When you think of vector-drawing applications, it’s the longstanding giants such as Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW that spring to mind. However, there’s another simpler and cheaper alternative that’s also stood the test of time – Serif DrawPlus.
For more than a decade, DrawPlus has offered an easy and productive interface, thanks largely to its simple toolset and its central control panel - the Studio. In version 8, the various Studio tabs have been rationalised and radically enhanced with the ability to dock, group, collapse and resize, as well as save setups as reusable workspaces. In addition, DrawPlus has finally caught up with the rest of the world by offering perhaps the most important usability feature of all – a context-sensitive toolbar. Put it all together and the end result is an interface that’s modern and intuitive and puts the major players to shame.
And it isn’t just the interface. The latest DrawPlus also puts some effort into getting you off to a flying start by providing a selection of preset design templates accessed via a StartUp wizard, as well as a selection of preset design elements accessed through the Gallery tab. In practice, the ranges on offer prove too limited to be much more than a sampler of what’s possible, but the ability to save and reuse your own templates and building blocks is genuinely useful.
This version also sees an overhaul of the program’s core colour handling. The central Colour tab now offers five main colour-mixing modes: the standard RGB and CMYK, the more intuitive HSL Square and HSL Wheel, plus a special Tinting option for creating shades of the current colour. Also new is the Swatches tab, which, alongside access to gradient and bitmap fills, lets you load preset RGB, CMYK and themed colour palettes. Using the Document palette, you can also view and edit all colours used in the current image. Completing the circle, you can create a base colour in the Swatches tab and then apply shaded variations with the Colour tab, knowing that any changes to the base will be reflected throughout the drawing - useful if you’re creating a realistic illustration of a car, for example, and want to be able to experiment with different colours.
The handling of imported files has also been improved comprehensively. Select a placed bitmap image, and the context-sensitive toolbar lets you quickly manage brightness and contrast plus the removal of red eye. Much greater power is available from the new Image Adjustment dialog, where you can choose from a range of powerful colour-correction commands designed to mimic those in Photoshop – Levels, Curves, Channel Mixer and so on. All adjustments are applied non-destructively, so that you can fine-tune to your heart’s content, but it’s disappointing that the same control isn’t offered for plug-in filters or for vector objects.
Compensation comes in the form of new import support for Photoshop’s PSD format, for the common CAD DXF/DWG exchange standards and for Acrobat PDF. The latter is particularly useful, as it means DrawPlus can now be used to add graphical flair to work produced in any other application (assuming you have a PDF writer installed). PDF export has also been improved, with the ability to include calibration bars and registration targets alongside crop marks and to output to the press-friendly PDF/X-1 and PDF/X-1a formats.
All this is impressive, but DrawPlus 8 offers one feature that stands out above all others - its brush handling. Using the new Paintbrush tool and Brushes tab, you can select from a range of 200 provided brush types arranged into categories such as acrylic, watercolour, pastel and photo. Each brush works by draping vector shapes or bitmap images along the length of the stroke, enabling vector work to be taken in completely new creative directions. It also means you can retrospectively edit the stroke’s path, colour and width to get exactly the effect you want. It’s the best of both worlds: bitmap-based creativity and vector-based control.
Based on its budget price, we weren’t expecting too much of DrawPlus’ brushes, but the implementation is excellent. It’s simple to create your own brushes complete with straightforward but powerful control over end sections, repeating and stretching. The feature also supports varying opacity and width for those with pressure-sensitive tablets, while mouse users can quickly apply and customise pressure profiles. Most importantly, the brush handling is fast and responsive, so it quickly feels a completely natural part of working
To top it all, DrawPlus offers another art-inspired feature - the ability to instantly apply a paper texture effect to all objects on a layer. Obvious options include canvas, cartridge and parchment effects, but there’s nothing to stop you applying abstract bitmaps to produce eye-catching effects. Together with the artistic possibilities provided by brushes, this is a fantastic way to take a typically clinical vector drawing and quickly give it some real character.
The list of enhancements goes on with the ability to edit objects within groups, pick up, customise and restore default settings from existing objects, and vector clip multiple objects. This is in itself a major upgrade, but when you add that to the strong feature set DrawPlus has built up over the years, it leads to a product that deserves a great deal more recognition.
This Review appeared in the August 2006 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing