Review: CorelDraw X4

CorelDraw X4 ReviewCorel has led the way in PC-based desktop publishing since the early 1990's Can the latest X4 version continue the trend? Find out if you should buy or upgrade to CorelDraw X4.

Although there are other leading DTP packages for the PC, the print industry has traditionally favoured Apple Macs, although the latter now have the option of using Windows software since the Apple switch to Intel processors. CorelDraw! X4 is (unsurprisingly given the name) the fourteenth version of the product and is now supplied on a single DVD (the previous X3 release came on several CDs). In the box you'll also find a chunky manual, clipart book of the same thickness, keyboard and mouse shortcut guide and a small designers guide booklet.

In addition to the CorelDraw! DTP application you also get Corel PHOTO-PAINT (comparable to Adobe PhotoShop), Corel PowereTrace and Corel Capture. There are also a number of extras, including 10,000 clipart, 80 templates and over 1000 fonts. Many users will find the two hours of tutorial videos extremely useful. Bitstream font navigator takes care of handling fonts and other productivity tools include a barcode wizard, service bureau profiler and duplexing wizard.

So, what's new, or more importantly for existing users, should you upgrade? The best way to answer this is to let the software tell you. Under the help menu is an option to highly all new features since a previous version, with several versions listed. So, if you've not upgraded since version 10 you immediately be able to see the items that are new since then.

Upon loading the software you will recognise the familiar layout of toolbars left and top, with the colour pallete to the right. The Getting Started screen has gone through a significant makeover, providing a series of tabs laid out in book format:

  • Quickstart - the ability to open recent documents, with a preview of the page, or create a new document from a blank page or template
  • What's New - a breakdown of new features linking through to the What's New video
  • Learning tools - a link through to the tutorials on the DVD
  • Gallery - a series of different Corel generated images with links through to the artists who made them
  • Updates - a quick view to see what's new

CorelDraw! X4 now takes full advantage of Windows Vista's search capability, with the Open dialog box now sporting the familiar search box in the top right, and even allowing for searches to be performed on text within documents.

A new collaboration tool, called ConceptShare is also included. Create a free account and you can create an online meeting space for staff or clients to review and comment on designs. This rivals online services such as Webex or GotoMeeting and is a great inclusion for small bureaus looking to obtain quick responses from remote clients. The frontend can even be customised to include your logo and corporate colours! The free (basic) account allows for two workspaces (e.g. online client portfolios), 5MB of space and three concepts (e.g. jobs) per workspace. More flexibility and space of course comes at a price, starting at $19.00 per month.

PowereTRACE has been beefed up considerably, now three options; Quick, Outline and the new Centreline trace, which is very good for tracing line drawings or signatures and turning them into scalable vector graphics. Users have control over colours, smoothing and corner control.

There are two new colour management modules - Windows colour system and Adobe colour management module, which provide better colour matching between Corel and MS or Adobe applications.

A major issue for any design package is cross application support - what if your customer sends you a file in another file format? Corel has addressed this with support for Adobe CS3 applications, covering PhotoShop, Illustrator and Acrobat, as well as MS Publisher 2002, 2003 and 2007. Word 2007 is also supported, along with the latest AutoCAD DXF and DWG formats.

There are numerous other minor enhancements to CorelDraw! including live text formatting, mirroring of paragraph text, enhanced table support, enhanced quotation marks and independent page layers.

Corel PHOTO-PAINT has only seen a few enhancements by comparison, although it is still a strong product in its own right. RAW camera file format from over 300 cameras is now supported as standard. A new straighten tool allows you to quickly straighten a photo, although tools like this are included in free applications like Google's Picasa, so it's hardly something to shout about. Having said that, PHOTO-PAINT is a viable alternative to Adobe's PhotoShop, especially as it now supports native support for CS3 files, although those familiar with PhotoShop will take a little getting used to the interface - it's not problematic, just 'different'.

Summary

With the full product costing around £340 and the upgrade at £176 CorelDraw X4 still comes in considerably under the price of its competitors. Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator are priced at £530 each, which brings CorelDraw! out at 35% less than EACH package and providing similar functionality to both. With the clipart, templates, fonts and training videos included, CorelDraw! X4 represents excellent value for money.

Pros: Much cheaper than main competition. Excellent support for all latest file formats. Vista integration. Online collaboration tool included. Training videos and clipart/templates included to get you started.

Cons: PHOTO-PAINT contains minimal updates. You have to pay if you want additional ConceptShare features.