Saturday, January 10, 2009

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Demystifying the CorelDRAW® Graphics Suite 12 PostScript Options

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As anyone new to printing from a graphics application can tell you, print errors can sometimes be a scary and costly experience. Confusion is often amplified if you're faced with choosing PostScript printing options that you have limited experience with. If you don't know what PostScript printing options are, you certainly won't know which to use and which to avoid. Since the terminology seems foreign to many, I'll try to demystify the PostScript language so that it's more easily understood.

When you print from CorelDRAW® 12, you're actually using the print engine to send commands to your printer. Print options use information gleaned from your print driver to enable you to control how various object types are reproduced on the printed page.

It is useful to know that the PostScript tab (shown below) appears only when you have selected a PostScript printer. When the CorelDRAW 12 print engine prepares a document for printing, these options enable you to control how the PostScript page description language is prepared for your printer.

Is Your Printer Compatible?
The question of printer compatibility is based on whether or not your selected printer is of the PostScript variety. Designed to make printing more efficient, PostScript printers use specific page description language to reproduce certain aspects of text and objects. Essentially, non-PostScript printer drivers convert the entire contents of your document into a bitmapped image based on your drawing size and the material size onto which you're printing. If you're unsure of your printer's compatibility, check either with your manufacturer or the documentation included with your printer. Generally, deskjet, bubblejet, and inkjet printers are non-PostScript while imagesetters are exclusively PostScript.

Ordinarily, selecting a printer and its device driver—and perhaps even the PostScript Printer Driver (PPD) file—will automatically set the Compatibility option (shown below). Compatibility will depend on how recent your printer's PostScript technology is. Along with everything else in the computer industry, PostScript technology has evolved over the years. Older printers may be limited to Level 1, whereas newer printers may be compatible with Level 2, or PostScript 3.

If you're sending your print job through a high-end PostScript "postprocessor" that requires Document Structuring Conventions (DSC), choose the Conform to DSC option. Postprocessors can perform complex prepress functions, such as color trapping, page shuffling, and complex signature structures.

Total Power Over Printing Bitmap Images
If your PostScript printer is compatible with Level 2 or PostScript 3 standards, and either of these is selected from the Compatibility drop-down menu, the Use JPEG Compression option (shown below) becomes available. By using compression, you can decrease the size—and consequently the time—it takes to send bitmapped images to your printer, especially if they are rather large.

With compression enabled, the Quality Factor slider becomes available (as shown below). Since JPEG is a "lossy" compression standard, you can use this to adjust the output quality of the printed bitmapped images. To speed up printing, you can control the print file size by altering quality, which affects compression.

Connecting to Externally-Linked Files
The two linking options (shown below) provide control over how your PostScript printer will handle externally-linked files in your CorelDRAW 12 document. The two varieties—Open Prepress Interface (OPI) and Desktop Color Separation (DCS)—refer to unique printing strategies often used by high-end printers.

Maintaining OPI Links
While this option is enabled (the default state), the print engine will automatically maintain external links to bitmap images imported using OPI. If you're using OPI, you can store high-resolution bitmapped images in your printer's internal memory and use low-resolution placeholders in your document. During printing, the high-resolution images replace the lower-resolution placeholders.

Resolve DCS Links
In a printing strategy similar to OPI, DCS technology enables you to import into your CorelDRAW 12 document low-resolution placeholder images that contain embedded links to digitally-separated images for use in process, or multi-ink, printing. While Resolve DCS Links is enabled (the default state), the high-resolution images automatically replace the placeholder images. If you deactivate Resolve DCS Links, a prompt will appear just before printing occurs, enabling you to resolve the links manually.

Choosing a Screen Frequency
When it comes to printing separations, controlling Screen Frequency is a function unique to PostScript, essentially controlling the spacing of the screen dots which compose tints and halftones. The screen frequency value (shown below) determines the number of lines per inch (LPI) for the entire print operation and is typically used when separating color plates to an imagesetter or a platesetter.

