Illustration refresh: Designer 10.0

Corel's 2001 acquisition of Micro­grafx Designer raised clear doubts about the pro­gram's future as a stablemate of rival vector-editing appli­cation CorelDRAW. Designer 10.0 is more sensibly aimed directly at technical illustrators rather than artists.

A number of timesaving features for technical drawings have been installed. The program adds gravity snapping, which automatically draws vector shapes towards defined gravity points on existing objects, such as nodes and intersections. Another significant new feature is the Virtual Segment Delete tool, which lets you remove portions of objects between intersecting lines.

Many existing aspects have been enhanced: for example, the Callout tool - used to explain technical drawings with measurements and descriptions - now allows you to create multiple-leg callouts, with annotations that can be incremented automatically. That won't make much difference with simple designs, but for complex and crowded diagrams it's essential.

Designer's transfer to Corel has reaped immediate benefits. Aside from predictably improved integration with other Corel applications, such as WordPerfect, the program has borrowed wholesale its new owner's excellent colour management system (see for a screenshot).

Another feature already seen elsewhere in the Corel stable, but adopted here for the first time, is support for reusable symbols. Items are described once in a document irrespective of the number of times they are used; the result - much smaller file sizes and drawings, and the ability to update a symbol globally - will particularly benefit technical artists. As a further sweetener, Designer comes with a basketful of prebuilt standard industry symbols.

One significant interface improvement is the addition of Docker windows, which let you group Control boxes such as the Extrusion Tools and Symbols Manager in a single, tabbed window that sticks to the edge of the main application window. Dragging the Docker window away from the edge turns it into a standard tabbed floating palette; double-clicking returns it to its docked state.

It's a neat compromise for ever-more crowded graphical windows. Designer 10.0, which also features VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) automation, now boasts support for up to 60 file formats - although most of these appear as mere updates, such as compatibility with the latest AutoCAD and Visio native files.

Version 10.0 is no longer bundled with the uninspiring Picture Publisher bitmap editor. Instead, Twain-compatible CorelTRACE, an application that converts bitmap images into editable vector files, fills the gap. It's a trade-off few will begrudge, particularly for digitising paper-based technical documents.

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