Kids, Don't Try This in a Clay Hut

CorelDRAW Series Part 8: by Steve Chittenden

This archived article demonstrates techniques using CorelDRAW X3, but versions 11 or 12 should be the same in most cases. Newer versions will have slight differences from the demonstration but it will still be easy enough to follow the demonstration. Older versions did have the capability I am demonstrating here, but the commands and methods may be different than what is shown.

The practice of mixing clay and straw to make unbaked bricks for building goes back thousands of years. The Arabic term for this brick is al-tob, but the Spanish form, which refers to either the brick, the clay, or the structure built with this clay brick, is much more familiar to us. That Spanish word is adobe.

As much fun as the water cooler trivia above is, let's move on. I am about to show you functionality built into CorelDRAW that will choke Illustrator like clay dust. Now before you go thinking I am just coming down on Adobe (which has advantages over Corel in certain areas), my intent here is to show you a very useful function that CorelDRAW does gracefully, while Illustrator won't do this at all.

Before I show you how, let's look briefly at why. Suppose you had a catalog or brochure with pricing info, but that pricing info was in a Microsoft Excel file. Do you really want to jump through a bunch of hoops to get that information into your graphics file? What about updating? Oh yeah, that's fun. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just place that info right in without any hassle? It would be even nicer if it would update automatically when your client sends you an updated price list.

Let's take this one step further. Do you know anyone who gives you files in Microsoft Word format? Seriously though, suppose you are doing a sports program with a game schedule. There is a good chance the schedule will be in Word (possibly a table format) or in Excel. If you have lots of time and your client doesn't mind paying for it, you could do your chaah-ching dance with dollar signs in your eyes and proceed to do this the hard way making lots of money. Since this client will probably use Word or Excel files for updates, you could consider that a goldmine.

There is a much better way to work with client files, and it allows your client to keep working with programs they are already comfortable with. CorelDRAW supports many, many file formats, so the principles you are about to see can be adapted to numerous situations.

Let's Make Some Bricks

It is way beyond the scope of this article to teach Excel here, but we are going to build a very simple Excel file to demonstrate this technique so you can appreciate its value. I do highly recommend you learn programs like Excel because you would be surprised at how those skills can help you in graphic design. The steps ahead are just a teaser of what you can do, but they will be enough to spark your imagination and open up new possibilities.

  1. Open Microsoft Excel. It will automatically create a blank Workbook. All Office versions from 97 through 2003 are very similar. If you are using Office 2007, it will be different than what is shown here, and I'm not sure about compatibility either.

  2. Click on the File menu, then Save As. By default, you will most likely be in the My Documents folder. It is recommended that you create a New Folder as shown below, give it an appropriate name and be sure you know where it is located.

  3. Save As dialog in Excel

  4. You will now be inside your new folder, which I called practice. Name your Excel file and click the Save button.

  5. Now before you forget where you saved the Excel file to, open CorelDRAW and a New Document. Click on the Save button (with a new document, this will work just like Save As). Navigate to the My Documents folder (or the folder you used to save in Excel), find the new folder you created in Step 2 (I called mine practice), and double-click to open it. Your dialog box should appear like the example below. Note that you will NOT be able to see the Excel file, but it's there if you have the right folder.

  6. Save As dialog in CorelDRAW

  7. Name your CorelDRAW file and click the Save button. Keep this CorelDRAW file open because you will be using it in a few minutes.

  8. Now go back to your Excel file because we will be creating that first. You may notice that cell A1 is already selected in your Excel file, so we will begin typing. Don't worry, we won't be typing much, I'm just illustrating the principle, so we'll keep the demonstration very simple.

  9. In cell A1, type Item Number, then press the Tab key. This will take you to cell B1.

  10. You will notice that the content in cell A1 will overlap B1. Do not worry about this yet. Type Item in cell B1, and press the Tab key again. Type Color in cell C1, and press the Tab key again. Type Price in cell D1, but then press the Enter key this time. You will now drop down to cell A2, and your document will look very messy because your cell sizes have not changed yet.

  11. While you are on cell A2, right click and choose Format Cells from the popup menu. This will bring up the Format Cells dialog box shown below. Select Custom from the Category list, and type two zeros (or one additional zero for a total of two) in the field under Type. Click the OK button.

  12. Format Cells dialog in Excel

  13. With cell A2 still selected, notice the little square in the bottom right corner of the selection outline. Hover over that until your cursor changes to a fine line cross, then click and drag down to enclose the two cells below (A3 and A4). Now select cell A2 again and type 01 and press the Enter key. Without the formatting we just did in Step 9 above, the zero in 01 would disappear, but now it displays the leading zero.

  14. You will now be in cell A3. Type 02 in cell A3 and press the Enter key, then type 03 in cell A4. Next click on cell B2.

  15. Type Square in cell B2 and use the Enter key to move down to cell B3, then type Circle in cell B3 using the Enter key again to move to cell B4. Type Triangle in cell B4. Now click on cell C2.

  16. Next, type in Red, Yellow, and Blue in cells C2, C3, and C4 respectively. Then click on cell D2.

  17. In cell D2, type $19.95 (be sure to type the dollar sign). Now hover over that little square in the lower right corner of the selection outline again until you get the fine line cross, then click and drag down over the two cells below it (D3 and D4). This will duplicate everything into cells D3 and D4. We could have used the Format Cells technique like Step 9 above, but Excel is smart enough to format the cells to Currency automatically using this method. If you change the numbers now in D2, D3, or D4, you won't have to use the dollar sign because the cells are already in Currency format.

  18. Now hover the cursor directly over the number 1 on the far left row numbers until it changes to a right pointing arrow, then click to select the entire row. On your Formatting bar, click the B for Bold and Center the text like I have shown below.

  19. Row formatting in Excel

  20. Auto adjusting column width in ExcelIt's obvious we still have a problem with the contents not fitting in the cells. Hover your cursor between the A and B column until it changes to a column with double arrow icon as shown here on the right. Once you see that icon, double-click to adjust the width automatically to the contents in the widest cell of that column.

  21. With the remaining columns, hover over the lines between them until the same icon appears again, but this time, click and drag the column widths until you are satisfied with the widths. There's no need for perfection here, this is just simple practice to introduce you to some key concepts. You will recognize the real value of this exercise in a few minutes.

  22. To demonstrate how you can add content to this file, click in cell E1 and type List Price, then click on cell D2 (not E2). Now click and drag from the small square in the bottom right corner to duplicate the $19.95 into cell E2.

  23. Click on cell E2 and change the $19.95 to 31.99 (Note that you do not need to type the dollar sign, Excel will add that for you because of the formatting). Now drag the lower right corner to duplicate the $31.99 into cells E3 and E4. You may also want to adjust the width of the column.

Keep this Excel file open for the remaining steps, but next, we will build a basic CorelDRAW file so you can appreciate the value of what you have just accomplished. You will be most pleased by the fact that we did the hardest part first.

Now We Will Build the Structure

  1. Using the CorelDRAW file you saved earlier, create a square on your page. Remember to use the Ctrl key to constrain a rectangle to a square while you are creating it with the Rectangle Tool. The size is not important, but something approximately 1¼" will be good.

  2. Next, draw a circle about the same size using the Ctrl key to constrain to a circle while creating it with the Ellipse Tool. Don't worry about perfect size or alignment, this is just to learn the principles, we're not concerned with art quality here.

  3. If you are thinking of the Excel file we created, you may have guessed that the next object is a triangle. To create a triangle, you will need the Polygon Tool. You will need to expand the Object Flyout if the Polygon Tool is not already showing on your toolbar. The Object Flyout is shown below on the left with the Polygon Tool highlighted.

    CorelDRAW Object Flyout    CorelDRAW Number of Points or Sides setting

    On the right above, it shows the setting you will need on your Property Bar to set the number of sides or points. This needs to be set at 3 to create a triangle with the Polygon Tool. Remember to use the Ctrl key to constrain to a uniform triangle. Shown below are the 3 objects.

    Shapes drawn in CorelDRAW

  4. You will notice above that although I made them about the same size, they are not arranged very well. This would be a good time to demonstrate a very useful tool if you are not already aware of it. Select all three objects.

  5. If you see the CorelDRAW Align and Distribute icon Align and Distribute icon on your Property Bar, click on it. If not, you can add it using the Options to customize your Property Bar. You will find it in the Arrange Commands under Customization. Otherwise, use Arrange from the Menu bar, then Align and Distribute, and Align and Distribute again in the submenu. This will bring up the Align and Distribute dialog shown below.

  6. CorelDRAW Align and Distribute dialog showing Align options

  7. Check the Top alignment box as shown above, then click the Apply button.

  8. Now click on the Distribute tab and select the horizontal Spacing as shown below. You can see while doing this that it aligns the objects and equals out the spacing between them. Now go ahead and Close the dialog box.

  9. CorelDRAW Align and Distribute dialog showing Distribute options

  10. With all the objects still selected, give them a thicker outline; an 8 pt. outline should be good. You will want to have them near the top of the page too, but we're not worried about perfect position or centering.

  11. Now click off the objects to deselect them and select just the square. Fill the square with red. Select the circle and fill it with yellow, then fill the triangle with blue.

  12. Now select all three objects again, and duplicate them using the Ctrl+D keys. Drag the duplicates about 2/3 of the way down the page. If you press and hold the Ctrl key AFTER you click the mouse button to begin dragging, it will constrain the objects to dragging in a straight line. You could also use the arrow keys to nudge them down the page.

  13. If you would like, you could type Wholesale, center it below the top set of shapes and choose whatever size and font you feel led to use.

  14. Next, switch back to the Excel file, click in cell A1 and drag to select through to D4 as shown below. Now use the Ctrl+C keys to Copy. The selection will change to a dashed outline in Excel.

  15. Primary selection in Excel

  16. Now go back to your CorelDRAW file. In the Edit menu, you will see a Paste Special option. Choose that option. You will see the Paste Special dialog box shown below. Make sure to select the Paste Link option and click the OK button. The Excel selection will paste in the middle of the page. Just drag it up under the top set of shapes.

  17. CorelDRAW Paste Special dialog box

  18. Now you want to go back to the Excel file again. Press the Esc key to clear the dashed selection outline. Now select just cell A1 through C4 this time as shown below, and once again, use the Ctrl+C keys to Copy.

  19. No price selection in Excel

  20. Go back to CorelDRAW again and repeat the Paste Special command in the Edit menu being sure to choose the Paste Link option. Drag your pasted selection under the bottom set of shapes.

  21. Now switch back to Excel again, use the Esc key to clear your selection and choose only cells E1 through E4 as shown below. Use the Ctrl+C to Copy your selection.

  22. List price selection in Excel

  23. Repeat the Paste Special procedure again in CorelDRAW to paste the List prices into your document. Drag the List Price object under the bottom set of shapes and line it up along side the last selection to form a complete price list. Your page should look basically like the one below.

  24. Mock catalog

If you should happen to sell any of these shapes, please use the List Price when handing out sales flyers, and buy them wholesale from me.

Be sure to read the tips below so you can further appreciate this technique and benefit more from this information. The real power here is that you can choose any part of a file like this and paste it in your CorelDRAW document or documents. Go ahead and make edits in the Excel file. You will see that they update automatically in CorelDRAW. Think of the possible ways you can use this technique.

Additional Tips For Using This Method

I hope this article opens up a whole new world of possibilities for you. If you are not skilled in using programs like Excel, perhaps now you can see the value of changing that.


© 2016 Steve Chittenden
Steve Chittenden owns and operates Creative Business Services which provides web design, graphic design, writing, and marketing services. If you have a web site that could benefit from this CorelDRAW material, please feel free to link to these pages.