The Default setting leaves the frequency function in the hands of the raster image processor (RIP) to which you're printing. Changing to a specific setting enables you to override the RIP settings. It's is useful to know that, when separations are selected, it automatically changes the default frequency settings from the Separations tab (shown below).

You can also customize screen frequency directly from the Separations tab, or in the Advanced Separations dialog (shown below), which you can access by clicking the Advanced button from the Separations tab.

Power Over Font Handling
CorelDRAW 12's print engine provides two options (shown below) for controlling specific font handling during printing. By default, both options are selected. To speed printing, the Download Type 1 Fonts option tells the print engine to send Adobe Type 1 fonts to your printer's internal memory before printing. Since Adobe Type 1 fonts are often preferred over TrueType fonts, the Convert True Type To Type 1 option tells your PostScript printer to replace any True Type fonts with available Adobe Type 1 equivalents. If no equivalents exist, the TrueType font is used.

Managing PDF Options
If your document is being output as a PDF (Portable Document Format), and you're printing a composite, the PDF Marks options (shown below) become available. From the On Start drop-down list, you can specify how your PDF initially displays. You can choose from Page Only, Full Screen, or Thumbnail views. You can also choose whether to Include Hyperlinks or to Include bookmarks in the resulting PDF file.

Controlling Curve Printing
For highly-complex drawings, the print engine's power over vector paths provides very specific control with three options for setting curve printing.

Maximum Points Per Curve Limit
If necessary, you can choose this option to limit the maximum number of points on a printed path. By default, when sending path descriptions to your printer, CorelDRAW 12 automatically uses a Maximum Points Per Curve setting of 10,000 nodes per curve. If the limit is exceeded, path descriptions are simply clipped, usually without altering their appearance. The default limit is usually more than enough for printing typical object paths, but you can set this value anywhere between 20 and 20,000 nodes per curve. Be warned though—increasing the limit may overwhelm your printer's memory.

Curve Flatness
The often misunderstood term "flatness" refers to the number of straight vector paths used to describe a curved path. The more straight vectors in a curve, the less complex the path will be to print—and vice versa. Increasing the flatness setting causes less smooth printing of curves, but also speeds the printing process. The Set Flatness To option enables you to set the flatness limit to a value between 0.20 and 100.0.

Bump Up Flatness Automatically
For objects that exceed the flatness setting by two, the Auto Flatness option automatically increases the flatness setting until the object prints.

Control Over Fountain Fill Printing
If you've used fountain fills in your CorelDRAW 12 document and you need more control over how they print, there are two available options that will help.

To avoid undesirable "banding", the Auto Increase Fountain Steps option tells the print engine to examine your document for opportunities to increase the number of fountain steps toward improving their appearance.

Banding becomes visible when the number of steps in a fountain fill is too low to simulate a smooth color transition (shown below). Increasing the number of steps that describe a fountain fill increases the printing time but achieves better printed results. Up-to-date PostScript printers can often handle higher step values than the default 256 for all fountain fills in your drawing. If this is the case, you can leave this option selected (the default state).

The Optimize Fountain Fills option works in reverse of the Auto Increase Fountain Steps by allowing the print engine to decrease the number of fountain steps for objects in your document to the maximum number of steps your printer is capable of reproducing, the Optimize Fountain Fills.

As with any print operation, be sure to scrutinize your document closely before finalizing your options. Give careful consideration to how you'd like the document to print and the capabilities of your selected PostScript printer. Once you've selected the perfect setup, you can avoid the tedium of choosing options repeatedly for a specific printing operation by saving the entire setup as a unique Print Style (accessed from the General tab of the Print dialog box). Using a Print Style, you can include your PostScript printer selection and all of the PostScript-specific options you've selected for instant reuse.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

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New Dynamic Guides Will Change the Way You Draw

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Once in a while, a new drawing feature comes along that's so innovative, it has the potential to completely change the way you draw. New Dynamic Guides in CorelDRAW® Graphics Suite 12 will do just that. In fact, after using them for a while, you'll wonder how you ever did without them. Let's explore just how great these fancy new guides really are.

