So Simple It's Dangerous

Corel Series Part 6: 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.

I think it is safe to say CorelDRAW is a victim of its own simplicity. Even someone with minimal skill can produce graphics, which is both good and bad. Corel is so easy to use that professional graphic designers sometimes hate it just because it enables people with no artistic ability to create visual pollution.

What sometimes seems to get missed is that Corel also has the ability to streamline the work of a professional graphic artist. Compared with other tools, I find it is usually easier and faster and more powerful than other programs. Features that Corel had several years ago are either just being introduced by the leading design programs, or are still not available.

In this part of the series, we will look at some higher level design techniques. Some are common to other programs, others are either unique to Corel, or ones that Corel is better at. Node editing is one of the areas where Corel is far simpler than other programs (if you don't have a clue about node editing, you will after reading this).

More Power and More Control

If you have worked in graphic design very long, you may already be familiar with the power of layers. Because design programs like CorelDRAW create a stacking order based on each object created, you might not be taking advantage of the extra control available to you through layers. Stacking order just means when you create an object, then create a second object, the second object created will "stack" on top of the first object, the third object will stack on top of the second, and so on. Stacking order and layers are technically different.

If you have not yet discovered the greater control of using layers, get ready to open a whole new realm of possibilities. If you have wished you could make one object invisible so you could work on one below it, then reappear when you need it back, this will excite you. If you have ever wondered if there is a way to select just the objects you want, and lock the rest, there is. If you have ever had trouble selecting a line or object that is on top of a guideline, get ready to discover an easy solution to that problem.

From the Menu bar, click on Window, then Dockers, then Object Manager. Now you have a powerful tool, as shown below, right there when you need it.

Object Manager in CorelDRAW 9 screen

Notice the double arrow button Collapse icon for Dockers in the upper left corner of the Object Manager. This allows you to collapse the docker without closing it, leaving your workspace more open while the docker can be expanded and collapsed as needed. If you want, you can grab the docker by the top and move it. Macromedia later copied this feature and several other features, but Corel was doing this years before.

The idea of working in layers is common to all good graphic design programs. I do find Corel to be the easiest, especially if you are working with multi-page documents. Kids, don't try multi-page documents with Adobe without spending the extra bucks for InDesign on top of Illustrator and Photoshop. Also be aware that if you buy the Adobe Creative Suite, you cannot upgrade individual programs, you have to upgrade the entire Suite, and they are not very good at revealing that little detail in advance either.

Aside from easy management across layers and between pages, here are some other features to be aware of with the Object Manager.

Are you loving this?

Imagine the power you just discovered if you did not already know about this feature. You can scan in a sketch or rough draft and put it on its own layer, then draw on top of it toggling the visibility of the sketch layer on and off to get a better view of your work as you go. Oh yeah, we will be doing that in the next article. After all, this is a drawing program.

You can create multiple versions of the same object or idea and turn the visibility of layers on and off. Since you can collapse page properties in the Object Manager, if you have more than 3-4 pages, you can jump to a certain page much easier than using the page list at the bottom of the workspace. Be sure to explore all the functionality of the Object Manager, it will change the way you use the program.

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get Ready To Edit Nodes

Once we do this, you are going to begin to see the value of creating your own drawing objects because sometimes cleaning up someone's mess can take longer than just creating it.

An important principle is: that less is often better. A node is a control point on a line. If there are too many of them, the line may look bumpy when enlarged. Less of them will create a nicer, smooth flowing line.

Let's start with a simple line. Don't worry, I have some really cool things to show you, we're just going to work in logical order here.

  1. Curve flyoutPress and hold the drawing tools on your toolbar to reveal the flyout of all the tools. You can now drag this flyout to any location. That is why you see two columns of tools instead of the default which only has one Toolbox on the left. We will be using the Freehand Tool which is shown selected here.

  2. Lines drawn with Freehand ToolWith the Freehand Tool icon Freehand Tool selected, click and drag on the page to draw a line. Don't worry that it doesn't look smooth. That will take a lot of practice, but part of the point here is this may not be the best method in many cases. Notice the icons on your Property Bar: one of them is Freehand Smoothing. I created the top line here with 100% smoothing, the bottom line was set to 0% smoothing. Experiment with these settings. Notice how there are less nodes when Freehand Smoothing is set higher. Also note you can use different line types too.

  3. Select the Shape Tool icon Shape Tool from the toolbar and click on a line you have drawn. I have dragged my Property Bar down by the lines to show the node editing options (see Step 2 above). These options, and the ease of use, are what make CorelDRAW such a pleasure to use in my opinion. To me, Adobe is maddening in its clumsy, more complicated approach to this task. Here are some nice shortcuts:

    1. Get familiar with the icons on the Property Bar when working with the Shape Tool. There is one for Select All Nodes. Once Selected, there is another one for Auto Reduce which removes nodes. Depending on how many nodes you have, it may remove more each time it is clicked. This tool is not always perfect, so if not used carefully, it can alter the shape of your object. But it can also be very useful in reducing excessive nodes.

    2. If some of the tools you need are not on the Property Bar, you can add them using the techniques from Part 1 of this series. Make sure you select a curve first to activate the correct Property Bar.

