CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020 review: AI, collaboration tools are worth a look

All the professional vector illustration, layout, photo editing, and typography tools you need.

Credit: Corel

Desktop illustration, design, and layout software CorelDraw is something of a stranger to many Mac users, and with good reason. Until a couple years ago, the application had been MIA on Apple systems, since version 11 debuted way back in 2001.

That changed with the arrival of CorelDraw Graphics Suite in early 2019. The suite includes image editor Corel Photo-Paint, making it a clear shot across the bow of not just longtime rival Adobe Illustrator, but also Photoshop’s dominance on macOS.

Now Canadian software dynamo Corel is back, delivering a supercharged update with new features powered by artificial intelligence, cloud-based collaborative review options, and overall improved performance. That’s not quite enough to break Adobe’s longtime stranglehold over the Mac creative community, but this is nonetheless a worthwhile upgrade.

Cloud collaboration

For those with subscription fatigue, the good news is that CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020 has not (yet) ditched perpetual licensing, so new users can pay $499 today and continue using the software into the foreseeable future without forking over another dime. Curiously, Corel has eliminated discounted upgrades from older versions, suggesting perpetual licenses may soon be a thing of the past. For the time being, existing 2019 owners without Upgrade Protection either have to pay full price for the new version or be forced into a recurring subscription of $35 monthly ($249 annually).

Aside from always having the latest and greatest version, one benefit to subscribing is online collaboration, a new feature in the company’s web-based version which is also available as a separate Pro subscription add-on for perpetual users. The very slick CorelDraw.app allows basic creation or tweaking of illustrations from a web browser (Safari works, but Chrome, Edge, or Firefox are recommended), but artists are now able to also share designs with others, who can then annotate and comment remotely — an important tool in the current COVID-19 landscape.

Although file sharing is initiated from inside the desktop CorelDraw application using the Comments inspector, the rest of the collaboration process takes place entirely on the web app. (Files can also be uploaded directly from disk to Corel Cloud, bypassing CorelDraw entirely). This feels like something of a lost opportunity, because the collaboration tools are otherwise solid.

Participants can be configured as No Access, Viewer, Reviewer, or Approver, and invitation recipients aren’t required to set up a Corel account. Microsoft and Google Suite logins are supported, or guests can opt to receive a sign-in link via email. Comments and replies appear instantaneously, while the provided annotation tools are more than enough to get the job done.

Tracing a path

The real standout of CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020 isn’t a single new thing, but rather how artificial intelligence has been implemented across several features. The first is resampling lower-resolution images; for example, AI and machine learning is now utilized to reduce or entirely remove artifacts from noisy JPEG files.

coreldraw graphics suite 2020 for mac powertrace Corel

New AI-powered resampling makes a dramatic difference when converting bitmap images to vector-based illustrations.

Resampling works in the bundled Corel Photo-Paint as well as directly on bitmaps in CorelDraw. Select a placed image, then choose Resample from the menu. There are two default modes (bicubic and nearest neighbor), but after manually increasing file resolution to the desired amount, a pair of additional options appear, Illustration and Photorealistic. Choose the one that best describes your image, and an optional Noise Reduction slider appears. Although resampling can’t add detail that doesn’t otherwise exist, it makes a noticeable improvement, turning otherwise unusable low-resolution images into something serviceable.

The results are far more dramatic when converting bitmap images into vectors with PowerTrace, formerly a standalone app but now incorporated into CorelDraw’s Trace Bitmap command on the property bar. The process takes a little longer before displaying side-by-side Before and After previews, especially when making resample adjustments — but most of the bitmaps we converted to illustrations had far more fine detail and were ready to go without further cleanup.

AI has also made possible a new effects category called Art Style, which alters the appearance of a selected image or object so you can see what your work looks like in a completely different style. Located under Effects> Creative > Art Style, there are 17 one-click presets including Sienna, Post-Impressionistic, and Saturated Acrylic, each with three levels of detail and an option to adjust intensity. They’re very cool, but many take up to 30 seconds to render a preview, creating momentary confusion since there’s no visual feedback anything is happening.

Variable fonts

CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020 adds support for OpenType variable fonts, offering a wider range of control over size, width, serif and other attributes. In the best-case scenario, variable fonts save disk space since a single typeface can be manipulated into a variety of different styles.

Although well-implemented here, variable fonts currently aren’t quite as useful as they sound. Many of the supported fonts I installed using the bundled Corel Font Manager 2020 simply weren’t much better than traditional fonts, with some limited to control over width alone. (However, Font Manager itself is a godsend, noteworthy for being oh so much better than the crummy Font Book utility Apple ships with macOS.)

Also noteworthy are improvements to the Find and Replace inspector, PDF export, and how CorelDraw handles paragraph lists, which can now have customizable sublevels of bulleted and numbered text. The included Photo-Paint—which does a lot but isn’t yet a complete rival for Photoshop—adds non-destructive effects and a new Smart Selection Mask tool, making it easier than ever to select only the parts of an image you wish to keep.

coreldraw graphics suite 2020 for mac variable fonts Corel

CorelDraw now supports variable fonts, but not every typestyle offers the full range of adjustments.

With native support for Sidecar, Touch Bar, and Dark Mode, Corel has done a good job of making Mac users feel right at home in Graphic Suite 2020. The latest version improves app launch times and overall performance which the company credits to GPU optimization, but there’s still room for improvement. While the Intel-only CorelDraw runs pretty well under Rosetta 2 on an M1-powered MacBook Pro, I did experience occasional launch crashes from time to time.

Bottom line

CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020 looks like a bargain compared to Creative Cloud’s “everything and the kitchen sink” approach, especially for designers and illustrators who don’t need Adobe’s video, web, and social media tools. New features and refinements since the Mac relaunch in 2019 make this a must-have upgrade for those already in the Corel ecosystem. And for those who aren’t, there’s never been a better time to make the switch.

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J.R. Bookwalter

Macworld.com
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