Corel CorelDraw Graphics Suite X6 review
Price: £399 plus VAT
CorelDraw Graphics Suite X6 is the latest iteration of Corel's graphics suite, and adds several compelling features to its keystone component, the CorelDraw vector graphics editor (aka 'not Adobe Illustrator'). But CorelDraw is not the only component improved for this release: The suite's raster editor, Photo-Paint, also received several interesting new features.
The entire CorelDraw X6 suite includes Bitstream Font Navigator for managing fonts, Corel Capture for taking screenshots, Corel Connect for managing digital assets (like Adobe Bridge), Corel Photo-Paint for creating and editing raster graphics, and now Corel Website Creator (as an optional download). But for most people, CorelDraw Graphics Suite basically means just one program: CorelDraw. New and improved CorelDraw features in X6 include a better Object Properties bar, a new styles engine and docker, colour styles and harmonies, and improved OpenType and layout features.
The Object Properties docker now shows all properties in one long list, subdivided into sections. Previous CorelDraw versions arranged object properties (Fill, Outline, corner radius, etc.) as separate tabs, which sometimes made navigation cumbersome. CorelDRAW X6 maintains the tabs on top (great for muscle memory), but when you click a tab, it just scrolls down to where the properties group sits in the new, all-in-one bar. Not a huge change, but it does help usability.
A more major upgrade is CorelDraw X6's introduction of colour styles: These make it possible to change fill and outline colors for several objects at once, even if they are not grouped or linked in any other way. Better yet, you can group colours into harmonies, and change an entire group of colours together, while maintaining their relative contrast levels. This means you can change the colour palette for an entire composition in seconds. It's my favorite new feature.
CorelDraw X6 also introduces four creative vector tools: Smear, Twirl, Attract, and Repel. Each of these lets you morph vector shapes in interesting ways. They're built for pen tablets and respond to pen pressure. I tested them with a trackball, and they were fun and easy to use. I was able to easily create fluid, organic shapes that looked more like freeform raster creations than vector objects, but still maintained all of the properties and flexibility of the vector format. Previous CorelDRAW versions included morphing tools such as the Envelope tool, but these four new brush-based tools make object morphing faster and more intuitive.
CorelDraw X6 now features a native 64-bit version, which felt stable and speedy on my system running under Windows 7 x64. Corel says the new version makes better use of multi-core processors for improved copy/paste, export, and printing performance.
Moving on to Corel Photo-Paint, the most interesting new feature of this release is the new Smart Carver. This feature lets you remove unwanted objects from photos and adjust their aspect ratio using seam carving: You just paint over the object you'd like to remove and run the Smart Carver, and once it's done, the object is no longer there. The technique works best with isolated objects on a relatively uniform background such as clouds, rocks, and sea.
I tested Smart Carver by editing an image taken at the beach, removing a bag that was lying on the sand. The result was excellent and it was near-impossible to see evidence of manipulation. Another test, in which I tried to remove a signpost from an image with a background of sea and blue sky, left a visible seam and did not produce a usable result. Both tests were very slow, each taking about five minutes on my system.
CorelDraw Graphics Suite X6 is an incremental upgrade for a graphics suite whose only real flaw is that CorelDraw isn't Illustrator. With the possible exception of the Smart Carver, Corel avoided gimmicky features and focused on areas that can really boost productivity, such as the new style engine, native X64 executables, and improvements in typography and document layout.