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Review: Serif DrawPlus X4

24 April 2010, Mike Williams

Serif DrawPlus has been around for many years, a constant reminder that quality illustration software doesn’t have to be expensive, or difficult to use. And the latest DrawPlus X4 release takes the package considerably further. This isn’t just a cosmetic upgrade: it fixes a few long-standing issues, and adds even more versatility with some major new features.

Compatibility, for instance, is better than ever. Not only can DrawPlus X4 handle the basic formats (JPG, GIF, PNG, WMF, TIFF and more) and many others (PSD, PDF, EPS), but it’s also finally able to work with SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) files. These can produce very small files, are supported by web browsers, and are text-based, so their content may be indexed by search engines – they’re a perfect choice for many online graphics projects.

If you still spend considerable time with bitmaps, though, you’ll appreciate the new PhotoLab, an excellent tool for editing and optimising digital images. This provides one-click fixes for brightness, lighting, colour balance, noise removal and more. Colour balance, lighting and other tweaks are just a slider away. And there are a host of genuinely effective special effects to, say, convert photos into works of art. PhotoLab is almost powerful enough to be a stand-alone application in its own right, and it’s a welcome addition to DrawPlus X4.

Drawing tools

There a whole range of new illustration options to help you deliver better results, in less time.

Blend modes provide the ability to combine objects’ colour, brightness, texture and more. Exactly how well this works depends on the sources, but it’s easy to use, and is very helpful when, say, blending brush strokes over textured backgrounds.

Extended colour tools include the colour picker, which is now able to pick an average colour from an area, perfect for dithered or noisy backgrounds. Or draw a line on the screen to sample the colour gradient – the colours in a sunset, for instance – then turn this into a custom gradient fill.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more scientific way to create a colour palette, then you could always turn to the new Colour Palette Designer. Choose a base colour, select a colour spread – monochromatic, complementary, triadic, tetradic and more – for suggestions on the most fitting palette. (Don’t worry, there’s no need to understand the underlying colour theory, it’s just as easy to select each option in turn and choose the palette that most appeals.)

If you use a graphics tablet then you’ll appreciate the new Pressure Studio, which lets you test the effect of soft and hard pen strokes, and customise a pressure profile that ensures they deliver the results you need.

And improvements elsewhere include higher quality and better organised brushes, easier text selection, a Path text tool, and a convenient Object Info Pane.

Many enhancements

The improvements in other areas aren’t quite so significant, but still work to enhance the program’s capabilities across a whole range of areas. Redesigned connector tools simplify the process of creating flow charts and tree diagrams, for instance; a new auto dimensioning tool will help you produce scale diagrams and architectural drawings; and enhanced PDF support allows DrawPlus X4 to work as a capable PDF editor.

And of course all this comes on top of the pile of features that were already in DrawPlus X3: excellent vector graphics tools, RGB, CMYK, Pantone and HSL support, the ability to create stop frame and key frame Flash animations (which you can also export as screensavers), and plenty of web graphics options (image slices, rollovers, animated navbars), amongst many others.

There are times when all this functionality can become a little too much. On a couple of occasions we launched the Help file to try and track down a missing feature, for example, only to discover it was accessible from a button that had been right in front of us, all along.

It doesn’t take too long to learn where everything is, though, and the excellent documentation, tutorials and on-screen “how to” advice will help you quickly master the basics – and many of the more advanced topics, too.

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