CorelDRAW X7 review: Customizable features make this robust design program very easy to use
At a Glance
CorelDRAW turned 25 this year. That’s longer than Microsoft Office has been around—but just like the popular productivity suite, this vector editor just won’t quit. Its latest release, X7, sports a flatter look that feels at home on current Windows machines. It’s not a revolutionary update, but it’s more customizable and more connected than ever before.
It’s also available as a one-time, $500 purchase, as well as a $25 monthly subscription. People miffed by Adobe's wholesale move to subscriptions will find a great alternative here.
Customizable workspaces prevent tool overload
One of the biggest issues with graphics suites is tool overload. You can easily become overwhelmed if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. CorelDRAW addresses this with its prepackaged workspaces. Apply a workspace, and the toolbar layout instantly morphs to better suit your needs.
There’s a new Default workspace, but also a Classic one if you’re used to older versions of CorelDRAW. If you’re new to vector graphics in general, you’re going to want to try the Lite workspace that scales down the toolbars considerably. And if you’re migrating over from CorelDRAW’s arch-nemesis, the Adobe Illustrator workspace eases the transition.
The prepackaged layouts are only the beginning: It’s now easy to add and remove buttons at will, so you could pick a layout as a starting point and adjust it until it matches your personal style and shows only the tools you really use.
CorelDRAW has had powerful font tools for some time now, allowing you to set OpenType ligatures and stylistic alternates. X7 adds to the arsenal a new tool called the Font Playground. In the past, when you had to choose a font for a design, you would have to duplicate the title several times and apply different fonts to see what worked best with your composition. The Font Playground takes this workflow and formalizes it by giving you a window with as many instances of your text as you need. You can apply a different font for every instance, and see what works for you.
Another area that’s been beefed up is the gradient tool. This sounds mundane, until you realize that the difference between a plain circle and an image of a CD is just in the fill: Apply the right gradient fill to the circle, and presto, you get a CD. Creating these multi-step fills often takes a lot of work, so Corel made it possible for users to share fills using a built-in gallery that plugs into a dedicated online service—a bit like Adobe Kuler. You can also easily create your own pattern fills from elements in your document.
A simple approach for a design is just to throw the elements you need on the page and then start assembling them and moving them around into a cohesive composition. CorelDRAW already had easy alignment features to help you do this, but the new dynamic alignment guides are a nice twist. If you’ve ever used SketchUp, they will feel instantly familiar: Drag an object around, and lines instantly appear to indicate its position in relation to other objects on the screen. If you want to move a logo to the other side of a title yet retain the same distance between the objects as you had before, you only have to drag it—no need to set up a grid. As soon as it’s at the right distance, it’ll snap into place and the guides will appear, making it clear why it snapped there.
All of these changes are iterative, given that CorelDRAW could already do a lot. There is one notable tool that’s brand-new, though: The QR code generator. Not everyone loves QR codes, but if you use them, CorelDRAW’s generator is one of the best you’ll find today. You can make a code representing a URL, an email address, a calendar event, and more. You can then tweak its colors, the type of pixels used, apply a gradient if you want, and generally customize the heck out of it. Once you’re happy with the way it looks, CorelDRAW lets you instantly validate it, to make sure it still works. Click a button, and an online server can confirm whether most phones will still be able to recognize it (not just the phone you happen to have with you).
CorelDRAW X7 is not a revolutionary release. To me, that's a good thing: This is a vector editor with some serious history and a large user base, and it does its job well. It feels like Corel resisted the urge to change for the sake of change. If you’re happy with CorelDRAW X6, you may not need to upgrade. But if you’re looking for a powerful alternative to Adobe Illustrator—and especially, one without a subscription requirement—you should definitely check out CorelDRAW.