Tools Of The Trade: CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X3

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The Independent Online

When CorelDRAW first came on the market in the late 1980s, it bucked the trend. This was a Windows-only application at a time when almost all graphics professionals who worked on a computer had an Apple Mac.

The move paid off: CorelDRAW offered enough features to persuade a number of designers to buy a Windows PC. Corel did subsequently develop a Mac version, but the latest release of the software is, once again, PC only.

Instead of trying to convert Mac diehards, the Graphics Suite X3 is going after both graphics professionals who use Windows and the much larger community of business people who use a graphics or page layout program from time to time and need more than the features in Microsoft Word and Excel.

Anyone who is familiar with Mac software will notice CorelDRAW's much more PC-like layout. It might not make full use of Windows XP's interface, but it has the look and feel of a regular Windows program.

The full-time designer might find this irritating but for the business user it is probably an advantage. Someone with a basic knowledge of producing graphs in, say, Excel will not take long to master the basics of CorelDRAW or its photo-editing software.

It should also have enough advanced features to please those with more demanding needs. Among these, PowerTRACE could justify the purchase price on its own in a busy art department.

PowerTRACE lets a designer take a low-resolution image, such as a logo from a website, and convert it into a high-resolution image that is suitable for use in print or other applications. Photo-Paint, the picture-editing part of the suite, also includes a handy tool for adjusting colour in an image, displaying "before" and "after" images side by side on the screen.

Despite the features, the program manages to perform well on a modest computer system. Corel recommends a Pentium III with a processor running at 600MHz and 256MB of main memory, although 512MB is a more sensible recommendation for Windows XP. But it is perfectly possible to run the package on a laptop or a standard business PC, with the possible exception of editing large photographic images.

One drawback, for a mixed Mac and PC office, is that CorelDRAW only has limited support for Mac-friendly file formats and Adobe PDF files. But given the keen price, this is a limitation most users will be able to live with.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5.

PROS: easy to learn, powerful, reasonably priced.

CONS: dated interface, some limitations to PDF support, no Mac version.

COST: £329 plus VAT (full version).