Canvas 8 is an extremely cool program. It’s based on Sprite technology, which offers a hybrid vector/bitmap environment and near seamless integration between the two drawing types. If you’re a pixel-pusher who has found themselves on occasional forays into the world of vector illustration, and been baffled as a result, Canvas will be a real delight. Cool thing number one: you can draw any vector path or shape, and then blur it using a Gaussian Blur filter. In fact, there is a whole load of Sprite filters that you can apply to vectors as if they were bitmaps: blurs, artistic effects, colour and tone adjustments, sharpen, noise – basically all the usual effects you’ll find in Photoshop. Effects are applied live – that is, they remain editable and can be viewed in stack-like image layers using the Sprite Effects browser. You can reorder them, switch them on or off, and edit their properties. Because the underlying object is a vector, you can use the editing tools to reshape it. Edits are previewed in wireframe then are re-rendered in all their bitmap glory. Canvas 8 definitely feels like its vector tools were designed for someone used to bitmaps and painting tools. You get the usual bézier pen-tool and circle and rectangle tools, which work as expected. However, it’s the editing tools that raise an eyebrow or two. Push and Reshape will make the seasoned bitmap artist weep with joy. Basically, if you draw a shape using the bézier pen tool and it’s not quite right, you normally would have to start editing the bézier handles, or add points – often getting in a mess (if you’re unused to vector illustration). Forget that, just grab the Reshape tool and draw freehand over the bit you want to correct. The path then instantly reforms to take in your suggestion. You don’t have to be very precise either, as the resulting bézier curve will be naturally smooth. This tool can be used as a way to manipulate paths creatively too, and it feels very fluid. The other tool, Push, is very similar – except it modifies existing curves a bit like a bitmap smudge tool would. You can use the Push tool to sculpt bézier paths as if they were pieces of string laid on a table. The Push tool has a Range setting that defines the effect radius. What would be better is being able to access the size property while drawing by holding the key and dragging. Canvas is also a painting tool, but first impressions with the brushes were not quite as favourable. The display was is when painting even moderately rapid strokes, and you end up with straight-line segments instead of a smooth stroke. There’s a full complement of paint tools such as smudge, clone, dodge, burn, airbrush, etc. New in version 8 is the ability for any of the brushes to paint using textures, as opposed to just flat colours. However, it’s no competition for a dedicated natural-media paint tool like Procreate’s Painter 7, for example. Selection tools include the magic wand, marquee and lasso selections – though there is no Colour Range feature. Canvas 8 offers some simple 3D modelling via its Extrude tool. Any vector path can be swept, lathed or extruded to create a polygonal-3D object on your canvas. The polygons are not smoothed, however, so 3D objects appear faceted – but they can be excellent as guides to help with creating objects in perspective. The interface is surprisingly well designed. New to version 8 is a bar running along the top of the current document that stores docked palettes. It’s small enough to not hog too much screen space, and, as such, is much better than Photoshop 6’s clunky palette dock. However, Photoshop veterans will baulk when they discover there’s no layers palette. A bit more digging and you realize that Canvas’s does have an object/layer browser called Document Layout. Layers here can contain multiple objects whose visibility can be controlled separately for on-screen and print display. There are no layer-blending options here though; you access these through the transparency palette – slightly confusing, but not difficult to use once learned. There are the usual blending modes and a transparency slider. As mentioned before, vector and bitmap, 3D and type objects are handled equally. There is also a superb procedural-mask option that offers radial, linear or rectangular gradients with live handles for manipulating them for quick and direct masking of objects. Superb.
Canvas 8 is quite a revelation. It’s very well designed, easy to use, and works pretty well under OS X. There are a few glitches: some parts of the interface can be slow, and, despite being improved, colour management could still be better. If you always wanted to use vectors but found Illustrator and FreeHand a struggle, it’s well worth checking out Canvas 8.