A Boon for Drawing and Positioning Lines and Objects
Unlike typical guidelines that physically occupy a point on your document page, Dynamic Guides appear only momentarily right where you need them. As you're drawing a line or dragging an object, they come to life to show information about your cursor's position relative to points on surrounding objects.

As your cursor comes within a certain distance of an object snap point, a Dynamic Guide path magically appears right where you need it. The guide path itself is "sticky", meaning your cursor easily aligns to it. When drawing or positioning objects, the screen tips you see provide angle and distance measurements from your cursor or grab point to nearby snap points, like this:

If you've never used Dynamic Guides before, try these steps and you'll see just how powerful this feature is:
  1. To view only the feedback provided by Dynamic Guides, turn off the CorelDRAW 12 Snap to Objects feature. To do this, choose View/Snap to Objects Setup to open the Options dialog box for the Snap to Objects pane. Click to turn off both the Snap to Objects On and Show Snap Location Marks options, and click OK to close the dialog box.

  2. Next, let's make sure Dynamic Guides are active. If they aren't already showing, activate your Dynamic Guide display by pressing Alt+Shift+D. Choose View/Dynamic Guides Setup to open the Options dialog box for the Dynamic Guides pane. Make sure the Angle and Distance Screen Tip options are selected and click OK.

  3. Now that you're all set up, start your exploration with a single object. For example, draw a simple rectangle with the Rectangle tool (F6).

  4. Choose the Pick tool, then grab the lower-left corner node of the rectangle and drag it in a circular motion around its original position. Notice as you do this that guide paths, and angle and distance values appear around the rectangle.

  5. Continue dragging, but this time, drag your grab point close to a nearby snap point and slowly drag it along the guide path that appears. Notice how your cursor "sticks" to it, and the difference in angle and distance from your grab point to the current snap point is updated as you drag. What you see on your screen will look something like this:

  6. Create a second object (such as an ellipse) and add it to the mix. Drag your rectangle from the same corner beside the right side of the ellipse and notice another guide path appear at angles between your grab point and the ellipse snap points, like this:

Even if you're just creating lines or curves, you'll see Dynamic Guides feedback that displays the angle and distance from the last node position relative to the snap points of other objects. If you've ever fumbled trying to draw three nodes in perfect alignment at a non-typical angle, you'll certainly appreciate how useful this can be.

To see how easily you can add a perfect angled extension to a straight line, try these steps:
  1. Use the same setup as in earlier steps. Start by creating a straight line at a non-typical angle (an angle that is anything but the standard 15-degree constrain interval). To create the line, choose the Freehand tool (F5).

  2. Click any two points on your page to define the beginning and end points of the line. After clicking the second point, your straight line becomes a completed object, but remains selected.

  3. Still using the Freehand tool, hold your cursor over the second point you clicked. Notice that the cursor features an end node symbol. Click your cursor on the node once to begin drawing another line segment. Move your cursor slowly away to extend the line and notice a Dynamic Guide appears at the exact angle of the existing line, like this:

  4. Move your cursor along the guide and click a point anywhere on it. Another node position is defined and your line segment is now a straight path composed of three nodes.
Customizing Dynamic Guides
There are plenty of ways you can control what you're seeing on screen. You can toggle Dynamic Guides on and off a number of ways: by using the Alt+Shift+D shortcut, by choosing View/ Dynamic Guides from the command menus, or by clicking the Dynamic Guides button in the Property Bar (shown next) while the Pick or Shape tools (and no objects) are selected.

