Serif – DrawPlus X4 review

sassy, inexpensive, high quality vector graphics program
Photo of Serif – DrawPlus X4

When you think of the money a really good graphics/illustration program used to cost, it’s enough to make you wince. In fact, when you look at what Illustrator CS4 currently costs (around £550 street price) not much has changed. Programs like DrawPlus don’t compete directly with Adobe’s flagship vector graphics program, but for the money they come extremely close, and offer ordinary or occasional users the opportunity to work with professional-level tools at a budget price.

Working on the assumption that if you can draw, you can probably knock something up in Microsoft Paint that will do the trick, it’s always seemed to us that the fairest way to judge a graphics program is how easy it is for people who can’t draw to create something that looks good. X4 fits the bill perfectly.

A drawing dunce can produce great-looking logos, banners, letterheads and so on really quickly, courtesy of a set of sensibly arranged design and drawing tools for creating lines and shapes, blends and fills using a wide selection of brushes, effects and textures; here we’re big fans of some of the more unusual quick shapes like grill, web, petal, spiral and cylinder which can be combined to produce interesting graphics for all kinds of applications.

Elsewhere, the proliferation of pre-drawn shapes, textures and other clip art means you’re rarely stuck for choice, and it’s even possible to create simple animations that you can export in various formats, including Flash, WMV and QuickTime video; these are particularly effective for simple photo-based slideshows.

DrawPlus X4 plays nicely with plenty of file formats (it’ll open, edit and save PDFs for example) but there are limitations: it doesn’t like 3D objects in AutoCAD files, for example, and will only open those files created using Illustrator 9 or above that are flagged as PDF-compatible.

DrawPlus X4 introduces several significant enhancements, including sophisticated blends which allow you to produce smooth transitions between shapes, textures and layers, a fast and effective colour palette designer which makes it easy to find and apply colours that work together in a design, and better brushes (re-organised more effectively too) that really benefit from the new pressure sensitive pen/pencil features, so ‘proper’ artists can work more naturally.

We also liked the inclusion of PhotoLab, CutOut and AutoTrace Studio which offer beyond-basic photo editing and mean you don’t have to interrupt your workflow by loading a separate program.

Finally, we’d commend the tutorials, which do a good job of walking newcomers through DrawPlus’s plethora of features and may be a more effective use of your time than scrolling through the help file.

Company: Serif

Contact: 0800 316 0463

If we were to choose a vector drawing program, it'd be a toss up between this and Xara Xtreme. DrawPlus X4 probably just squeaks it though, thanks to an overall friendliness and flexibility that makes it more approachable for beginners and the fact that it ships with more extras and templates to get you started. Existing users can upgrade with confidence, while if you've been looking for a good all-round graphics program but didn't know where to start, look no further.