Beating Graphics Into Submission

Corel Series Part 4: by Steve Chittenden


This archived article is most ideal if you are using CorelDRAW 9 or 10. Version 8 should still be similar enough to make the information useful, but version 9 had significant advancements. If you are using CorelDRAW 11, 12, X3, or higher, my updated version of this article will be much better for you.

If you ever have a graphic that plagues you with file sharing problems, this article will lay out some strategies for combating the situation. As a bonus, you will learn successful design principles that work well for many reproduction techniques; sign production would be a good example, and that is something often overlooked in graphic design.

In Part 3 of this series, we looked at some very common problems in file sharing and I promised we would continue with that, and look at even more ways that Wireframe will make your life easier. Wireframe is still an integral part of determining a good design from one that will merely get you by. It allows you to troubleshoot a junk file that you inherited the responsibility to fix. At the same time, you can use it to reduce the chance of being haunted later by files you should have done right the in first place.

The Wretchedness of Outlines

I have dedicated plenty of emphasis to principles, probably more so than mechanics, and this subject will be no different. Last time I mentioned that the more a graphic looks the same in Wireframe as it does in Normal view, the better off you will be. We are going to build on that principle.

If a graphic is properly designed from the start, it may take slightly longer to produce. The benefit however is that each variation, each version, will be easier to manage. Changes will be easier, and troubleshooting will be more efficient.

A problem that I find to be relatively common is outlines. In keeping with the continuity with previous articles, I will use an ellipse to illustrate this principle. This was not deliberate until now, it just occurred to me that I have been doing everything with ellipses. Somewhere there is probably some psychological explanation for that.

Ellipse in Normal view
Normal View
Same ellipse in Wireframe view
Wireframe 1
Contoured ellipse in Wireframe view
Wireframe 2

The Normal view above shows the ellipse the way it should look. In Wireframe 1, it has only a thin outline, while in Wireframe 2 it looks like the Normal view without the color. So what is the difference here? They are all the same graphic, but produced two different ways.

The usual procedure to create a graphic like this is to merely add an outline and choose your thickness and color. That is exactly what the first example is. In Wireframe view, you do not see this outline. If you had to produce a sign with this graphic, the sign cutting equipment would not see the outline either (oops). I have seen enough designs mistranslate outlines to say that they pose a definite problem.

In Wireframe 2, a different technique was used. It is called a Contour. Here is how to do it:

  1. Select the object, choose a fill color if it does not already have one, and make sure your graphic has no outlines. There is an icon in your default toolbox for this that looks like the tip of a fountain pen. When you hold the mouse button on it for a second, your flyout will look like the one below:

    Outline flyout

  2. After eliminating the outline, deselect the object. You will need to use the techniques described in my first article to access the Contour command icon. Select Tools from the menu bar, then Options, or use the double checkmark icon if you added it.

    Options for Contour and other Effects

    Under Workspace, choose Customize, then Toolbars, look for the Effects folder in the Commands window and select it. You should be seeing same thing I have above. Drag the Contour icon to one of your toolbars. I would suggest placing the icons on your Standard toolbar at the top of the screen. While in this Options box, I also recommend placing the icons for Envelope and Extrude on your Standard toolbar.

    Click OK to close the Options box.

  3. Now with your graphic selected, click on the Contour icon. The Contour Docker will appear on the right side and the fun begins. Your Property Bar will automatically display the tools you need to simplify your work. Play around with this to see the different effects you can create. You can control color, contour thickness (Offset), number of steps, and more. The Apply button will give you a live preview, and you can make changes until the desired look is achieved.

  4. As long as you are now experiencing the Dockers, in this case the Contour Docker, notice how it has a minimal effect on reducing your work area. It easily collapses using the double arrows in the upper left corner, or you can close it with the X icon. You can also drag it out to your Workspace if you want to and still collapse it out of your way. This behavior in Corel predates Macromedia copying it in their MX versions by about 3 years. Go ahead and play with it, this adds a lot of productivity to your work flow.

  5. When finished, go to Wireframe view and it should look like the Wireframe 2 above (as long as you select Outside Contour, set Steps to 1, and use a moderate offset).