Dynamic Guides have a unique set of options that enable you to control their behavior. You can customize how the guides appear by choosing behavior options such as angle and distance tips, and tick snapping, and select which guide angles appear. To access these options (shown next), choose View/Dynamic Guides Setup to open the Options dialog box for the Dynamic Guides pane shown here:

Here's how each option will affect the way Dynamic Guides are displayed:
  • Dynamic Guides – Select this check box to toggle Dynamic Guides on or off.

  • Angle Screen Tip – When drawing with line tools, use Angle Screen Tip to show an angle value from the tip of your grab point relative to other object snap points, when positioning objects or placing nodes.

  • Distance Screen Tip – When drawing with line tools, choose Distance Screen Tip to show the distance between your cursor position on a guide and the current snap point, when positioning objects or placing nodes. The unit measure you'll see is based on your currently selected drawing units. (You can set this in the Pick tool Property Bar while no objects are selected.)

  • Snap to Ticks – Use Snap to Ticks to toggle tick snapping along the guide paths in customizable increments. This enables you to move your cursor along the guide and snap to tick points according to the current Tick Spacing value.

  • Guides – Use this area to select which angles you want your Dynamic Guides to indicate on screen. Check boxes enable you to toggle the angles on or off in the list. As you select each one, its apparent angle is displayed in the Guides Preview window on the right of the dialog box. To add your own custom angles, just enter a value in the degree box above the list and click the Add button, as shown next. Custom guide angles are automatically added to the guides list, so you have the option of toggling them on or off. You can also interactively select and manage the guides via list selection or just by clicking the apparent angles shown in the Preview window.

  • Extend Along Segment – When drawing using any line tool, use this option to easily add straight portions to an existing angled line segment. A Dynamic Guide will automatically show you where to place your new node so it's in perfect alignment with the existing straight line.

The Dynamic Duo
It may also help you to know that Dynamic Guides work together with the new Snap Modes feature in CorelDRAW 12. The guides appear whenever your grab point or line tool cursor comes within a certain threshold of an active snap point on your original object, or on a different object, like this:

You can set up to nine object snap points to include in the process by choosing View/Snap to Objects Setup to open the Options dialog box for the Snap to Object pane, shown next.

If you're already using CorelDRAW 12 but haven't yet explored what Dynamic Guides can do, the steps we've covered here should get you on your way. Although this only scratches the surface, you've just turned a corner to a novel new way of drawing.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

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Stepping into Color Management with CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 12

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Trying to achieve consistent color across multiple devices connected to your computer can still generate its share of head-scratching, hair-pulling, and, yes, even the odd expletive. The truth is, a completely flawless method of desktop color management doesn't yet exist, although some systems come close. If you're a CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 12 user tackling color management for the first time, or just curious about how it's supposed to work, you've come to the right place.

Why Should You Use Color Management?
To illustrate why color management is important to anyone working in color, let's look at a typical scenario that you may have encountered. You scan an image or take a digital picture, open it on your computer, and then print it from your desktop printer. At each step in the process, you notice slight differences in color. This means that the colors in your final printed output may not exactly match the original you scanned. Now that we've nailed the problem, how do you solve it?

The reason for the color difference is that each color-capable device connected to your computer has its own special way of recording, displaying, or reproducing the same color values. The colors your eyes see may not match those that your scanner or digital camera can capture, nor will they perfectly match what your monitor or desktop printer can reproduce.

Will you ever be able to match the original scanned image exactly? Unfortunately, the answer is a qualified "no." What you can do, though, is to try to achieve a reasonably close display facsimile. CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 12 lets you do just that.

Color management enables you to match colors between devices that use color profiles - descriptions that conform to standards set out by the International Color Consortium (ICC). The profiles are compared according to the internal RGB color space shared by CorelDRAW 12 and Corel PHOTO-PAINT 12, and the corrections that are fed back to your monitor are based on each device's capabilities. When you print an image, your monitor's profile is compared with the printer profile, and your monitor's colors are corrected to reflect what the printer will actually print. If the colors aren't right, your monitor will tell you.

