CorelDRAW X3 Graphics Suite Review

| CorelDRAW X3 Graphics Suite in Other Software

Duncan Evans assesses what the graphics powerhouse has to offer the digital photographer

Program requirements
Windows 2000, XP
256Mb RAM
200Mb hard drive space
Pentium III 600MHz processor
1024*768 monitor resolution.
Gone are the days when CorelDRAW came in a spine-straining box, packed with all manner of business-management tools plus the illustration program that lent its name to the entire suite. These days the package has slimmed down, concentrating on the core elements that people want and use. This means that you get CorelDRAW, the illustration program, Corel PHOTO-PAINT, for photo editing, and Corel CAPTURE for screen captures. That's not an awful lot, but there are extras such as a Pixmantec RawShooter 2005 picture converter and enhancer that's quite decent, barcode scanners, Corel PowerTRACE and font managers.
CorelDRAW X3 Graphics Suite  Review: The Image Lab is one of the new features of PHOTO-PAINT
The Image Lab is a new feature that, while offering good colour temperature options, feels a little lightweight.

For the purposes of digital photographers, it's PHOTO-PAINT that's the most interesting element, offering an alternative to Photoshop and Corel's own Paint Shop Pro. However, while programs such as Elements and PSP offer Photoshop-like environments that are easy to pick up and use, PHOTO-PAINT is idiosyncratic and largely unintuitive. It doesn't, for example, use layers, but instead features objects. The Objects can be layered and blended using modes similar to the ones in Photoshop. Familiar tasks and windows can often have unusual names, or not work in the manner you'd reasonably expect. The main workspace window has the dockable window to the right, where windows can be placed or rolled up. The windows can be dragged out of the dock and left to float, or placed back, but manipulating the order in the dock is awkward and confusing.
CorelDRAW X3 Graphics Suite  Review: Using the Cutout Lab
The Cutout Lab makes it easy to select and remove objects from their backgrounds.

The masking and selection options are comprehensive, but needlessly complicated. The most powerful option is the embedded Cutout Lab. This works in a similar fashion to Knockout – now owned by Corel as well – in that a felt tip pin is used to trace the edge of the object, and then the middle is filled. This is easy to do and straightforward, the results are effective and its a real time saver. There are options on what to do with the cutout, but the most obvious application which is to just cut something out, produces a file with no background, the cutout item as a scalable, floating object with a selection.

Other features, such as the photo adjustment tools offer a Curves function that is better than the one in Photoshop CS2, and a Levels command that is powerful and useful, but neither are labelled as clearly, so there is a steep learning curve finding out exactly what each element of the program does. Other elements are clumsy or not where you might want them. The info dock for example is information-light and doesn't show a histogram of the image – you'd need to go to an adjustment to do that, so it isn't immediately obvious that you could, or that the picture might need, the tonal range stretching.
CorelDRAW X3 Graphics Suite  Review: The tone curve allows precise control over highlights, mid-tones and shadows
The Tone Curve is your standard Curves control, but has more options than come with Photoshop.

The Channels dock shows the overall image, and then RGB channels, but rather than being light, to represent high values of that colour, and dark to represent low values, the channel appears as red and black, blue and black, green and black. The Channel Mixer, which is a staple diet for monochrome conversion in Photoshop, doesn't have that option. Other colour options are good and you can convert to various bit-depths easily.

One of the big new features in PHOTO-PAINT is the Image Adjustment Lab – though it doesn't stand out from the menus as well as it might. This takes a picture and allows the colour temperature to be set, then the green-magenta bias adjusted to remove colour casts. The saturation, brightness and contrast can be adjusted, as they can elsewhere. The other main adjustments in the Lab are highlights, mid-tones and shadows, which can be adjusted to brighten or darken those areas, in a similar fashion to the Shadow/Highlights function in Photoshop. This is useful, but it feels like the Image Lab should have more options than it comes with.
CorelDRAW X3 Graphics Suite  Review: There are a range of creative filters like Wet Paint, but perhaps, not enough
Some of the effects are quite creative, but there just aren't enough good ones like this dripping paint effect.

There are a lot of useful functions, with movie and web options, a panoramic stitcher and the excellent cut out lab, but the clunky nature of the interface and tools makes it hard work. As an overall graphics package, CorelDRAW X3 is up against Adobe Creative Suite 2's applications, and really, it isn't as good or as comprehensive, but then it is now considerably cheaper at £157.45 inc VAT. It all comes across as more corporate graphics than photographic. In terms of what the program offers for direct photographic adjustment and correction, it's a poor second place to Paint Shop Pro XI, which has really gone to town on the subject and being cheaper, is the better option for digital photographers unless they need the graphic illustration element of CorelDRAW.
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