Serif DrawPlus SE Review

Review of Free Vector-Based Graphics Editor Serif DrawPlus SE

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Serif DrawPlus SE is a reduced-feature version of a paid-for application and so does have some limitations. However this free vector-based graphics editor offers a reasonable range of features within a clear and well-presented user interface. Unfortunately, the interface doesn't offer any indication of which features have been disabled.

If you're looking for a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator, I'd suggest you look at Inkscape, but I have no doubt that even with disabled features, there will be plenty of home users who will feel more comfortable with DrawPlus SE.

The User Interface

Pros

  • Clear and well presented interface
  • Slide out palette with help information

Cons

  • Disabled features not clearly indicated
  • No keyboard shortcuts for the tools palette

Serif do know how to put together clear and user-friendly interfaces. Users of other free Serif applications will quite quickly feel at home with the working environment of DrawPlus SE. The tools and features are all well-presented and there are nice touches to make the interface suitable for different types of users.

The main tools are grouped in the Drawing Toolbar, which by default is placed to the left, but can be dragged and dropped, either to float free or to be locked into place elsewhere within the interface. Most of the other toolbars can also be moved around to suit each individual user.

To the left, right and base of the interface are slide out drawers that can be customized to contain your preferred tabs, though they all have tabs assigned by default so there needn't be any delay in getting started having to set these up.

When you first use DrawPlus SE, the left hand drawer contains a very useful How To tab that contains links to a range of useful bite-sized explanations of tools and techniques. If you keep this tab open, every time that you select a tool from the Drawing Toolbar, an explanation of how to use the tool is automatically displayed, though you can click the Lock button to keep an explanation displayed even when a different tool is selected.

Also upon selecting a tool, the Context Toolbar, which appears above the working space by default, changes to display options and settings specific to the active tool.

The biggest weakness of DrawPlus SE's interface is the inclusion of disabled tools and features, with no visual cue identifying them as disabled. As a result, the only way that you can discover if a tool isn't available is to click on it and wait to see if a new window opens inviting you to upgrade to the paid version. I appreciate that Serif is a commercial company that has to sell products to make money, but in my short time with DrawPlus SE, I did find this aspect very irritating.

Drawing with DrawPlus SE

Pros

  • Pen tool to produce bezier curves
  • QuickShape tool produces a number of useful vector shapes very quickly

Cons

  • Mesh Fill tool disabled
  • Limited options for stroke effects as Paint Brush tool disabled

Drawing is one of the staples of any vector-based graphics editor and there needs to be a selection of tools available for this purpose. DrawPlus SE does offer the basics and should be suitable for less experienced users, but the disabled features do mean that some users who are more familiar with vector line software may find themselves hampered a little.



For beginners, the Pencil Tool is a very intuitive way to quickly draw shapes. It isn't the easiest way to draw accurate shapes with a mouse, but it can make a starting point for learning to manipulate paths by adjusting their nodes and allow new users to build up the confidence to work with the Pen Tool to draw more accurate paths. The Pencil Tool also has a Smoothness option which can quite dramatically change the appearance of a hand drawn path by varying the number of nodes.

The Pen Tool has a comprehensive range of options that will allow users to produce quite complex paths. In practice, I found that it wasn't as straightforward as I'd like, since I prefer to edit paths as they are being drawn. But it's easy to amend paths afterward using the Node Tool, and this way of working isn't hard to get used to.

In the Arrange tab, there are a selection of tools for combining multiple paths in different ways, including crop and clip options which offer similar options to clipping paths.

DrawPlus SE does also offer the QuickShape Tool which allows users to quickly draw common shapes from simple rectangles to arrows. There are some useful options here, but many of those displayed are only available in the paid version, so the QuickShape Tool is not so powerful in this free version.

The Fill Tool and Transparency Tool do give a great degree of flexibility in applying color to shapes. The use of transparency can allow shapes to interact in interesting and subtle ways, with a good degree of control on offer over how transparency is applied. However, DrawPlus SE also falls short of the paid version here as the Mesh Fill option is disabled. In reality, this will probably only affect more experienced users of vector-based graphics editors who are looking to produce reasonably advanced 3D style graphics.