These days, color profiles are often readily available. Newer color devices automatically copy profiles to your system during installation. Others are supplied on disc by the device manufacturer. Often, you can install color profiles automatically through your operating system, using Plug and Play technology, or you can obtain them online. If you need a specific ICC profile, the best place to look is the support area of the manufacturer's Web site. Here are a few popular sources:

Of all the color devices connected to your system, your monitor is by far the most important, so you need to be confident that what you're seeing is accurate. You'll get the best results by using a model capable of rendering precise, consistent, and accurate color. You'll also want to ensure that the ICC profile assigned to your monitor is accurately indicating the colors you assign. Without ensuring this accuracy, there's no guarantee that other devices will reproduce the colors you want. Also, the age of a monitor can significantly affect the color it shows. Monitor quality can degrade over time - especially if the monitor is of the cathode ray tube (CRT) variety. If your monitor has seen better days, the need for effective color management provides the perfect excuse for upgrading to a fresh model.

A Step-by-Step Approach for the Wary
The Color Management feature of CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 12 is much easier to use than in past versions, but it's still a full-featured tool. The main dialog serves two functions: it graphically illustrates the current color management setup, and it provides control over all options in a central location. You can access these options (shown below) from within either CorelDRAW 12 or Corel Photo-PAINT 12 by choosing Tools > Color Management.

Each of the graphic icons represents the color devices you can control. Click the profile type selectors below each graphic icon (shown below) to assign your device profiles. Click the arrows between the icons to control how display color is corrected. To access advanced options, click directly on the icons themselves.

Although the options might seem a little overwhelming when you first work with them, creating your own color management setup is relatively straightforward if you approach it one step at a time. The following provides a quick walk-through.

Step 1: Assign Your Device Profiles
Choosing a profile to a color device is a simple step, provided that your hardware appears in the selector list. If you don't see it listed, you can load a profile from disc or connect to Corel's server, which provides a list of profiles to download (as shown below). If the profile for a connected device isn't available, leave the selection set to its generic profile (the default) until you can obtain one. Just remember that choosing the correct monitor profile is the most critical step in the process.

Step 2: Turn Color Management On or Off
Turn color management on or off by clicking the arrows between the graphic icons for your color devices and your internal RGB color space. In the illustration below, each device is set to the active state. Turning the active state of a device off essentially disables its profile so that no color correction is applied. The arrow pointing to the Internal RGB profile from the Import/Export icon controls whether correction is applied to imported documents that have embedded ICC profiles. The arrow pointing in the opposite direction controls whether your current ICC profile is included with exported images - which is often the best route.

Step 3: Choose the Color Correction Method for Your Monitor
With your profiles assigned, you can choose which printer's capabilities your monitor will emulate by clicking the arrows that point from the printer icons to the monitor icon (shown below). Ideally, you'll choose the device that you will use to print the final result. Clicking either of the arrows automatically activates that printer's color profile. Only one printer's capabilities can be simulated at a time, so activating one printer's color profile turns off the other printer's color profile.

If the document you're proofing on your monitor is destined for final output to a separations printer, you can also set your selected composite printer to simulate the final color results. To activate this feature, click the arrow that sweeps along the bottom of the dialog and points from the separations printer icon on the right side to the composite printer icon on the left side.

Step 4: Save Your Settings
After you've gone through the effort of assigning profiles and setting preferences, it's worthwhile to save your setup using the color management Styles options. To save the entire arrangement, click the "+" button, and name your new style in the Save Color Management Style dialog (shown below).

By saving your setup, you can retrieve it from the styles list later and use it with other drawings. You can also use preset styles included with CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 12, which are optimized for certain operations, or you can quickly reset all profiles to defaults. Once a style is saved, it is embedded with your drawing. If you move a document between computers and open it in either CorelDRAW or Corel PHOTO-PAINT, you can extract the embedded styles by selecting the Extract Embedded ICC Profile option in the Open dialog (shown below).

