Another year, another edition of Serif DrawPlus – we're now on to version 8.0 of this affordable alternative to high-end, high-priced professional drawing packages.

The first thing that strikes you on booting up Serif's vector-based drawing software is how easy it is to use. The interface is beautifully laid out, with intuitive options helping you to quickly create your first document.

There are new palettes and a colour wheel to give you total control over swatches. It'll be a cinch for even the most inexperienced artist to start creating. Other fresh facilities include a selection of design templates, which are only marginally useful because it's so easy to start from scratch.

Photo editing

There's a selection of photo-editing tools, including a red-eye remover. It's possible to open and edit Photoshop documents saved as PSD files, and you get a selection of photo effects to create artwork using snaps.

DrawPlus isn't ever going to replace Photoshop in a design professional's arsenal, but if you don't mind the irritation of importing images into a DrawPlus document to edit them, it'll handle your basic photo-editing needs. Serif DrawPlus can even work as a limited CAD (computer-aided design) tool. You can import and edit AutoCad documents that have DXF and DWG file extensions. The program is set up to let you design websites too, featuring support for animation and web graphics.

Different strokes

There's a huge library of realistic brush-strokes – there may even be too many to use. Do you really need more than 50 dry-paint effects? Serif thinks so, claiming that the boundaries imposed by vector-based drawing applications 'no longer apply' to DrawPlus, because you can create artwork using nearly 200 vector- and bitmap-based brushes.

With pastel, charcoal and watercolour categories, there's a ready-made brush for whatever it is you're looking to design. You can even create your own brushes or convert any DrawPlus 8.0 object to a brush using a single click. We found the program eminently flexible. You're certainly no longer restricted to working with circles, squares, lines and shapes. However, Adobe Illustrator this isn't – and DrawPlus has the friendly price tag to prove it.

You get a large selection of clip art – called Objects – although such elements will always appear amateurish alongside photos and professional artwork. Printing is a simple process, and you can export completed documents to PDF.

Editing PDFs

Features new to this iteration of DrawPlus include a PDF-import facility. Serif says this program can open and edit work created in any application, so long as it has been exported as a PDF. Always sceptical of such bold claims, we set the program a challenge – opening up a huge (15MB), print-ready PDF version of a recent PC Advisor front cover, originally created using Adobe InDesign. We were surprised to find it perfectly editable, even down to the text. This is an excellent feature.

Serif DrawPlus 8.0: Specs

  • Pentium or Athlon PC
  • Windows 98 SE/Me/2000/XP
  • 32MB RAM
  • 205MB hard disk space
  • SVGA (800x600 resolution, 16bit colour) display or higher
  • CD-ROM drive
  • internet account and connection required for online resources
  • Pentium or Athlon PC
  • Windows 98 SE/Me/2000/XP
  • 32MB RAM
  • 205MB hard disk space
  • SVGA (800x600 resolution, 16bit colour) display or higher
  • CD-ROM drive
  • internet account and connection required for online resources

OUR VERDICT

Jack of all trades and master of most, this is an excellent update to a well-loved program. It's simple to use, includes a huge library of effects and is a highly customisable tool. Best of all, it's easy to produce good-looking results then print them or export to PDF and the web. The PDF-editing feature is very useful. Professional designers will require more grunt, but it'll make a great buy for amateurs of all levels, particularly as you can use it as an image editor.

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