Saturday, January 10, 2009

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CorelDRAW® 12 Node Tracking: Friend or Foe?

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With the introduction of powerful new drawing aids in CorelDRAW® 12, the Corel engineering team needed to change a key feature of the Pick Tool. If you haven't yet noticed, the optional node-tracking abilities of the Pick Tool are now turned off by default, which represents a slight change from previous versions.

If the Pick Tool's node-tracking feature is a favorite of yours, you can easily reactivate it. Before you do, though, it might help to know the method behind the madness. Let's examine the need for the change and how reversing it might affect your work habits.

Maximize Object-Snapping Actions
The behavior of the default Pick Tool in CorelDRAW 12 was changed to allow smoother operation of the new dynamic guides and oject snapping features. If you haven't already experienced these timesaving aids to drawing, you've been missing out on a good thing.

Dynamic guides largely eliminate the guesswork involved in precision drawing. As you move objects or draw new ones, dynamic guides appear on-screen temporarily between your cursor and the active-object snap points on nearby objects. Your cursor magnetically follows the path of any guide that appears. Distances, angles, and alignments with other snap points make precise cursor placement quite literally a snap.

You can customize guide behavior by using the Dynamic Guides pane of the Options dialog (see below), which you can access by choosing View > Dynamic Guides Setup. As you work, you can toggle the dynamic guides on and off with the Alt+Shift+D shortcut.

The new object-snapping options in CorelDRAW 12 work in tandem with the new dynamic guides and enable you to involve up to nine different snap points in the action. The Snap To Objects pane of the Options dialog (see below) enables you to choose exactly which snap points to use. You can access these settings by choosing View > Snap To Objects Setup. As you work, you can toggle the object snapping on and off by using the Alt+Z shortcut.

A Lesson in Nodes
Whether you're a new CorelDRAW user or an expert, a little refresher on nodes, node tracking, and the tools involved will help you grasp the issue more completely.

Let's start with nodes. Although different programs use different names for nodes (Adobe® Illustrator® refers to them as "anchor points"), the concept remains the same. Whenever you draw a shape or line, nodes are defined either automatically or manually. Typically, nodes are the small outlined points between the curved or straight segments of any open or closed path (see below). They control the size and shape of any vector object that you can create in CorelDRAW.

Shapes created with object-creation tools - such as the Ellipse, Rectangle, Polygon, and Perfect Shapes tools - also include specialized nodes that enable you to control unique object characteristics (see below). You can quickly reshape ellipses into pies or arcs, interactively round the corners of rectangles, distort polygon points, and customize the glyph nodes on certain shapes drawn with a Perfect Shapes Tool.

With Bézier lines (open or closed paths), nodes control the shape or direction, or both, of the path a line follows (see below).

What Is Node Tracking?
Next, let's look at the Pick Tool and node tracking. The Pick Tool's primary function is to enable you to select, move, transform, or rotate one or more objects. Although the Pick Tool is now disabled by default, its node-tracking abilities enable it to mimic the Shape Tool in limited ways. When you enable node tracking, the Pick Tool cursor changes to the Shape Tool as you hold it over a node (see below). This cursor action (referred to as "tracking") provides a convenient way for you to select and move any kind of node on an object without changing tools.

Of course, the Shape Tool's unique primary function is to enable you to select and edit multiple nodes as well as the segments between the nodes (see below). Because node tracking is disabled by default in CorelDRAW 12, the Shape Tool replaces the Pick Tool for all editing of nodes and line segments.

The Conundrum for Users
You can easily reactivate node tracking, but there's a downside to consider. While enabled, node tracking is sometimes more hindrance than help - particularly if you plan to take full advantage of the new dynamic guides and object snapping in CorelDRAW 12. Here's what it boils down to. For many users, object nodes often serve as the grab point for moving and snapping one object to the nodes on another object. When object nodes are tracked by the Pick Tool cursor, you cannot move an object by using the nodes themselves. The tracking action essentially prevents you from selecting and moving the entire object (see below).

The upside to the equation is that you can control the Pick Tool's node-tracking behavior in CorelDRAW by using the Options dialog. You can activate it if and when you need to. Now that you know the issues, though, you can make an informed decision on whether to enable the feature based on how you work.

Elegant Solutions
If you're a devotee of node tracking, here are two solutions you can use.

Solution 1: If you really love the Pick Tool's node-tracking capabilities and want to reactivate them by using the Options dialog, follow these steps:

  • Choose Tools > Options (or use the Ctrl+J shortcut) to open the Options dialog.
  • Click Display in the tree directory and click Enable Node Tracking to reactivate the option (see below).
  • Click OK to apply the change and close the dialog.
    Keep in mind that you can always open the dialog again and disable node tracking if it is interfering with your object-snapping actions, or if you find that the display of the dynamic guides isn't as smooth as it could be.
Solution 2: If you find yourself visiting the Options dialog more often than is practical, you can use a customization trick that makes it easier to enable node tracking. You can add the Enable Node Tracking option to the Pick Tool's Property Bar - right where you need it to be - by doing the following:
  • Start by selecting the Pick Tool from the Toolbox.
  • Choose Tools > Customization to open the Options dialog to the Customization pane. Expand the directory tree under Customization in the list, and click Commands. The right side of the dialog shows a variety of options (see below).
  • Choose Edit from the list box in the upper left of the Commands pane. Scroll roughly halfway down the list directly below the list box, and locate Tracking (see below).
  • Drag the Tracking option button directly from the list onto the property bar. When you reach the Property Bar, an I-beam cursor appears, indicating the button's new position. When you release the mouse button, the option button appears (see below).
  • Click OK to apply the changes and close the dialog. The customization operation provides a quick way to toggle node tracking on or off as needed. After you've weighed the pros and cons of node tracking, you can choose the ideal way to accomplish your drawing tasks.

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