Before the document is opened, the Save As ICC Profile File dialog opens, which lets you extract and store the file. By default, all profiles are stored in your .../Application Data/Corel/Graphics 12/User Color folder.

Tackling More Advanced Options Besides being able to set profiles and choose correction preferences, you can also use the Color Management dialog to choose more advanced settings for certain devices and operations. These settings are perhaps the most complex and critical of all the options you need to choose. To access them from the Color Management dialog, click directly on a specific graphic icon (Import/Export, Printer, Monitor, or Internal RGB). In the dialog that opens, you can set the following advanced options.

Advanced Import/Export Settings. Clicking directly on the Import/Export icon opens the dialog shown below. Here, you can specify whether you want to use the embedded ICC profiles contained in imported images, or whether your current profile is embedded into images you're exporting from your document. In either case, you can override the profiles converted or embedded by choosing to use your current Internal RGB profile or the profile for a specific device.

Advanced Printer Settings. Clicking the icon for either the composite printer or the separations printer opens the dialog shown below. You'll see a list of the currently installed printer drivers with options for overriding the profiles assigned in the color management setup.

Advanced Display Settings. Clicking the monitor icon opens the dialog shown below, which lets you control complex color correction properties of your monitor. While a printer simulation is selected, you can view colors that fall outside your printer's gamut, which is the range of colors your printer can reproduce.

Enabling the Highlight Display Colors Out of Printer Gamut option causes an alarm color to appear in the areas when a certain color specified in your document can be accurately reproduced by the selected printer (based on its color profile). The illustration below shows the effect of an out-of-gamut display, with green used as the alarm color.

You can click the Warning Color button to choose the alarm color, and you can use the Transparency slider to control how opaque the alarm color appears on-screen. For example, if your printer simulation is set to a CMYK separations printer, the gamut alarm will highlight any RGB colors.

Advanced Internal RGB Settings. Clicking the Internal RGB icon opens a settings dialog that lets you choose from a collection of rendering intent types (shown below). This dialog also lets you change color engines from the default Kodak Digital Science color-management module if an alternate is available. The rendering intent method you choose controls how your internal color space converts and displays out-of-gamut colors on your monitor.

Although the science behind color management may seem a little intimidating at first, the following explanations may help you decipher what is produced by each of the five types of rendering intents:

  • Absolute Colorimetric. This method is useful if the gamut of the color proofing printer you're using is larger than the gamut of the final output printer you're attempting to simulate. It essentially preserves all in-gamut color, including the white point, which affects image highlights and contrast. This method maps out-of-gamut colors to the next closest hue by altering their saturation and lightness when displayed.
  • Relative Colorimetric. If your drawing consists mostly of color vector objects, you might prefer this method. It's similar to the Absolute Colorimetric method, but it also alters the white point of the image, which can potentially change highlights and contrast. If you're proofing to an inkjet printer, this method is your best bet for displaying an accurate screen image.

  • Perceptual. You might prefer this method for documents with vivid color, such as scanned photographs or digital camera captures. The Perceptual method compresses a larger gamut of colors to fit a smaller one by desaturating all colors.

  • Saturation. This less complex method maps colors between devices directly, regardless of the differences in lightness, saturation, or hue. It's suitable if only solid colors are involved and if color accuracy and consistency are not required.

  • Automatic. This method is the default and perhaps the best choice for general use. With Automatic selected, vector object colors are mapped with the Saturation method, and bitmap colors are mapped with the Perceptual method.

Keep in mind that different rendering intents give preference to how certain colors for different object types are corrected and displayed. The method you choose will depend on whether your CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 12 document consists of vector objects or bitmap objects, or both, and on the color range of your devices.


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 B├ęzier 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.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

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Office Suite Exporting Made Easy with CorelDRAW 12

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If you use CorelDRAW 12 for preparing graphics destined for either a presentation or a desktop document, you'll be pleased to know that the process has been vastly streamlined. You can now use the Export For Office dialog (see below) to prepare your exported files automatically, based on your intended use.

