The 18th version of Corel’s graphics software adds innovative touch support, font management and other new tools — plus subscription pricing to suit commercial users. Yes, CorelDRAW is still around — and yes, it’s still getting useful updates.
The CorelDRAW X8 interface will look familiar to existing users, and it still has the option of using a workspace layout that arranges the tools like the X6 release — or even Adobe Illustrator if that’s what you’re familiar with. There’s a new dark mode too.
Most importantly, the interface is properly scalable with high-DPI support, so if you have a 4K monitor or a Surface Book, the menus and controls size correctly rather than looking oversized or shrunken (problems that still beset too many applications on new, high-res screens). CorelDRAW X8 uses the scaling settings from Windows, although you can tweak those in the options if you prefer. What it’s particularly good at is coping with two screens with different resolution, like an older laptop and a 1080p monitor, or a brand-new Surface Book and an older 17-inch monitor: the interface shows up at the right scale on each screen, and if you drag a window or palette from one screen to another, it rescales correctly. Too many programs still struggle with this, so full marks to Corel for handling this properly.
The interface also has much-improved touch and pen support. Multiple pressure levels are supported with both Wacom and N-trig pens (and you can tweak the sensitivity for that), you can pan and zoom with familiar pinch and drag touch gestures (too often in graphics software these gestures unexpectedly select objects), and the smart drawing shape recognition lets you draw shapes roughly with your finger and have them turned into neat circles, rectangles, triangles and ellipses. It doesn’t quite manage polygons, but it does turn a finger scribble into a reasonably neat shape that you can then manipulate using the usual shape handles.
This works very well with the new node editing option: instead of having to break a shape apart in multiple steps, you can draw the shape and then just shift-click to select the nodes that make up the part of the shape you want to work on. You can also copy and paste just part of a curve instead of a whole object, without breaking it up.
Touch and pen work very well with the distortion tools; if you want to twirl, smooth, attract or repel a selection to get the shape you want, you can do that with your finger to get a subtle effect (like slightly bending a straight line to make it look more natural), instead of having to grab a spline handle and position it perfectly. Options like this make these tools much more accessible for non-professional designers and generally make vector graphics less intimidating. We also like the way you can hide objects and groups of objects so you don’t accidentally edit them when you’re working on something else. Drop shadows are now Gaussian blur, which makes the edges look much more natural and realistic, and you can tweak the feathering on the edge.
All this means you can use a tablet like a Surface Book to sketch ideas the way you would on pen and paper, but end up with the start of a vector graphic you can carry on working with, using finger, pen or mouse tools. This is a more flexible approach than either scanning in a sketch or using one of Adobe’s mobile sketching apps to create a file you then have to open separately in Illustrator. We expect to see Corel offer more touch and pen tools in future versions to take advantage of the rise of devices like Surface Pro and Surface Book, making what used to be a very old-school application far more innovative.
The new Corel Font Manager X8 is a welcome and very practical addition (it’s almost worth upgrading just for this). You can use the Font Manager to index fonts and no longer have to have fonts installed in Windows to work with them in CorelDRAW. This means you can have thousands of fonts and not slow your PC down — ideal if you’re a designer working with a lot of different clients, who all have their own sets of specific fonts. You can group and filter fonts by style, weight, width or name inside CorelDRAW and PHOTO-PAINT so you can look at all your script fonts or all your serif fonts together to make it easier to select the right one for a design. You get all the OpenType features like alternates and stylistic sets, and they’re previewed as you type, so you can use the full range of effects in the typefaces you pay for.
Some features are clearly playing catchup with Adobe’s Photoshop, like the Healing Clone brush for blemish removal, the non-destructive Gaussian blur lens and the perspective correction tool, but they’re easy to use and will speed up image editing.
Commercial and cloud
After eighteen releases, CorelDRAW is still targeted very clearly at two main user groups: occasional users, who will find plenty of guides and templates to help them create sales, marketing and other business graphics (including a new Hints palette that shows tips for whatever tool you’re working with); and the commercial artists who are Corel’s key audience.
If you’re a sign engraver, a commercial embroidery designer or someone printing banners and wraps for cars, X8 has some handy new features. The new Knife tool lets you cut up designs into the right pieces for printing, which might mean adding an overlap where you need to cut for the zip on a jacket or the edge of a car door. There’s also a free up-sampling plugin you can add that’s ideal for extending an image to cover the edges where a canvas wraps around the frame (you can choose to blur or reflect the edge of the image to fit). These are the kinds of tools that save commercial artists a lot of time when it comes to getting the design off their computer and onto the product they’re creating.
If you need to open an elderly graphics file, CorelDRAW X8 can do it. You can even open long-abandoned formats like Photo CDs.
The emphasis on commercial artists also explains why there are so many different options for buying CorelDRAW. You can still get a perpetual licence for £529 (inc. VAT), or £259 if you’re upgrading. You can add an annual upgrade fee to that to make sure you keep getting the latest version. Or you can switch to a subscription fee of £14.95 a month, which also gets you extra tools and plugins as they’re developed. You’ll need to keep paying the fee or the software turns into a viewer rather than an editor, but if you only need to use it for a month once a year, then you can pay to use it just for that month, let the subscription lapse and then reactivate it the next time you need to use it. It’s an unusual approach that’s a good fit for the range of commercial users for whom CorelDRAW isn’t an everyday tool.
CorelDRAW X8 improves a powerful and mature application with a handful of tools that will make users more productive, and has one of the best font management approaches available. It also takes the first steps to making vector graphics far more usable and accessible to touch and pen users, taking advantage of the convertible and two-in-one tablets that are becoming popular. It’s exactly the kind of application Microsoft needs in order to show off the point of Surface Pro and Surface Book. Today, however, those features sit inside the familiar but complex CorelDRAW interface.