Corel X4: Graphics Suite Product Review

Copyright © 2008 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in March 2008, Volume 33, No. 9 of The Engravers Journal
Figure 1: The newly redesigned interface
in the X4 Suite.
  Figure 2: The new welcome screen presented to users.

    Here we go again. Just when we were finally starting to figure out all of the features and commands in CorelDRAW X3, Corel has decided to release a new version of its popular graphics software package: CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4. Well, you know what they say-when you least expect it, expect it. The new version was officially released to the public on January 22, 2008. Personally, I've been waiting for the new release of this product for some time now.
    I thought that CorelDRAW X3 was lacking in a few areas and I've been hoping that the company would address some of these shortcomings in its next release. I will discuss what these are and whether or not they were addressed later in this article.
    For now, I'd like to provide a brief overview of some of the more important features that have been integrated into the newest version of CorelDRAW. I won't spend a lot of time on this or give too many details since a more in-depth review of each of the new features will take place in future issues of EJ. This article is basically intended to take you on a simple test drive of CorelDRAW X4, so let's get started.
    As stated earlier, the newest version of CorelDRAW is called Graphics Suite X4, but for all the old-timers out there like me, you may be more comfortable referring to it as CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 14.
What’s in the Box?
    Included with the new version is the following:
Applications
CorelDRAW X4: CorelDRAW, the flagship program of the suite, is a vector/raster illustration and page layout application. It's designed for design professionals as well as the occasional graphics user. For many of us in the R&I industry, CorelDRAW is the only program we use to create graphics for use on our lasers or sublimation printers.
Corel PHOTO-PAINT X4: The so-called silent sibling of CorelDRAW, Corel PHOTO-PAINT is a very powerful image editing program. While this program is not as full-featured as PhotoShop, for example, it's still a very powerful program for editing images or creating graphics and special effects.
Corel PowerTRACE X4: Corel redesigned its Trace program when it introduced X3 to the market. It took a relatively poor program and made it very powerful as it is able to convert raster images into vector images.
Corel CAPTURE: Capture high-quality, professional images and other contents from your computer screen with this one-click capture utility.
Supporting Applications
Barcode Wizard: This feature allows users to create barcodes very fast by offering a wide range of industry-standard formats.
Service Bureau Profiler: This feature helps users prepare their work for professional output.
Duplexing Wizard: This feature allows users to optimize their work for printing two-sided documents.

Figure 3: X4 offers a better preview
window for previous files.
  Figure 4: X4 offers a better preview via thumbnails from within Windows Explorer.
REALVIZ Stitcher Express 2.5: This program aids in helping to automatically assemble a group of photos into a panorama up to 360 degrees.
Bitstream Font Navigator: This is one of my personal favorites. This program will keep a record of all fonts on your computer and it can be used to load and unload fonts to your computer very quickly. There's no need to fumble with the Windows font install program.
Media Content
• There is a collection of more than 10,000 high-quality clip art and digital images available in this program, including 4,000 new images that have been selected to meet the needs of even the most advanced graphic users.
• 1,000 new professional high-resolution digital photos.
• 1,000 Open Type fonts, including 75 Windows Glyph fonts and 10 single line engraving fonts.
• 80 professionally designed templates.
Documentation
• User Guide.
• CorelDRAW Handbook-Insight from the Experts.
• Digital Content Guide.
• Quick-Reference Card.
• Help Files.
Training
• A DVD is included that contains two hours of training videos.
Minimum System Requirements
• Windows XP (with Service Pack 2 or later) or Windows Vista (32 or 64 bit).
• 512 MB of Ram; 275 MB of hard disk space.
• Pentium 3 processor; 800 MHz.
• 1024 by 768 or better monitor resolution.
• DVD Drive.
• Mouse or Tablet.
New & Enhanced Features
    One of the problems I've noticed with previous editions of CorelDRAW is that they've had a very drab interface. What I mean by this is that the look of the program has seemed rather old. In this newest version of X4, Corel has added new icons, menus and controls that give the program a new and more intuitive working environment. In Figure 1, you can see what a new document looks like in CorelDRAW X4.
Windows Color System Support
    CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4 supports the new Windows Color System which allows users to better match colors when it comes to Corel and other Windows applications in Vista.
Adobe® Color Management Color Module
    The new version of CorelDRAW also supports the Adobe Color Management Module (CMM) which, like the Windows system, supports consistent color transformation by using industry-standard International Color Consortium (ICC) color profiles. Again, this allows users to better match the colors between Corel and various Adobe applications.
Customizable Workspace
    Corel has always allowed users to customize their workspace, but the newest version also allows users to customize their workspace so that they match those in other programs, including PhotoShop, Illustrator and Microsoft Office. CorelDRAW now has updated user spaces that follow the newer versions of the programs just listed.
Microsoft Visual Basic
    CorelDRAW X4 supports the new Microsoft Visual Basic 6.4 which allows users to automate many of their repetitive tasks.
Welcome Screen
    The new welcome screen that appears when you open one of the Corel applications has been expanded to include a lot more valuable information. Within this new welcome screen (Fig. 2), users have access to new content, tips and tricks, product registration and the latest product updates. The new welcome screen also provides a larger preview of existing jobs that are listed in your "Open Recent" dialog box.