Browsing the Tools
The Export For Office dialog features several standard conveniences for previewing your CorelDRAW graphic before exporting it (see below). You can click the Zoom In or Zoom Out tool buttons to interactively change the view, or you can click the Hand Tool button to pan through a zoomed-in view.

You'll also notice three drop-down menus at the top of the dialog. The first drop-down menu enables you to specify the destination application for your exported drawing; the second and third drop-down menus provide further options. Below the preview window, CorelDRAW estimates the size of the file you're about to export, based on your menu selections. Weighing the Options

Depending on which options you choose, the graphic you export can be prepared in different ways, meaning that it can be saved in one of several file formats. The main question you need to answer is whether you plan to import the drawing into WordPerfect Office or into one of the Microsoft Office suite applications - such as Word, Access, Publisher, or PowerPoint.

If you choose WordPerfect Office, you'll ultimately be setting WPG (WordPerfect Graphic) as the format for your graphic file, which makes it fully compatible and editable in WordPerfect after it has been imported. If your graphic is destined for a Microsoft Office application, however, you'll have a few more options to ponder.

At this point, you need to choose between one of two conditions for your graphic from the second menu: Compatibility or Editing (see below). This rather pivotal fork in the road helps you determine whether the exported file will become a bitmap image, in which case the individual objects cannot be edited, or a collection of vector objects, which for the most part can be altered with the basic editing and drawing tools in Microsoft Office applications.

Choosing Compatibility sets the final format to PNG (Portable Network Graphics), whereas choosing the Editing option sets the final format to EMF (Extended Windows Metafile). You'll next discover why these two specific file formats are best suited to their respective graphic types.

Evaluating the Graphic Formats
To import a picture into a Microsoft Office application, you just choose the Insert > Picture > From File command from within the application (or click the Insert Picture button on the Picture toolbar) and browse to the PNG or EMF graphic you created. In case you're wondering which file format you should be using, let's take a walk through the finer points on how these two graphic file formats differ.

Let's start with the PNG format, which is what you get if you choose Compatibility as your export preference. Often pronounced as "ping," this special bitmap file format features a wide range of capabilities, but its real strength is lossless compression, meaning that the PNG format can store a high degree of detail and color without compromising picture quality or inflating file size. The PNG format is also capable of storing other properties, like alpha channel masks and objects with varying degrees of transparency. Because it supports a color depth of up to 16.7 million colors, it is superior to other lossless-compression formats, such as the popular GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), which is used for many Web graphics.

If you choose the Compatibility option as your export priority, you also need to specify a destination option for the PNG file you're about to create. The Optimized For menu contains three options: Presentation, Desktop Printing, and Commercial Printing. Choosing one of these options (see below) sets the resolution of the file to a specific number of dots per inch (dpi). Resolution essentially determines the amount of pixel detail in a bitmap. Although screen image requires a relatively low resolution, higher resolutions are needed for various levels of print reproduction quality.

Choosing the Presentation option produces a PNG graphic with a resolution of 72 dpi, which is ideal for PowerPoint users. If you choose either Desktop Printing or Commercial Printing, the PNG graphic features a resolution of 150 or 300 dpi, respectively. All files are exported using RGB (red, green, blue) colors, and anti-aliasing is automatically applied to smooth the appearance of object and text edges.

If you choose Editing as your export priority, you'll be exporting an EMF file. Unlike the PNG bitmap format, EMF files are device independent, meaning that they can include vector objects as well as bitmaps. Objects you export are preserved after they reach the Microsoft Office application. To begin editing your picture, right-click it and choose Edit Picture. In the most recent Microsoft Office suite, a prompt appears. For example, if you're using PowerPoint, you'll be asked to confirm the operation by clicking Yes in this dialog:

To edit the individual picture elements, right-click the picture group and choose Grouping > Ungroup. From there, you'll be able to use tools from the Microsoft Office drawing toolbar (see below) to fine-tune your drawing.

