Business-like, isn't he?



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    Canada's affordable graphics alternative

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver August 9-15, 2005; issue 824

    High Tech Office column

    Last week we looked at Adobe's new Creative Suite 2, a combo of the company's Photoshop, Illustrator and other programs, many of which have become the standard tools of graphics and design professionals. But many of us sometimes need to work with photos, illustrations or page layout but can't justify the cost of Adobe's toolset.

    Ottawa-based Corel has long-offered a more affordable alternative: its current suite, CorelDraw 12 sells for $250, less than the cost of any one of CS2's component programs, and far less than the $1,500 cost of the Adobe's entire suite. Like Adobe, Corel has been in the graphics business for a long time: CorelDraw first came out in the late 1980s, running on Windows 2.0. (Unlike Adobe, CorelDraw's current version is Windows-only). The suite includes the main CorelDraw program for line drawings, Photo-Paint for photo editing and RAVE for animation along with several smaller graphics utilities, a host of fonts and clipart, an on-disc tutorial and (unusual today) hefty printed documentation and a directory of the clipart and fonts.

    There's a lot of power hidden behind a mature, well-developed user interface. Photo-Paint, for example, includes a nice set of natural media tools, making digital files appear as if they were created with physical paints on canvas or paper. CorelDraw has long included an outstanding toolset for working with text. Support for documents of up to 99 pages can let it substitute for a dedicated page layout program.

    While RAVE lacks all the power and features of industry-standard animator Macromedia Flash (recently purchased by Adobe), it is able to build on CorelDraw's tools to animate geometric shapes. New to both CorelDraw and RAVE is a Smart Drawing tool that recognizes and corrects freehand attempts and geometric shapes. An improved Eyedropper tool picks up colours from anywhere on your screen, not just within the program's window. Photo-Paint gains a new TouchUp brush, which, similar to Adobe PhotoShop's Healing Brush, paints away photo scratches and blemishes. The multiple programs interact nicely. For example, a brochure created in CorelDraw might include a Photo-Paint image; double-clicking it loads the image into Photo-Paint, which then sends your changes back into the CorelDraw layout. A new Export to Microsoft Office (or WordPerfect) option preps graphics for use in other contexts. The suite also imports and exports Adobe graphics formats and AutoCAD illustrations.

    Bundled utilities include CorelTrace, which traces photo outlines, making them usable with CorelDraw, CorelCapture for screen captures and Bitstream Font Navigator for quick access and organization of fonts. The full suite can be downloaded as a 30-day free trial, and if CorelDraw 12 still seems too much for your budget, Corel offers CorelDraw Essentials 2, bundling the previous CorelDraw 11 program, fonts and clipart for $120.

    Online buyers of CorelDraw will also receive a free copy of Volume 1 of Corel's set of Design Collection (regularly $125). This packs 100 professional-looking templates for CorelDraw, including 10 styles of letterheads, envelopes, business cards, flyers and brochures. Replacing the boilerplate text and images with your own company's name, address, and logo easily results in a consistent set of graphical materials. Volumes 2 and 3 of the series ($65 apiece) each include another five sets of templates. Previews of the templates can be viewed online prior to purchase.

    Corel has pretty much given up attempts to win over the hearts and budgets of graphics professionals. Instead, they are positioning CorelDraw as a tool permitting people with small and mid-sized businesses to produce or adapt graphical designs in-house for business presentations, brochures, websites and more. It can be used by restaurants for menu creation and is widely used for sign making and screen-printing. For business users needing to do their own graphics and layout, this Canadian alternative offers a solid combination of power and value.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan