Canvas 9

Canvas is a well-rounded vector and bitmap drawing package that impressed us last time we looked at it, but also had a few limitations. Needless to say we were keen to investigate what changes developer ACD Systems - formerly Deneba - had in store for the new release. Productive interface
First impressions are positive. The interface has been overhauled to make Canvas more productive. It still looks like Canvas, but there has been a thorough reorganization of palettes and options bars, and the result is quite clean and uncluttered. A double-height Properties bar graces the top of the screen and displays options for the currently selected tool, allowing you to make changes easily. This is much like Photoshop's interface, but it goes further by offering more comprehensive properties. For example, click off the canvas onto the paste-board and the Properties bar displays document size and formatting info. Click on a text object and you get text related properties - no need for a separate panel. The tabs bar has been relocated and rotated to the right-hand side of the screen. This is slightly dubious from an aesthetic and design point of view because it means tab titles are also rotated. On OS X it also puts the new Tabs bar very close to the Dock if you have it (like some of us do) on the right edge of the screen. Nevertheless it works to help keep the screen uncluttered by palettes, keeping them collapsed as tabs when not in use. The downside to this method is that it adds a slight time overhead because you have to wait a moment for the palette to appear before you can access it's properties. On slower machines this can be a headache. You can of course tear off the most frequently used palettes so that they float on screen. The new Canvas toolbar now displays submenus of tools as you click on a tool group. The sub-grouping appears in a second toolbar anchored to the main one. It makes it easy to select the right tool, and means you don't have to tear off multiple sub groupings of tools, wasting screen space. The interface has improved, but there are plenty of new features on offer, too. First, Canvas is offered three versions: Professional, Scientific and GIS Mapping versions. The Scientific Imaging version includes native support for 32-bit floating-point file formats such as DICOM. Floating-point data covers a wider range of 'brightnesses' than traditional 24-bit formats and are useful for storing images much with much greater precision. 3D graphics also make use of floating-point format, but unfortunately Canvas doesn't yet support these HDRI images. The GIS version offers support for Geometric Information Systems in Canvas. The increase in GPS usage means than Canvas can compete as a standard desktop tool with dedicated systems that cost many times its price. It's an interesting development in Canvas' technical abilities, and one that should increase its market. Pro can be slow
The Professional version is the core application that most of us will be interested in. Version 8 suffered from slightly slow paintbrush tracking on OS X. It was a new version on the platform, so we expected some lack of optimization. However, we weren't expecting version 9 to be even slower. Canvas 9 was at least twice as slow at this operation than Canvas 8 - maybe even more. Even moderate speed strokes caused the tracking to reduce to straight-line segments. That's not much of an upgrade if you like to use the Paintbrush a lot. In general, the program does feel clunky on OS X. Admittedly our Mac was a lowly 400MHz G4, but it runs Photoshop just fine. As Canvas is not really a painting tool, maybe it's a bit harsh to make a big deal of this issue - though it's still retrograde step. Where Canvas excels is in combining vector and bitmap graphics. For technical drawing and illustration Canvas is a great tool. Sprite effects pull the whole thing together allowing you to filter vectors just as you would bitmaps. Say you have a vector curve, you can apply a Gaussian Blur to it and it will blur just as if it was a bitmap. However, because it's still a vector underneath you can edit the curve's shape. This obviously makes a tremendous difference when creating detailed technical drawings, especially when you need to make subtle alterations to the structure of the object. You can do this with the final artwork effects in place; there's no need to redraw it. All objects you draw are kept as discreet objects, and are listed in an object list. Any Sprite Effects are applied to the object, and stored with it. You can change the opacity and blending mode of the object from the new property bar. It's a great system that works well. Other new features include a red-eye removal tool, paper-size presets, and an improved New File dialog. There's also CAD-level precision, with 64-bit positioning good news for engineering-grade work - with many of the existing features such as auto dimensioning and Smart Cursor rewritten to take advantage of it.


Canvas 9 is an excellent technical-drawing program. It's steadily improving with each upgrade, and despite a few backward steps it's a useful and engaging package.

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