As you begin to edit your drawing, you may discover that a few things have been lost during the translation, and certain object types may not be what you'd expect. Here are some of the common pitfalls to avoid if you plan on editing:

  • Long Text Strings: Text that spans multiple lines in your CorelDRAW document is imported into the Microsoft Office application as separate objects, one for each line of text:

  • Combined Fills and Outlines: Each object applied with both fill and outline properties is imported as two separate objects, each representing the fill and outline portions.
  • Outline Styles: The outline styles in CorelDRAW are not compatible with Microsoft Office. For example, each dash in a patterned line is imported as a separate shape:

  • Special Fill Colors: Fountain fills applied to objects are converted to collections of solid-colored objects. This means that a single object filled with fountain color could potentially result in hundreds of objects on export (like the conical fill shown below). Objects with two-color, full-color, texture, and bitmap fills are each converted to bitmap objects. Here is how a typical object applied with a conical fill appears during editing in PowerPoint:

  • Complex PostScript Fills: The objects that make up the detail in PostScript pattern fills are each converted to separate objects when exported. The pattern itself can be edited after import only on an object-by-object basis. This complex arrangement was once a Colored Leaves PostScript pattern applied to a rectangle:

  • CorelDRAW-Specific Effects: The dynamically linked objects created by effects - such as blends, contours, drop shadows, and extrusions - are imported as separate objects, and the dynamic link is eliminated.
  • Shadows and Transparency: Drop shadows and objects with transparency effects that are applied with the CorelDRAW 12 Interactive Transparency Tool are imported as bitmap objects.
  • Special Object Types: Rectangles, ellipses, polygons, and objects applied with distortion or envelope effects are imported as ordinary shapes.

    In general, the wisest strategy to follow when preparing your CorelDRAW graphics for export and editing in a Microsoft Office application is to keep things relatively simple. For best results, use the features of each program for the tasks in which they're most efficient, and consider following these rules of thumb:
  • Although small strings of text created in CorelDRAW are easily converted and can be edited or applied with Text Effects after they are imported, it may be more efficient to use the dedicated text tools in the Microsoft Office application to enter text that is longer than a single line.
  • Use the Microsoft Office Fill Effects dialog tools (see below) to apply gradient color as an alternative to editing the CorelDRAW fountain fills. This is likely the best strategy for applying other special fill types, such as pattern, texture, or bitmap fills, or for applying transparency to objects. Transparency can be applied by using the Fill Effects in the Microsoft Office program.

  • Use the Microsoft Office program to apply any outline styles, such as dashes or stripes, to your lines after you import them instead of using the outline styles featured in CorelDRAW.

A Few More Tips for Office Exporting
Here are several more points to consider when you export to Microsoft Office applications. If you're exporting from a multipage document, keep in mind that Export For Office exports only one page at a time and only from the current page in view. Moreover, in order for objects to be included in the export, they must be inside the page boundary or at least straddle the edge of the page. Any objects outside the page boundary are left out.

If you'd like to export only a portion of your drawing, just select your specific objects. When you do this, the Export For Office command automatically omits all other objects (provided they are at least partially on the document page). Proceed with caution, though. If you're exporting for compatibility (that is, if you're using a PNG graphic), watch for objects that reach the edge of the exported image. In such cases, it may be wise to create an invisible border around your arrangement of objects to add an artificial boundary.

If your document page has a colored background applied in CorelDRAW, this background is included - regardless of whether specific objects are selected. Vector-based EMF picture files include the background as a separate rectangle, which can be edited or deleted if necessary.

Although the filter types used by the Export For Office command are the same as the filters that are available when you use the main Export command in CorelDRAW 12, the Export for Office dialog dramatically streamlines the decision-making process making the export operation relatively foolproof. Using the tips and tricks covered here, you can optimize your drawings for better results when you import them into your office suite application.