There should be a Separate Separate icon icon on your Property Bar. If you need to work with the original object and the Contour separately, click on this icon to "Separate" the object from the contour. If the icon is not there, you can access the command from Arrange on the Menu bar, then choose Separate.

HINT: If you will be resizing your contoured object, I highly recommend using the Separate command noted above. After separating, and with the object and its contour still selected, you may want to Group (Arrange menu, then Group) to keep them together. Now if you resize the object and its contour, everything will stay proportionate. Otherwise, your contour will appear smaller as the object is made bigger, and bigger if the object is made smaller.

Once the object and the Contour are Separated, you can let your creativity go wild. With Node Editing, which I will cover in another article, you can distort either object so it is no longer a perfect contour. To me, Corel is far superior to everyone else in the way it handles Node Editing. Once you get used to the simplicity of Corel, you may very well curse their competition for the clumsiness in the way they handle tasks that are easy in Corel.

You can use commands like Combine (discussed in the previous article), which in the case of the ellipse example here, would create a hollow center in the larger ellipse. It is a good idea to "Duplicate" your objects before doing this. See below for time saving techniques in working with duplicates.

The real value of Contours shows up when you have more complex graphics. Let's say you have a group of 50 objects and 10 of them have outlines. I hope you know about the "Scale with Image" option and remembered to use it on every one of them. If not, every time you resize the graphic, it will look different. This is a time consuming problem to fix, and Contouring not only solves that problem (see HINT above), it is much friendlier when it comes to file sharing.

Cool Time Saving Secrets

If you are not already aware of these shortcuts, they can streamline your work:

Consider These Guys Your Friends

To avoid having this article too long, I am only going to introduce you to these "friends" right now, but in the future, we will be getting better acquainted with them.

With two or more objects selected (the Separated ellipse objects created earlier will do, or you can just create a couple random objects), open the Options dialog box. Under Workspace in the left pane, expand Customize and click on Toolbars. Look for the Arrange folder in the Commands window and click the + next to it. Now click on the Grouping/Combining folder. If the following icons are not already on your Property Bar, put them there. Note that it should say "Multiple Objects" in the Property Bars window. See below.

Options for Grouping/Combining

These are the icons you will want to drag to your Property Bar:

Combine button Combine. This was discussed in my previous article. You may also want to include the Group, Ungroup, and Ungroup All commands. Personally, I recommend them.

Break Apart icon Break Apart. Basically the opposite of Combine.

Separate icon Separate. This one was described above and Break Apart replaces all of its functions in newer versions.

Convert to Curves icon Convert to Curves. Converts text to curves and allows standard objects, such as rectangles, to be altered.

Intersect icon Intersect. Creates a new object out of the intersection between objects.

Weld icon Weld. Converts multiple objects into one and eliminates seams.

Trim icon Trim. Uses one object to knock out its shape into another.

After placing these icons on your Property bar, click the OK button in the Options dialog box.

Until Next Time, Just Play

In the next article, I will be providing some examples of how these commands will help you master good file creation. In the meantime, the introduction to having them will provide you with enough information to brainstorm some of their usefulness.

In your experimentation, remember to use Wireframe view. Use the Duplicate and Nudge features to see how each of these work. Create different objects, overlap them slightly, select each object one at a time and use the new command icons. Change the order you select the objects in and see how it effects the way the command works.

Here is a specific exercise. Type a few words, or a sentence, using a connecting script such as Brush Script. Now zoom in on the text. Looks great, right? Try Wireframe. See how the letters are overlapping? Now, while still in Wireframe, and with the text selected, click on the Weld command. See the difference? If you are only looking at it on a computer screen, you might say, "No big deal." But to a sign company, this is a very big deal!

Between your creative experimentation and the information in these articles, you will be able to solve problems with nuisance clip art and junk files that someone gives you, but most importantly, you will be able design files that are not prone to problems. With a little planning, you can make your job easier whenever you need to modify or share a graphic.

Next.. How To Use Your Friends.


© 2007 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 9 material, please feel free to link to these pages.