Illustration app duel ends in near draw

Version 5.5: rix and Solaris
Current version:
NT or Alpha
(Mac coming soon)

Version 3.5: Irix, HP-UX,
Solaris and AIX


Overall grade
B+
B-


Price
$325 GSA

$82 upgrade GSA
$448 NIH ECS2
   
$225 upgrade GSA





Microsoft Windows’ Paint function can’t always do the job when you need an
illustration program. But Adobe Illustrator 7.0 and CorelDraw 8 can daunt even the
techno-savvy.


Both market-leading packages have powerful tools, and both give different degrees of
support to the professional as well as the amateur desktop PC artist.


If you’re a full-time graphic artist you’ve probably already settled on one
or the other and don’t want to change. I reviewed them from the standpoint of a user
who’s starting out in illustration and ready to step up from Paint or something
similar.


Illustrator produced crisp, accurate output given the right printer drivers. But it was
difficult to learn and somewhat unfriendly, especially its help tools.


CorelDraw was much friendlier and had a good help menu and tutor. But it was not
exactly easy to use, either.


The screen had too many enigmatic icons cluttering things. And output was less than
accurate, especially in converting Encapsulated PostScript files to bitmap.


It’s pretty much a draw between the two from an illustration standpoint. I gave
the Reviewer’s Choice designation to Illustrator, whose final output proved more
accurate than CorelDraw’s.


On the other hand, CorelDraw had more applications, utilities, fonts, photos and clip
art for only $123 more. It earned a Bang for the Buck designation.


For several months, I’ve been running both packages under Windows 9x operating
systems, sometimes recreating the same piece of art in each.


Some of the art was passed back and forth between Windows and the Apple Macintosh
platform.


In testing, I took an .eps file created on a Power Macintosh, imported the vector
illustration into both CorelDraw and Illustrator, then added elements and made a couple of
minor changes.


Most of the alterations went smoothly, but when I tried to export a bitmap file, I
encountered some glitches in CorelDraw.


The illustration shown on Page 37 for GCN Lab Live, a trade show event, overlapped the
word “Live” on the GCN Lab logo. In CorelDraw’s export, a stray line
appeared at the bottom of the letter V, and no amount of fiddling with settings could fix
it.


Illustrator, in contrast, had no problems exporting the right shapes.


Translating a rather sophisticated .eps file into a .tif or .jpg file often degrades
color quality somewhat.


The drop was dramatic with CorelDraw. The original .eps file colors turned dull and
washed-out.


Illustrator retained more of the original color. It did lose some luster but not
anywhere near as much as CorelDraw.


Both applications have ongoing software updates that you can download.


Visit Adobe’s Web site at http://www.adobe.com/supportservice/custsupport/download.html
for a 1,265K file to update Illustrator 7.0 to Version 7.0.1.


The Corel site at http://www.corel.com/support/technical/
has a patch to upgrade CorelDraw 8 to Version 8.369. The download is a pretty hefty 20M.


Illustrator 7.0.1 suffers from poor online documentation, even for something as basic
as changing tools. The online help does not explain how to select alternate tools from the
basic palette.


I did find an explanation in the 362-page documentation, though: Click on the tool,
then drag.


Moreover, the Shift, Alt, Ctrl, Tab and spacebar keys all affect tool use. Users who
need to know such things will likely end up consulting the paper documentation instead of
the online version.


Once you get past the help obstacle, Illustrator is still difficult to comprehend. But
it is forgiving. The Undo command steps backward as many as 200 levels.


Illustrator is powerful, stable, and comprehensive—almost everything an artist
would desire. The learning curve is a little steep, but the rewards are worthwhile.


Illustrator’s power needs can slow down your creative urges, though. It took 43
seconds to start up on a 300-MHz Pentium II system with 128M RAM. Redrawing screens with
complex elements always took a few seconds.


CorelDraw 8.369 started in only 20 seconds, and its screen draws tended to be faster
even with complex blends.


But the program’s screen was cluttered by more tools, menu commands, palettes and
windows than anyone could ever want.


It was less difficult in use, thanks to detailed online help and the wonderful Corel
Tutor.


The tutor took up even more screen real estate. On a 17-inch monitor at 1,024- by
768-pixel resolution, there just wasn’t enough room to draw.


CorelDraw was forgiving with its thousands of fully adjustable undo levels. Even so, it
just did not have the same kind of finesse as Illustrator, and its .eps errors were
troublesome.


When I drew illustrations in CorelDraw, exported them as .eps files and shipped them to
Mac users, many times the Macs could not open the .eps files. Even if the art opened,
abnormalities appeared.


Illustrator never had such problems. In fact, when I opened a CorelDraw .eps under
Illustrator and resaved it as an .eps, the CorelDraw glitches disappeared.


CorelDraw has enough extra tools and applications to be an entire graphics suite. It
includes Photo-Paint, which is Corel’s equivalent of Adobe Photoshop (priced $489
higher than CorelDraw), and Corel Dream 3D 8, a 3-D illustration tool.


Also included are hundreds of fonts, photos, utilities and clip art. I used the Capture
utility to make the screen shots accompanying this article.


A novice artist might easily feel frustrated while struggling to learn either
Illustrator or CorelDraw.


Once the startup learning is done, though, the artist is a novice no longer.  

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