Canvas X

Imagine a one-box solution able to mimic industry standard applications from Adobe, Macromedia, Quark and numerous CAD (computer-aided design) programs. One that can mix bitmaps and vectors, offer layout functions, web-design features, engineering and architectural tools for both Mac and PC, all for a bargain price. You may think it’s an offer too good to be true, sold no-questions-asked by some dodgy Delboy down the market. Canvas X, however, offers all the above, at a fraction of the price of leading brand alternatives. This latest upgrade certainly looks the part, packaged in a black and silver box; a chronometer highlights the precision tools within. A beefy old-school paper manual is included in the box offering some serious reading and in-depth help typical of Canvas X.

Fire up your average CAD program and you have enough on-screen real estate to give even Brains from Thunderbirds a headache. Canvas X, though, has benefited from a major cosmetic overhaul as a consequence of the change of ownership from Deneba to ACD Systems, which both simplifies and adds a professional sheen to proceedings. A clear Startup Dialog intro gives one-click access to various templates and document-creation options, as well as help guides.

The many tools on display are logically laid out and context sensitive. Select a tool and the layout will default instantly to those tool’s attributes, clearing the screen of unnecessary clutter. The Smart Toolbox tool palette ensures that only related tools and tool options for the currently active tool are displayed. A docking bar provides easy access to palettes, without taking up screen space, and can be docked on the left, right, or top of your workspace.

A new Canvas Assistant sits to the right of your screen and offers useful tips on fundamentals like getting started, as well as more advanced features, online support, and excellent ‘7 Minute Solutions’. These are online PDF guides, giving a broad range of technical drawing, illustration, page layout, and presentation solutions to jump-start the creative process. Click on any tool and Canvas Assistant will clearly explain its use within the floating hypertext window. This is an admirable addition, which once mastered, can be switched off. It’s a feature that should be adopted by all graphic software companies, as it significantly reduces the learning curve and makes workflow infinitely more productive.

Canvas’s propriety Sprite technologies enable you to apply filters and effects, without rendering, and all objects remain editable. The patented SpriteLayers can be used to quickly apply transparency effects to create fully editable vignettes, ghosted text, or a collage. SpriteEffects allow image-editing filters, such as blur, hue, saturation, or other artistic effects, to be easily applied to text, illustrations, or images in multiple layers.

Support for engineering and architectural projects has been vastly improved with this latest upgrade. Canvas X technical features are impressive: a 64-bit coordinate system for incredibly accurate technical drawing, with an unlimited zoom to plus or minus 114,000 per cent and the ability to work on documents as large as 2,000 x 2,000 miles. New DXF/DWG support will please many, as will compatibility with dozens of file formats and new mark-up and redlining tools for improved workgroup collaboration. However, two features, the Canvas Print Driver and ActiveX control support, are available only to Windows users. Mac users do get QuickTime support as part the Canvas X Internet-ready content tools.

The new features in Canvas X clearly benefit collaborative workgroups, with customisable mark-up tools and annotations that can be switched on and off during the working life of a project. The new mark-up pen, mark-up highlighter, circle redline, and rectangle redline tools – to indicate revisions and add comments to objects that may require attention or correction – are useful additions. You can encrypt and share PDF documents with ease, although your colleagues will also need a copy of Canvas X to read any annotations you might add.

A lengthy list of Canvas-supported file formats are available on the website, including both popular and obscure formats. An additional DVD of content adds some attractive fonts and templates but undermines Canvas potential with some ugly clip art last seen in a 1980s provincial design studio.

Although Canvas X is particularly suited to technical drawing it comes with many of the tools found in Photoshop, Illustrator and XPress, at an affordable price. These include retouching tools, filters and effects, layers, Bezier curve and vector drawing tools, layout options, and a 3D Emboss command to turn 2D images and text into 3D embossed images. It’s fair to say that Canvas X could replace many of those applications, although seasoned users would need some persuading despite a dedicated grassroots following of Canvas evangelists. They are several enthusiast websites promoting Canvas as a real alternative, and this latest upgrade might just make a compelling argument. Having to learn one software program rather than many is appealing, particularly with the introduction of the outstanding Canvas Assistant.


For many, quality comes at a price, and the very fact that Canvas X can be found for less than £100 might deter some potential users concerned about its pro credentials. And it’s not entirely clear who Canvas X is aimed at; specific technical users or a wider base wanting varied creative options from one box. What Canvas X needs are some high-profile end users able to showcase its many varied assets and convince others to switch. This latest upgrade, stuffed with excellent new features and enhancements, will help to spread the word.

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