Long-time CorelDraw users know that it's the software equivalent of the Star Trek movies: if you try out every version you'll often be disappointed. But, if you follow a simple pattern to your upgrades, you'll get all the awesome ones without feeling like you're Corel's unpaid beta tester.

So every third version of CorelDraw – 3, 6, 9 and 12 – was a groundbreaking upgrade, and the other versions… not so much. Does the 15th iteration, CorelDraw X5, match up to our expectations?

Yes – and more. This is a home-run-and-the-crowd-goes-wild release that every CorelDraw user will want.

The headline features

An easy place to start is with the big stuff that Corel is shouting about: out-of-the-box 64-bit Windows 7 support alongside the 32-bit support for Windows 7, Vista and XP; true multicore support to put the latest and greatest CPUs to the best use; an all-new colour management system that matches anything Adobe can bring to the table; plus Corel Connect, which looks and works much like a simplified version of Adobe Bridge and is designed to give you a document-focused workflow.

What Connect lacks in Bridge-like scriptability, it partially makes up for by being available as a standalone app, or as a docker in CorelDraw and Photo-Paint – we ended up ditching Bridge because it took up too much screen space. Corel Connect might just make us think again.

So, those are the triple-A features that you'll find plastered all over Corel.com if you pay it a visit, and indeed the new colour system is a huge improvement: profiles are loaded and saved uniformly, mismatches are clearly flagged, you can soft proof from a docker, and there's no better way to show all that off than by playing around with the freshly added support for Pantone's Goe colours.

But even though these new features are great to have, they just scratch the surface. If you already push the software to its limits, it's the day-to-day changes that will impact you the most. And, boy, is X5 chock to the gills with them.

PNG actually works

Let's repeat that: PNG actually works. It irked us no end that CorelDraw X4 and earlier 'supported' PNG – a decade-old graphic format – but would insist that it couldn't possibly retain alpha transparency when saving, laying waste to our attempts at smooth edges and drop-shadows.

Those problems are gone: Corel seems to have thrown away its PNG and JPEG support and rewritten it from scratch, so you now get a super-sized export window that gives you full control over your files.

This means that even the most complex transparencies get saved perfectly every time. Yes, this functionality was in Fireworks from its first release and so is long overdue, but we're still grateful.

Dozens of other niggles are fixed too. Take rounded corners on boxes, for example – these have always been simple to do, but changing the size of the rectangle later would warp your rounded corners and they would stretch out of shape. In X5, the rounding is preserved and can even scale to auto-match the size of the rectangle you're working with.

corners

What's more, it seems that Corel thought it would push the whole thing further while it was at it, so corner rounding has been joined by scalloping and chamfering too.

How about converting images to greyscale? Previously, this was a one-click operation that left you with a flat average of the colours and was pretty much guaranteed to leave things looking washed out. Now, you get to control the colour weighting with a live preview, so you can make your black-and-white work look extra punchy.

There are new image sprayers, new photo effects, smarter tooltips, more brushes, a fresh selection of graphics freebies (Helvetica, Garamond and Futura, anyone?), a redesigned object docker, and a new pixel preview mode in Draw that finally brings it up to speed with Adobe Illustrator 9.

In short, while the new features will hook you in, you'll be discovering and enjoying the hundreds of small improvements for months to come. At the very least, download the free trial – you get to try the full feature set for 30 days, and we think you'll wish, like us, that every CorelDraw release was this good.

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