    3. With the Shape Tool, point to any spot on a curve and double-click. This will add a node. If you double-click on an existing node, it will delete that node.

    4. Take note of the three node options: Cusp, Smooth, and Symmetrical. Notice the effect each type has when you drag the "handles" that appear after you select a node.

    5. If you know that most of the nodes are going to be a certain type, like Cusp for example, then do a Select All Nodes and choose Cusp, or whichever one you want the node type to be. You can also use the Shift key to add nodes to a selection, or remove nodes from a selection, before making changes to those nodes.

    6. Note that you can also adjust the Curve Smoothness from the Property bar.

  4. Next, behold the power of the Bezier Tool icon Bezier Tool. You can click anywhere, and each time you click, it will create a point. If you want to stop, simply press the Spacebar after creating the last point. If you want to start another curve, press the Spacebar again and begin a new drawing that will not connect to what you just drew. If you want to continue a curve, click on an end node first (you will see a bent arrow appear on your cursor) and you can keep adding nodes to an existing curve.

  5. You can Combine curve objects you have drawn too. If you Combine two or more curves and you want to connect the nodes (suppose there is a break in a line that you want connected), simply drag one node on top of another and CorelDRAW will automatically join them. NOTE: This only works with unclosed end nodes, or nodes where you have created a break using the command on the Property Bar.

  6. If you are creating a closed curve, which is common, when you get around to where you started at, the cursor will change to a bent arrow while you are over the starting node. Click while the bent arrow is displayed to close the curve. There is also an Auto Close Curve option on the Property Bar. Note that a curve cannot be filled unless it is closed.

  7. With the Bezier Tool still selected, click somewhere on the page, but this time, drag slightly while holding down the mouse button, then release. Go to another point, click and drag, then release. Try dragging different directions and distances. This will feel awkward and clumsy at first, but don't worry about that. With practice, you will get much better and it provides a great way to quickly draw an object. Also remember that you can fine tune an object after it is drawn, so it is not important to have it perfect using this technique.

Now some real fun begins. We're moving on to some lesser known, but powerful features of Corel.

  1. Select the Ellipse Tool icon Ellipse Tool and let's start with real simple ellipse. Use the Control key to constrain while dragging to make a perfect circle. Don't worry about the size.

  2. There might be a Convert to Curves icon Convert to Curves icon on the Property Bar, otherwise, with the circle selected, choose Arrange from the Menu bar, then Convert To Curves.

  3. Notice how there are four nodes. With the Shape Tool icon Shape Tool, select just one of the nodes. Next, click the + sign on the Property Bar. Notice how it adds a node centered between the selected node and the next one in the counter clockwise position. Click the + sign again to see what happens.

  4. Now use the Ctrl+Z keys twice to Undo those extra nodes.

  5. Select all four nodes on the circle. Click the + sign on the Property Bar twice. See how it doubles the nodes evenly spaced over the entire circle each time. You should now have 16 nodes.

  6. Interactive Tools flyoutWith the circle still selected, look for the Interactive Distortion Tool on the Interactive Tools flyout. The other tools located on the same flyout are shown here. The Interactive Tools in Corel are unequaled by any other graphics program in my opinion.

  7. Use the Interactive Distortion Tool to create all kinds of effects. I have shown just a few simple ones below.

    Sun shape image Flower shape image Leaf shape image

    All three of these above use the Push/Pull option (note all the options on the Property Bar). On the first two above, I started from the center and pulled outward. The direction matters because on the far left above, I pulled to the right, on the center one, I pulled to the left. For the one far right, I started on an outside node at 45 degrees and pulled downward.

  8. Be sure to play with this tool because it can yield an unlimited number of effects. Try all kinds of options on the Property Bar and see what happens. Try the Add New button and create even more different distortions.

  9. Flower imageExperiment with colors too. Try different kinds of fills. On the same flyout as the Interactive Distortion Tool is the Interactive Blend Tool. Create two objects and try different blending effects like the one on the right. To do this, I distorted the circle, removed the outline and filled it with yellow. I then duplicated the distorted object, and using the Shift key, I reduced the size to the center and filled it with orange. After applying a Blend, voila. Make sure to try different settings with the Interactive Blend Tool for different effects.

  10. While you are playing with the Interactive Tools, be sure to check out the Interactive Fill Tool. Note that the Interactive Fill Tool is not on the same flyout as the rest of the Interactive Tools. Once you have experienced these tools, other graphics programs will leave you far less impressed. Be careful with file sharing in vector formats other than PDF when using these tools though. Even the expensive programs can't always replicate the effects; you are working with some real power here.

  11. With these distortions, you are still preserving your original object. Each time you click the Clear Distortion icon on the Property Bar, it reverts to a previous state. This works even after saving, closing, and reopening the file as long as you don't convert the distortion to curves.

Putting It All Together

This series would not be complete without a practical example that puts together all these techniques and principles. The next and final article will provide a practice project that will introduce you to some powerful tools you may not have used before, plus, it will take advantage of what we covered here. It's complete with a finished file you can download to get a closer look.

Next.. Ready, Set, DRAW!!!


© 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.