Figure 5: Users can now search for files by identifying text they have saved with the files.   Figure 6: This shows the expanded
Object Manager in CorelDRAW.
Vista Integration
    CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4 takes advantage of the latest innovations available through the Windows Vista operating system. Corel users can now search for files by author, subject, file type, date, keywords or other file properties from within the operating system's dialog box (such as the Open, Save or Import dialog box). This feature makes it easy for users to add keywords or other notes while saving files, which is something I've been wanting for a long time.
File Format Support
    CorelDRAW has upgraded its support for new versions of Adobe CS3 products like PhotoShop and Illustrator. The X4 version now supports Acrobat 8, and as far as AutoCAD goes, there should be seamless compatibility with DXF and DWG formats relating to versions R2.5 to 2007.
Thumbnail Preview
    CorelDRAW X4 provides much better quality thumbnail previews, which makes it easier for users to find and organize CorelDRAW and PHOTO-PAINT files. Figure 4 shows how easy it is to view the contents of a saved file by using the thumbnail preview within the Explorer dialog box.
Meta Search
    As I mentioned earlier, CorelDRAW X4 allows us to embed "text strings" (such as a customer's name) within our files, making it possible for us to search for these files later using the words used in these strings. Figure 5 is a screen shot of this new feature, which shows some of the text strings I used for one of my files (highlighted within the red box).
CorelDRAW Upgrades
    Now that we've reviewed some of the main upgrades within CorelDRAW X4, let's look at some totally new features that have been added to this program.
Interactive Tables
    When it comes to text layout, the use of tables is always an important technique that is at the disposal of those who use word processing programs such as Word or Word Perfect. For those of us who use CorelDRAW, however, it has never been possible to lay out text within a table. Thankfully, Corel has changed all that in version X4.
    Tables are very helpful because it makes formatting text, such as justifying text in columns, a lot easier. It's not only possible but it's very easy to create tables in CorelDRAW using X4, which also allows users to convert delimited text (the kind found in CSV files) into tables.
Engraving Fonts
    If you're not sure this heading is correct, it is! Corel has responded to the engraving industry's feedback and has added 12 different engraving fonts to the X4 suite. This will make it much easier on those who need to create logos to use on their rotary engraving machines.
    This means users can now add text in CorelDRAW rather than have to create the logo, import it to their engraving software program and then add the text to finalize the logo. If you want to output directly from CorelDRAW to your engraver, you now have the ability to do this.
Independent Page Layers
    In X4, users can now control and edit layers independently for each page in the document, which is an extremely nice feature. No longer do we have to deal with all of those "extra" guidelines cluttering up our work space. This program allows you to create page guidelines as well as master guidelines. You can also take a page and duplicate it along with the objects within that page. Figure 6 shows the new Object Manager dialog box where you can create and manage your guidelines.
Live Text Formatting
    One of the nicer features in Word 2007 is the ability to see your text change in real time as you change any of its attributes. CorelDRAW has added the same functionality to X4. For example, let's say you have some text on the screen. When you highlight any portion of that text, a small box appears that indicates the various attributes of the text that is highlighted, including font style, type size, color, etc. You can also make changes to your text within this box. Figure 7 shows that I have changed the font of the text on the screen, "Font Test," to Arial Rounded MT Bold.

Figure 7: Users get a real time preview of font changes while the mouse passes over the text.   Figure 8: X4 offers an enhanced print merge feature.

