Canvas X review

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Improved import and export capabilities, but little new creative power mean that this is seriously disappointing release.

canvas x technical

When you open Canvas X what strikes you first is the new startup panel which provides access to recent documents, support including a new context-sensitive onscreen assistant and online forums. More importantly, it offers four main options for creating a standard illustration, a DTP publication, a business presentation or an animation. It’s the first indication of the program’s breadth of power to which you can add a whole list of other capabilities such as in-built bitmap editing, direct painting, 3D extrusion, HTML and PDF output and an impressive system of non-destructive “sprite effects”. Essentially Canvas will tackle just about any graphical task that you care to throw at it.

However, despite these wide-ranging strengths and the ensuing benefits of integration which at one time put Canvas on the PC Pro A-List, the program was generally seen as too much of an all-rounder to make serious headway against the big three vector players – Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia FreeHand and CorelDRAW. Eventually Canvas was bought from its original developer, Deneba, and its new owners, ACD Systems rewrote Canvas 9’s drawing engine to focus on yet another area of graphics production: precision technical drawing. This in turn enabled two more graphical fields, geographical mapping and data visualization, to be brought into the Canvas fold via dedicated GIS+ and Scientific Imaging add-on modules.

canvas x technical

Canvas X is increasingly focused on technical drawing.

To make the most of its all-round capabilities, ACD is determined that Canvas X should operate as a central graphical hub and in this latest release provides the ability to import and export graphical files (and non-graphical files such as Word and Excel documents) in over 100 different formats ranging from MacPaint through to AutoCAD. With its new primarily technical audience in mind, CAD-based standards are especially important and two in particular have been enhanced. The DXF/DWF import filter now enables 3D drawings to be projected as precision 2D plans, though I couldn’t see a way to select projections, while CGM import now supports the ATA (Aviation Transportation) standard. For CGM-based seismic data Canvas X even offers a new Seismic Traces docker palette which provides dedicated control including “the customization of wiggles”! Presumably such niche power was originally intended as a new add-on module but, slightly bizarrely, has ended up being incorporated into the main program.

Canvas X moves beyond traditional import filters with two new capabilities. The first is a scripting utility that enables CorelDRAW, Visio and PowerPoint files to be recreated in Canvas. It sounds interesting but in practice it boils down to copying and pasting individual objects as WMF graphics. The second is a far more impressive and universal solution that employs a PostScript-based Canvas print driver to enable any application to print pages directly to Canvas X. For the most part the system works as intended, but ultimately neither solution is much more than a workaround as serious editing of the results, say changing text, is either impossible or impractical. Where both approaches could come in handy is as a way to add some graphical flair and to open up export options.

Undoubtedly the most useful of Canvas’ many output options is the ability to export directly to Acrobat PDF format and this has been enhanced with new support for secure encryption and password protection. There’s also new support for PDF-based layers which should be useful with Canvas X’s new range of highlighter and redline Markup tools which can be automatically added to their own markup layer. Unfortunately, although the layers did make it through to the PDF, it wasn’t possible to toggle their display.

For more advanced collaborative workflows and for organizations needing to tie in graphical work to external data sources, whether for creation or approval, Canvas X adds a new Create ActiveX Control tool. This capability is unique as far as I know and the ability to add, say, Excel charts and PowerPoint presentations directly within a file is intriguing. However I’m not in the position to test the tool’s main selling-point, namely the integration with custom controls that you create yourself to produce project-specific solutions. And I doubt whether many of Canvas’ existing users are either.

canvas x creative

New Trim to Path and 3D Emboss commands are the limit of new creative options.

Enough on workflow, what about the all-important new creative power? Here Canvas X adds a new 3D Emboss command to apply a raised or sunken appearance to vectors, bitmaps and text, and a new Trim to Path command to create non-rectangular bitmaps. And, er, that’s it. Even these effects aren’t exactly exciting as you could already create masked images with a clipping path, while the 3D emboss command isn’t likely to see much use, especially as it produces its effect as a bitmap.

This is seriously disappointing. At the end of the review of Canvas 9 I hoped that the next release would concentrate on boosting the program’s core creative power, but that certainly hasn’t happened. Instead ACD Systems has added a few advanced and unusual capabilities that only a few users will benefit from. Or even notice. In the past Canvas lost out as an all-rounder, now it’s become too much of a specialist.

Ease of Use
4
Features
4
Value for Money
4
Overall
4

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

June 2005

Canvas
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System requirements Pentium III ; 128/256MB RAM; 100MB free hard disk space; Windows 2000 onwards.

 


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