Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Adobe Illustrator Versus Corel Draw

As you may recall, last month we undertook an overview of basic graphic design principles in reference to the production of business materials. Now that we've got these techniques in mind, we'll investigate the tools used to facilitate their employment with regard to the aforementioned materials over the next few months. This time around, we'll begin our comparison of two leaders in the vector graphic application market: Adobe Illustrator 8 and Corel Draw 9.

Vector Graphics?

What's a vector graphic anyway? Well, there are two methods which are utilised to produce graphics; the first, bitmap or raster graphics, employs tiny coloured dots called pixels which are laid out in a grid to form an image. Some examples of file formats that utilise this technique would be: GIF, JPG, PNG, PCX and BMP. Bitmap graphics are best at representing complex images such as photo realistic art containing colours in the thousands or millions. Vector graphics on the other hand are generated by the rendering engine receiving mathematical instructions as to shape, colour, and placement. You'll tell the program "I want a red circle in the corner which is 12cm across" and it will render it. One advantage of vector graphics over bitmaps is that since they are only instructions vs. a fixed group of pixels, they may be altered with little difficulty. For example, if you enlarge a bitmap graphic, it gets fuzzier the bigger you go, while vector graphics maintain their clarity regardless of how drastically you manipulate their size. File formats that utilise this rendering method are: WMF, EPS, PICT, as well as Postscript and True type fonts. The two applications we are reviewing this month are able to exploit the benefits of both graphic formats to produce artwork, but are primarily vector graphics packages which support the inclusion of bitmap objects generated from outside sources.

The Project

To compare the two applications fairly, I decided to design the same one page brochure in each application in an attempt to discover which program was easiest to learn, most intuitive, produced the best output, was fastest and what bugs - if any - I encountered.

But First

As we are designing a brochure that is intended to be given to prospective clients, I thought I'd mention a great product that I came across recently which will definitely be of value to businesspeople in the Ottawa market. If your firm is primarily involved in providing goods or services to businesses in the region, one of the first major hurdles you have to overcome is the lack of contact information available about your prospects. You can scour the Yellow Pages, cold call, or undertake advertising using the "shotgun" approach in hopes that your prospects will call you... but this takes a lot of time and effort. Fortunately, Barry Bockus, founder of Ottawa Business Contacts has already done the research for you.

As the name implies, Ottawa Business Contacts produces both a database and a book of 12,000 business names, phone and fax numbers, web and email addresses which are available by calling (613) 836-4563 or emailing obc@mondenet.com. The database may be imported into many leading contact management packages including: ACT, Maximizer, and also integrates well with Winfax.

On with the show...

The first obvious difference you encounter when opening the two applications is the interface. Corel's is very clean with docked pallets of icons along the top and side which give the user access to the program's various functions. Illustrator's interface by contrast is a cluttered mess of floating pallets which obscure the document below. To be fair, you can hide these, but this is annoying as you are constantly pressing tab and shift-tab to access frequently used functions found on them. I suppose if you have an enormous monitor, you won't have this difficulty - but not all of us are graphic designers by trade, and a 21 incher's expense is hard to justify for those who spend most of their computing time using Word.

The first thing I do is lay down some text. I just use the default font as I plan on changing it when I have input the message. In Illustrator, I have to remember what the font's I have installed look like, or select the text and choose each one to examine the output. As I have a TON of fonts installed, you can imagine how much I  enjoyed this. In Corel Draw, I can select the text and choose the font from the drop down menu which displays a portion of the currently selected text in a box to the side of the font name I am scrolling over... very handy. When I had chosen the font, I right justified it and dragged an alignment guide from the ruler bar in order to set up my document's lines of strength. This was done easily in both applications, but when I wanted to snap the text to the guides (which ensures that the edge of all objects touching the edge of the guide are exactly aligned) I ran into problems.

In Corel, I found the "Snap to Guides" command where I expected it in the "View" menu and it worked like a charm, even displaying a blue bar to indicate when the "snap" had occurred. In Illustrator, there is no "snap to guides" command. Apparently this just occurs by default.... but I couldn't get it to work until I turned on the "snap to grid" command and realigned my guide to correspond with the underlying grid. To be fair, you can specify what spacing the grid employs but I found this less intuitive than Corel's guide set-up procedure. Next I drew a large circle in the centre of the page. In Corel I got what I wanted... a large wire frame circle with which I could do as I pleased after.

In Illustrator, I forgot that I had to select the stroke (outline) and fill (contents) properties in advance of creating the object, and so  received a blue circle with a black outline - the last colours I'd used in the application.This is meant to save time for the artist I suppose, but I find the procedure less in sync with my creative thought processes than Corel's - but maybe that's just me.

So far I've scored this match 4 to 0 in favour of Corel... things aren't looking so great for Adobe but it's early in the game. Stay tuned next month to discover who will emerge the victor.

Originally Published in HUB Magazine, Connected column, March 2000, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.

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