New Font Identification
    CorelDraw X4 now incorporates a feature called "WhatTheFont," which is an online service from MyFonts.com that helps users identify fonts used in existing designs or artwork that they receive from clients.
Enhanced Print Merge
    One of the things I have discussed many times over the years is the need for engraving professionals to be able to understand and use the print merge function. Corel realizes this is an important tool for its users so it has updated it in X4, making it easier to use. In Figure 8, you can see the new interface of the Print Merge Wizard which now allows users to add fields and denote them as either text or numeric.
Centerline Trace
    The new Centerline Trace feature found in CorelDRAW X4's PowerTRACE module allows users to take an image such as line drawings or signatures and create a single line trace as opposed to the more traditional outline trace. Corel has improved the smoothing and corner control to help optimize traced results. To control which colors get traced, you can now edit, merge or delete colors on the color palette. Figure 9 shows some text converted to centerline.
Corel PHOTO-PAINT
New Camera Raw File Support
    Corel PHOTO-PAINT now supports the raw camera file format for over 300 different types of cameras. This support allows users to import raw camera files directly from their cameras. With interactive controls, the new filter provides file properties, camera settings and the ability to adjust image color and tone as well as the ability to improve the overall quality of the image.
Straighten Your Image
    In Corel PHOTO-PAINT, users can now easily straighten an image that is slightly rotated. This tool comes with vertical and horizontal guidelines and an integrated histogram that provides real-time results to fix those cockeyed photos. No longer will users have to rely on the "eyeball" approach to fixing those scanned images or photos.
Histogram Feedback
    The new histogram feedback provides more features and effects, including histogram feedback in real time. This offers users the ability to edit images more efficiently by previewing changes and comparing results as they adjust.
Enhanced Tonal Curve
    One of the more powerful tools available in color correction is the Tonal Curve Tool. This tool has been enhanced in X4 so that users have more precision when it comes to adjusting and correcting their images. There's also a new eyedropper tool that allows the user to pick specific locations on the tone curve of their image.
X4's Good & Bad Points
    Here you have a brief overview of the new CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4. As is the case with every new release, Corel has made a substantial effort to provide a number of new features. Some of these new or enhanced features-meta search, centerline trace, engraving fonts and print merge update-were designed specifically with engraving in mind while other features were designed for other unrelated work.

 

Figure 9: The original font is in the middle while the two centerline traces are on top and bottom.

  Figure 10: We can see the new features in X4 by going to the help menu and selecting "Highlight What’s New".

If you already have the new CorelDRAW X4 version and you're interested in reviewing some of its new features, you can do so by going to the help menu and selecting "Highlight What's New" (Fig. 10). This provides a brief overview of all of the new features available.
    One of the biggest questions many CorelDRAW users will have is whether or not they should immediately upgrade to X4. I'm going to give the same answer I gave when I previewed the X3 version of CorelDRAW which is, if you're currently using any version of CorelDRAW, such as 12, 11 or 9, then I would recommend the upgrade, which costs $199 USD. The full version costs $429 USD. It's important to note, however, that in order to upgrade to X4 you must be running either Windows XP or Vista.
    When it comes to upgrading, I always tend to want to use the latest version available. One of the reasons for this is because I feel that by keeping up with the current versions I can offer more options to my customers. I get so many different requests from people who need files converted or worked on and it's a big help to have the latest version of filters for AutoCAD, Adobe Reader and Illustrator. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to import a file and not have it work because your import filters are incompatible with that file.
    I, personally, am looking forward to using many of the new features discussed in this article, including the newly redesigned print merge function and the Meta search feature. I've been waiting years for the ability to assign meta tag information to files so that I could quickly search for those files when I needed them. For example, let's say you do a lot of jobs for a specific company. By including this information in the file, you can quickly search for the files related to that company simply by typing the company's name.
    I also think the new font identification feature will be very helpful as long as it works like it's supposed to. I haven't had a lot of time to play with this feature, but I plan to discuss it in more detail in a future article. One of the other excellent upgrades is the ability of the object manager to support different guidelines on each page. I am really looking forward to this because I work with a lot of multiple-page files. I've always found it to be a real hassle to try to use guidelines for one page while the guidelines from other pages were still visible on the screen.
    The new table feature is another addition that I think will greatly benefit engraving professionals when it comes to positioning groups of text. Again, this is one of those features I've wanted for some time. Some of the other features mentioned, including centerline trace and engraving fonts, will be nice additions to an engraver's repertoire as well.
    Now that we've reviewed many of the good attributes of CorelDRAW X4, it's time to discuss some of the not-so-good qualities of the program. As with any upgrade, there are items that have been missed. Corel has once again missed the boat when it comes to the Holy Grail for the marking industry, which is the ability to autocondense text. I have repeatedly requested that they include this feature but to no avail.
    I also feel Corel has missed the boat with the engraving industry when it comes to multiple plates. They have yet to include a proper multiple plate feature like the ones so many of us take for granted in our rotary engraving software programs. The other problem I've noticed with CorelDRAW is the lack of cleanliness of its fonts. For example, one character at .5 inches may be different than another font that is at .5 inches. This can be very frustrating.
    Hopefully, this review has provided some of the basic information needed to help users evaluate many of the features of X4 and determine whether or not they want to upgrade. As mentioned, I will upgrade to X4 when it becomes available because I always do. One thing to remember is that even if you do upgrade to the new version, you can still leave the old version on the same computer. This is a safe way of having the new version available to learn while also having the old, familiar version still at your fingertips.
    If you do upgrade I suggest taking plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the new features. I plan to spend the next several months reviewing many of these new features in more detail. Hopefully, this will give users even more insight into what they can expect from CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X4.

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