Review: CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4

by Jamie Bsales

Well-suited for small business owners, this software suite loads all the graphics and image-editing features you’re likely to need into one affordable, approachable package.

Hiring a professional designer to design your business cards, brochures, marketing collateral and Web graphics is the right choice for many business owners—as long as you don’t mind parting with a certain amount of control and cash. But if you have a little time to dedicate to those tasks and $429 to spare, the new CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4 is worth a look.

The package delivers the Corel Photo-Paint photo editor, CorelDRAW layout and illustration package, the Corel PowerTRACE program for converting bitmap files into editable graphics files and an advanced screen-capture utility (Corel Capture). Beyond the programs themselves, the real attraction is the clip-art (10,000 images), royalty-free photos (1,000), fonts (1,000) and the wealth of professionally designed templates to use as a starting point.

CorelDRAW is now in its 14th incarnation, and Graphics Suite X4 has a loyal following and a wide target audience, ranging from students to professional designers. But its real strength is as an affordable option for business owners who juggle graphics-creation tasks along with many other responsibilities.

If you spend a couple hours each week laying out brochures, creating ads or planning marketing collateral, Graphics Suite X4 is for you. Sure, professional artists are unlikely to be swayed from Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. But considering those apps are extremely hard to master and cost $649 and $599, respectively, Graphics Suite X4 is better suited to the rest of us.

CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4 screen shot
Graphics Suite X4 provides a host of professionally designed, industry-specific templates to get you started (and note the handy Hints pane on the right).
(Click for larger image)

Fully Documented

All the modules in Graphics Suite X4 load easily from a single DVD (a welcome change from the CD shuffle of the previous version). It comes with plenty of in-program help, including a 10-minute tutorial accessible from the program’s clean new welcome screen and 2.5 hours of video training on the DVD (accessible via the Learning Tools menu).

You also get plenty of tips and tricks, and design notes that show the nitty-gritty details (fonts, colors and so on) of a project template. Graphics Suite customers who upgrade will appreciate the “What’s New” video tour of the programs’ new features as well as the choice under the Help menu that highlights new and changed features (back to version 9).

We’re also happy to see an actual printed User Guide (all 480 pages of it!) to use as a reference while you work, plus the Digital Content Manual that has thumbnails of the clip-art and photos contained on the DVD. Corel has also reprised the Insights from the Experts book from the suite’s previous version; in it professional designers show how they created each featured design.

With Graphics Suite X4, Corel has concentrated on a three-step workflow to keep projects moving: find assets (from previous projects, scanned images, clip art and photos), design and layout (most people will opt to start with one of the package's excellent templates), and output and collaboration (readying a project for print or the Web, or sharing it with colleagues and clients). The modernized interface has a decidedly Vista-like look, though Graphics Suite X4 works fine under Windows XP SP2 as well (there is no Mac version).

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Jump Right In

While professional designers won’t be put off by the stark white canvas presented when you start a new blank document from scratch, most people will likely feel more comfortable selecting the “New from template” choice under the Quick Start tab. That dialog box presents a filter pane on the left that lets you view templates by type (business cards, flyers, ads, stationery, catalogs, posters/signs, newsletters and more) or by industry (hospitality, retail and services, such as landscaping).

Simply pick a template, type over the pre-existing text (or, for longer documents, cut-and-paste from a word processing file), change the images if need be and you’re in business. Naturally, you can make more granular changes, such as changing the template’s default color to your preferred color and changing the size and position of text boxes and images. If you’re not happy with a change, Undo is just a click away.

If you have existing documents you would like to work with, Graphics Suite X4 can import a wide range of file types; this version includes support for Adobe Creative Suite 3 files, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Word 2007 and PDFs with comments. If you are working with an imported document and don’t know the fonts that were used, Corel has partnered with Bitstream to incorporate that company’s WhatTheFont.com font-ID service into CorelDRAW.

Individual Enhancements

In addition to the streamlined workflow, a cleaner user interface and updated templates for the suite as a whole, each individual application in the bundle delivers incremental improvements.

For example, a new Table tool in CorelDRAW delivers stronger table support, letting you merge cells, add rows and perform other tweaks that should save you from having to re-work and re-import a table from Excel. There’s also live text formatting, which lets you move an image around a layout and see how the text wrap changes in real time, without having to drop the image and wait for the page to re-draw.

CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4 screen shot
What’s wrong with this picture? Thanks to Photo-Paint’s Straighten Image tool, nothing!
(Click for larger image)

The print-merge (commonly called mail-merge) capabilities in Graphics Suite X4 have also been improved. For example, to create business cards, you can automatically import each employee’s name, phone and e-mail information from a text file, CSV file, or any ODBC-compliant data source (essentially, any database). Select the “merge to new document” menu choice, and each card will be created in its own file.

For those working with images from higher-end digital cameras, Photo-Paint now supports more than 300 camera RAW formats. Moreover, the Camera RAW Lab delivers a split-screen view of the original image and the edited image as you apply changes. You can create “snapshots” as you go, then pick the edited photo you like best from the “filmstrip” view of thumbnails. We also love Photo-Paint’s Straighten Image tool, which provides a grid overlay to help you precisely rotate photos.

If you need to work remotely with colleagues or get projects approved by clients, you’ll really appreciate the CorelDRAW Concept Share online collaboration portal. It lets you load a project to the Web and invite others to see it and comment via markup tools. This way, you don’t have to try to send large files back and forth, and your intellectual property is protected, since you’re not parting with a live file. Your Graphics Suite X4 purchase includes two free workspaces (where you can load as many files as you like); other plans start at $19 per month.

All told, there’s a lot to like about CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4. You can keep things simple and just work from the templates or delve as deeply into the design process as your time and talent permits. And if you execute just one or two projects on your own, rather than outsourcing them, the program pays for itself.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Apr 9th 2008
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