As an image-editing and illustration program particularly well suited to technical drawings, Canvas X from ACD Systems is truly desert island software. If you can have only one illustration application, Canvas X can handle every graphical task you can think of.
The program allows you to work with both bitmap and vector graphics with the precision of a CAD (computer-aided design) program and the capabilities of a page-layout application. It also can be used as a presentation tool and Web-page creator. While its features are not as extensive as dedicated graphic or Web-design applications, Canvas X nonetheless excels at all these tasks.
The improvements in this latest version of Canvas X make it far more useful for engineering and architectural projects than the previous version. ACD Systems has expanded the program’s import and export capabilitiesto include 80 file formats, including DXF and DWG import and DXF export. This makes Canvas compatiblewith the most widely used CAD formats, including AutoCAD. One niggle, though, is that I would haveliked to have seen the ability to export as DWGas well as DXF.
Canvas X now allows you to add annotations, mark-up notes, and comments to enable easier collaboration with other people in your workgroup. The annotation tools include highlight, redlining and callout options. However, recipients of your files will need Canvas X to view those comments. It would have been better if the annotations could be translated into Acrobat 7 annotations when saving as a PDF file.
Canvas X also has a much more extensivestart-up dialogue, which provides easy access to the online technical support and online discussion forums. ACD’s technical support resources include a getting started area, tutorials, online knowledge base, and a wonderful ‘7-Minute Solutions’ section where dozensof typical tasks are organized and outlined in quick how-to guides.
The new Canvas Assistant is a more wide-ranging addition to the existing Dynamic Help, and consists of a floating hypertext window with information and links about the tool or process you are working with. It can be turned off if you don’t want or need it.
For technical illustration, some of Canvas X’s strengths over other illustration applications come from the CAD world, and include comprehensive layer capabilities, symbol libraries, dimensioning, and a 64-bit coordinate system. These features give Canvas the precision that technical illustrators need to create scaled and measured drawings.
One of Canvas X’s best new features is the Sprite Effects, which allow you to apply one or morefilters (such as zoom, sharpen, colour balance, or transparency) to a selected portion of an illustration without changing the underlying graphic. These effects work on bitmap images and vector-based drawings,as well as combinations of the two. Sets of SpriteEffects can be turned on or off, reused, and applied to multiple images.
Canvas X’s well-designed interface does a great job of presenting context-sensitive tools and options to prevent your screen from becoming too cluttered.For example, the Properties Bar, located across thetop of the workspace underneath the toolbar, automatically displays the controls and propertiesfor the currently selected object. The Smart Toolbox, Canvas X’s new tool palette, ensures that only related tools and tool options for the currently active toolare displayed. Even the application’s help facility is context sensitive.
Canvas X also has a GIS version for mapping and a Scientific version for graphic analysis of imagery and data from scientific sources.
There are enough new features and improvementsin this new version for existing Canvas users toeasily justify an upgrade. New users who cantake advantage of Canvas X’s versatility will save hundreds of pounds over buying a suite of productsto cover all of Canvas’s capabilities. But existing usersof dedicated applications, such as Adobe Photoshopor Adobe Illustrator, may find Canvas X somewhat lacking in their specific area of use, unless they need the added accuracy and features of Canvas X’s technical illustration capabilities.