In professional desktop publishing environments, an illustration program and an image editor are the primary tools of designers. While high-end illustration programs are the mainstay of professional designers (and many cost a pretty penny to buy), if you have a drawing program at your disposal, you will find a great page layout application for any and all sorts of documents or web pages you want to create as well.
Three of the top Illustration programs are also three of the best page layout applications. In this article, we'll provide a brief look at three of the top drawing programs: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe (formerly Macromedia) FreeHand, and CorelDRAW, and how they measure up as page layout applications. We'll also show you where to get them, and what they'll cost you.
Adobe Illustrator CS3 ($599 U.S.; Upgrade $199 U.S.)
There are many drawing programs on the market, of course, but the premier illustrator program bears the eponymous name of Illustrator--Adobe Illustrator, that is. It leads the way in this category, though FreeHand and CorelDRAW are no slouches, as we'll soon cover. If you've done any kind of desktop publishing--or for that matter, worked in any sort of publishing environment at all--you know Adobe Illustrator is a pricey piece of software. But the trusim that you get what you pay for goes both ways, and if you or your company has the budget for it, Illustrator is the best drawing program available today (some would say, "any day"). Its latest version, CS3, includes many new features, but its page layout functionality, which includes CSS-, layer-, and table-based layouts, has been a strength of the product since its first release. Of particular interest to web designers, Illustrator lets you can easily convert graphical page layout designs you create in Illustrator into web pages.
Adobe (formerly Macromedia) FreeHand MX ($399 U.S.; Upgrade to CS3 $199 U.S.)
Yes, Adobe now distributes FreeHand MX, though the company has no plans to develop the product further. But that fact doesn't stop FreeHand's loyal user base from sticking by this excellent drawing program. While FreeHand may not have won the drawing-program wars, it has a great feature set and extensive page layout functionality. It is a great choice for web designers looking for a (slightly) less expensive alternative to Illustrator for creating web pages.
CorelDRAW ($399 U.S.; Upgrade $189 U.S.)
Corel is a steady player in the software game, if it always seems to come in second. But don't count out its graphic design and illustration program CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 4X.
Two hundred dollars is a lot of money for anyone with a constrained software budget. That's the real difference between Adobe Illustrator and its rivals FreeHand and CorelDRAW. Here's a thought. Save the $200 now with a purchase of FreeHand MX, which offers most of the same features and capabilities as Illustrator, and if and when you decide to move to Illustrator, start saving and upgrade to CS3 when you've got that extra $200. But not to leave CorelDRAW out in the cold--it's a complete suite for the same price as FreeHand and Corel is always making improvements, so there's little chance this program is going away any time soon.
If you are curious about other, specifically dedicated page layout progams, or don't want to learn a drawing program just to do the page layout work you have before you, check out my series detailing other page layout apps and what environments they are most effective for: Top Page Layout Software for Small Businesses; Top Page Layout Software for Professionals; and Top Page Layout Software for Home Publishers.