REVIEW: CorelDRAW X5 Adds Useful New Features

coreldrawx5

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to review CorelDRAW® X5, one of the older graphics applications in use today. X5 is version 15 and marks CorelDRAW’s 20th anniversary. To put this into perspective, remember that Adobe Photoshop and ACD Canvas were created only 13 years ago. CorelDRAW has remained relevant and CorelDRAW X5 has some new features I recognize from what Adobe has done with Creative Suite 5 (CS5) this year.

Finding a better asset manager

The CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5—of which CorelDRAW X5 is a part of—comes with the new Corel CONNECT file manager. There’s plenty of file managers and browsers on the market, and I think the best ones focus on speed and leanness. Adobe Bridge is an example of one beset with performance issues over the years, and Photoshop CS5 and InDesign CS5 now have a “Mini Bridge” that’s much leaner. Corel CONNECT is lean from the start, with a rather bare-bones interface that doesn’t get in the way. There’s also a tray at the bottom of the interface you can drag files on to copy their contents. I still think Photoshop Elements‘ Organizer may be the best file manager on the market for its leanness and good design, but Corel CONNECT is a spare but serviceable alternative.

Corel CONNECT does double-duty as the gateway to the clip art, fonts, photos and templates that have always shipped with CorelDRAW and the Graphics Suite. I remember buying CorelDRAW early in my career just for the fonts and clip art, and it’s still a huge amount of creative material thrown in for free. At $499, I don’t know if it’s still a bargain if you don’t use the software itself, but it’s a very economical product if you do use CorelDRAW.

Great support for multiple formats

CorelDRAW is really exceptional at handling the multitude of file formats thrown at it. It does have its own image format but I prefer to use Photoshop (PSD) and Illustrator (AI) formats with CorelDRAW. The application and read and write both, and it’s advertised as reading CS4 apps but I tested some CS5 files too and CorelDRAW read them without a problem. Remember that CorelDRAW X5 shipped before Adobe announced CS5! The only downside is I had trouble bringing complex Illustrator graphics into CorelDRAW X5. I couldn’t tell if transparency or the sheer complexity of the file was to blame, but I’d recommend keeping complex Illustrator graphics in Illustrator.

There’s also some improvements to the way CorelDRAW handles graphics for the web. A new pixel preview is very helpful and reminds me of a similar new feature in Illustrator CS5. The Export For Web dialog box is also a good addition, and I think it is laid out more clearly than Adobe’s comparable dialog box. The one thing I don’t understand is why the JPEG settings allow for CMYK output, but everything else about Export For Web works well.

New tools make CorelDRAW X5 a specialized application

CorelDRAW X5 introduces several new tools, and I find that they make the application quite specialized and able to do things I don’t see anywhere else. The B-Spline tool refers to some complex mathematics but for the illustrator the result is a tool that builds very smooth shapes easily. I prefer this tool to anything in Illustrator or CorelDRAW because I find it tough to get that level of smoothness—even with the Pen tool—without some tweaking to finesse the anchor points.

CorelDRAW X5’s improved Connector and Dimension tools also include a new tool, Segment Dimension, that can detect the sides of an object and generate dimension markings for separate sides. Interior designers, architects and technical illustrators will find these tools very useful, though other designers may not need such technical tools. Creative illustrators will probably be more interested in the improved Mesh Fill tool, which works just like Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh but with a different interface.

Conclusion

There are several other improvements to CorelDRAW X5 and the Graphics Suite, including document-level color management and easier color handling between applications, but I wanted to focus on the tools specific to CorelDRAW X5 and its development as a multi-functional workhorse. It doesn’t have the range of tools Photoshop and Illustrator might have, but it has some specific tools I don’t see elsewhere and I am impressed by the strides made in web graphics and digital asset management. It would be a good buy for many designers who need good software at a good price.

CorelDRAW X5
Part of the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5
Corel
US$499/$199 upgrade
Rating: 8/10