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Getting Creative

Pros

  • Effects palette offers quick and easy options to enhance the appearance of shapes
  • Gallery palette contains a wide range of categorized clip art suitable for many occasions

Cons

  • Some Effects appear a little tacky
  • No plug ins system to extend the application, such as in Inkscape

Serif DrawPlus SE offers a few features that can help users take basic illustrations to a new level and which are suitable to help even novice users.



The Effects tab offers a selection of options in different categories, such as Animals, Stone, Wood and Glass. These offer a very quick and easy way to change the visual appearance of items within an illustration. Used wisely, they can be a real time saver, however, some of the effects do produce rather tacky results. Users should exercise some discretion to ensure their work doesn't become one big mass of eye candy.

Another potential time saver is the Gallery tab, which is essentially a categorized library of clip art built into DrawPlus SE. Again, caution should always be exercised when using clip art within designs, as a piece can quickly include graphics of very different styles. However, used with care, this feature could help out in all sorts of designs and save the inevitable regular trips to the internet to source suitable graphics.

Laying Out With DrawPlus SE

Pros

  • Some very intuitive text control
  • Multiple pages can be added to a document

Cons

  • Kerning control is quite imprecise
  • Limited control of text on a curve

DrawPlus SE is a vector-based graphics editor and so isn't really designed to be used for page layout, however there are cases when it makes sense to produce complete designs in vector editors--such as posters with limited text.

DrawPlus SE is a bit of a mixed bag when used in this way, but overall copes well enough to save occasional trips to a desktop publishing application.

The ability to add multiple pages to a single document can be very useful, such as when working on double sided projects, and this isn't generally a common feature in this type of software. This doesn't, however, mean that DrawPlus SE can stand as an alternative to your favorite desktop publishing package. Overall, text control is too limited for such purposes, though the control that is available is very intuitive.

You can use grab handles to drag and adjust leading and also word wrapping. This approach is also applied to individual letters within editable text meaning that you can just drag letters to adjust the kerning. Unfortunately, this isn't a very precise way to edit kerning, but this method also allows you to rotate individual letters while keeping text editable, which can be useful. You can't use this technique on text that has been applied to a curve, though, and the kerning in such text can quickly become messy if the curve is edited, making the Curve Text Wizard quite impractical in some cases.

Sharing Your Files

DrawPlus SE uses its own proprietary .DPP file format for saving files, though it does offer the limited options of exporting to JPEG, GIF and PNG, which could then be used within other software packages.

The File menu does display a Publish as PDF command, but this has been disabled and requires an upgrade to activate this option.

Conclusion

Serif DrawPlus SE is one of relatively few free vector-based graphics editors and so doesn't face too much competition. As a vector-based graphics editor it does a lot of things well including:

  • Well-executed user interface
  • Easily accessed help information
  • Reasonable range of effects and gallery objects
  • Multiple pages in individual documents

On the flip side, there are some aspects that detract from the user experience, such as:

  • Disabled features are not clearly indicated
  • No keyboard shortcuts for the tools palette
  • Imprecise kerning control
  • No plug-ins system

The main competitor to DrawPlus SE as a free vector-based graphics editor is the open source Inkscape project.

I'm a big fan of Inkscape and for me it would be an easy decision to choose Inkscape over DrawPlus SE. However, Inkscape is being developed as a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator and, despite a good user interface, may seem a little intimidating to new users.

For me, the biggest problem with DrawPlus SE is the disabled features that permeate the user interface, with no visual cue to let you know they are disabled until they have been clicked. However, I'm sure that regular users would quickly learn which features should be ignored and so, even with this niggle, I have no doubt that there will many users who will find DrawPlus SE a more inviting package and easier to jump into than Inkscape.

It will arguably be a better option for most home users looking for a package that allows them to produce bits and pieces for themselves, such as invitations and greeting cards. Accordingly, I've rated the application in terms of use by home users, rather than semi-professional designers.

Serif DrawPlus SE can be downloaded for free from the Free Serif Software website.

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