Corel Designer 9

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Corel Corporation, go to the web site
Requires: Pentium II/200MHz or faster, Windows 98/NT 4.0 (SP3 or higher)/2000/Me/XP, 64MB RAM (128MB for Windows XP), 200 MB available hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, minimum 16-bit (800 x 600) color display, mouse or tablet
MSRP: US$469 (upgrade $229.00)

Corel Designer 9 seems to be a happy marriage between the Corel Picture Publisher image editing software and the drawing and creative functionality of the Corel Designer software. If the software title is unfamiliar to you it's probably because Corel has not had a long marketing run-up for the product - at least not the run-up boasted by Corel Draw and other older titles in the Corel stable. Corel acquired Picture Publisher and Designer from Micrografix. They were Micrografix's leading products, with a solid track record in design shops, technical illustration companies and ad/marketing agencies. Corel appears to be after more of the same market.

While Designer 9 isn't a huge upgrade in terms of new features, there are some key additions which really help this version stand out. The added ability to import AutoCAD 2000 DXF and DWG files (and retain most of the layout data in those documents) seems to move Designer 9 into a very versatile position. Designer 9 now lets you export files as PDFs. That means sharing documents in read-only format is very much easier than it used to be. In addition to DXF, DWG and PDF files, Designer 9 now also exports to Macromedia Flash files (SWF). If you're into vector graphic animation, Designer 9 is yet another powerful tool which should be placed on your radar.

So what's it like to use Designer 9? To start with, a boring Windows-like user interface (UI) confronts you. I've never liked this approach to UI design, but with millions of graphic artists, photo editors, professionals and amateurs using Micrografix and Corel products, my opinion is apparently not widely shared. Personal UI complaints aside, users of other technical illustration products will recognize how to navigate the software without much trouble. If you're temporarily moving over from Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, it will take a few days to get used to finding things in different places. The online help was of significant benefit here.

I've been using Adobe Illustrator for years, so doing actual working tests with Corel Designer 9 was a bit of a chore, until one of my vastly more talented friends dropped by to find out what I was working on. When he saw Designer 9, he basically took over my computer and played with Designer 9 for at least two hours. This friend is a well-known designer who works under contract for a variety of large machine shops, architects and design houses. He pronounced "PDF, DXF, DWG, SWF handling are all good! Nice." The end result of two hours work was a satisfied "grumphh!" and a resounding "not bad" and some interesting output in PDF. I got my money's worth out of the guy too because all of the output was project work for technical drawings and analyses for research documents we're producing. I love it when a (sneaky) plan comes together. I also learned quickly that Adobe Illustrator and Corel Designer are really in different product categories.

I'm an amateur at technical illustration software. I have to use it out of self-defense (I just can't afford to pay contractors for every single project). But I've got an opinion nonetheless about some Designer 9 features which really stand out. First and foremost, Designer 9 is a precision technical drawing tool. The ability to do precise measurements is as good as anything else on the market. The 2D tools are great, especially the warp and extrusion controls. I also like the method of annotating documents - very necessary when sending technical files to other researchers for analysis. Since most of the output in our research offices is PostScript, Designer's solid level 2, 3 & EPS support is very welcome. I also like the Object Explorer, which makes it really easy to find specific objects deeply buried in complex documents.

Cons: The printed manual is somewhat of a waste of time. It's long on telling you about all the things you can do with Designer 9, but exceedingly short on explanations. Not good. The software is unlikely to attract current Freehand or Corel Draw users.

Pros: The new export file formats are a huge upgrade and since the file exports appear to be very good, the functionality is extremely useful as well. Kudos for this. If you're already using Designer, this is a worthwhile upgrade. Recommended.

(Ed. Note: Designer 10 is now available - a few more features, same price as v9)

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