivity.
The suite ships on four CDs, with the three major apps contained on the first CD. High-quality clip art, photos, templates, fonts, and training material fill up the other three CDs to round out the package. It's a terrific value at a fraction of the price you would pay for similar Adobe applications ($399 vs. $1,148 for the Photoshop/Illustrator combo). However, although the full-package price is reasonable for what you get, we do think the $179 upgrade price is a bit steep.
CorelDraw, Corel Photo-Paint, and Corel RAVE cover the entire gamut of graphics tools--enough to complete whatever task you have at hand. Corel has added some powerful drawing tool additions and a handful of suitewide tweaks since its last version, such as better font control (easy Unicode character access) and import/export support (export to Microsoft and WordPerfect Office, enhanced SVG AutoCAD, Visio, and HPGL filters). The suite also retains its import/export capabilities for Adobe file formats, such as EPS and PSD.
Integration among the three major apps is very good. For example, if you have a brochure with a bitmap image, you can double-click the image in CorelDraw to launch Corel Photo-Paint and make necessary edits. Once you return to CorelDraw, the updated image will already be there. Similarly, you can drag the image to Corel RAVE and add animation effects.
The new features in the CorelDraw suite center on ease of use. For starters, CorelDraw now includes the Smart Drawing tool, which tries to resolve sketched input into common shapes. For example, if you draw a lopsided, wiggly circle with the mouse, the Smart Drawing tool uses its built-in knowledge to recognize the shape and transform it into a perfect circle. The tool works best when sketching circles and rectangles, but in our tests, it did a decent job with more complex shapes such as arrows. It didn't do such a great job with polygons, but it's handy for quickly sketching organizational charts or presentation templates.
CorelDraw's second major new addition is its CAD-esque snapping functions. Turn on Dynamic Guides, and you'll see temporary blue lines when the mouse travels over specific points such as an object's center. These guides are extremely helpful for placing objects in relation to each other.
The other two programs in the suite didn't see much major enhancement in version 12.0. Corel Photo-Paint adds a touch-up brush for removing defects (dust, scratches, wrinkles) from photographs. Unfortunately, the tool just seemed to smudge pixels in our tests--not impressive. Corel RAVE gains a symbol library for storing frequently used objects. (Symbols are defined objects that you can reference many times in a document, thus reducing file size.)
Starting in March 2004, Corel will revamp its support policy, giving CorelDraw Graphics Suite 12.0 users more support options. (The company will retain its three-tiered system of Classic, Priority, and Premium support levels, however.) All registered CorelDraw Graphics Suite users will receive Classic technical support. At this tier, Corel will provide unlimited free e-mail and knowledge base warranty support, 24-7, compared to its previously limited 30-day phone support. Corel promises 24-hour turnaround for e-mail queries.
Telephone support will now cost $2 per minute (with the first three minutes free), $39.95 per incident, or $399 annually for unlimited calls. There is a toll-free line for paid technical-support calls. Fortunately for the cash-strapped user, the Corel Web site also has a searchable database of FAQs and a mammoth assortment of newsgroups where you can post questions and receive answers from other users.