Deneba Canvas 9 Professional Edition

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A new interface, drawing engine and technical capabilities but surprisingly little new creative power for the average user.

Canvas is a vector drawing program with a difference. Where rivals content themselves with simply producing illustrations, Canvas has a much wider aim: when you create a new Canvas document you choose between creating an illustration, a DTP-style publication, a business presentation or an animation. The program's range is extraordinary but so is its creative depth. In particular Canvas is the only drawing package as comfortable dealing with bitmaps as it is with vectors.

Its all-round creative capabilities - and especially its innovative and non-destructive bitmap-based SpriteEffect technology - saw Canvas 7 burst onto the A-List, but it's been two years since version 8 and loyal users have become increasingly fractious. Now Canvas is back, and under new management, so is it ready to regain its crown?

ACD Systems, Canvas' new developers, are making much of the new interface. In fact there wasn't too much wrong with the old one but the new colours and icons do look better and the options to open a dynamic Help window, to manage pages and layers from the status bar and to position the docking bar on any side of the screen are all handy. As is the new SmartToolbox. As you select any of the 14 major tools from the main toolbox, a second lockable toolbox pop-ups up next to it offering you all the associated variations

Two other interface changes help make working life even more productive. The first is the introduction of a context-sensitive Properties Bar below the menus where you control the positioning, size and so on of the currently selected object or the settings of the currently selected tool. The second is a revamp of Canvas formatting dialogs. Now when you click on any of the Stroke, Pen Ink, Arrow, Dash, or Fill Ink swatches at the bottom of the Toolbox, the new Presets palette opens with the appropriate tab selected. From here you can choose a preset from any of the many categories, for example the Fill Ink section provides separate colour, gradient, hatch, texture, symbol and pattern tabs. And if you can't find a preset to fit, you can hit the Edit command to call up the new centralized Attributes dialog which lets you set everything from CMYK percentages to a customized arrowhead line ending. The formatting power is enormous but it's all very streamlined and efficient - which is true of Canvas generally.

Canvas 9 offers a Properties Bar and streamlined formatting.

Enough on the interface changes, what about new creative power? Again ACD Systems is making much of the fact that Canvas' drawing engine has been rewritten to make it 64-bit and to support the IEEE double-floating point standard to provide CAD-levels of precision. On the down side the new engine means that Canvas 9 has higher system requirements, no longer supports 98 or NT, and reliability still seems suspect (though hopefully automatic updates will fix this). When it is working though, the figures are certainly impressive with a zoom level that stretches from 0.0001% to 102400% and a new maximum drawing size of 2000 miles x 2000 miles! This makes Canvas ideal for a whole new range of users, those involved in geographic mapping, though to take full advantage they will really have to invest in the GIS Edition which also provides native support for GIS data and SHAPE and GeoTIFF files.

More general technical users also benefit from a range of improvements to Canvas' existing capabilities. In particular the number of scaling units of measurement, of smart mouse constraints and of connector line types have all been increased. Dimensioning generally has also been streamlined with new chain and baseline options that let you add up to 16 sequential dimensions. Annotation has been improved in a similar way with Multi-Arrow, Multi-Label variants and a Chart tool which each let you add connected shapes one after the other.

There are also a whole host of changes that fall under the miscellaneous heading. You can now expand path strokes into shapes in their own right and replace inks across the document. There's a new Page Crop tool that cuts all underlying vector and bitmap objects or you can achieve a similar effect non-destructively with the ability to mark up an area to print. You can now output animations to AVI and drawings to SVG and the EPS/PDF import has been overhauled. And you now have access to a Personal Library where you can store your favourite graphic elements and a Symbol Library which lets you search fixed media and the Canvas collection online (it looks like version 8's peer to peer file-sharing has been quietly shelved). They are all welcome, but there's no new killer factor.

But of course Canvas 9 can still boast its longstanding killer feature: its unique integrated bitmap editing. And the ability to edit placed bitmaps or simply to begin painting on the canvas is still unbeatable. New in 9 are improved cropping capabilities with hard and soft options and support for fixed sizes, a Red Eye reduction tool and an Image Warp command that lets you map a rectangular bitmap to any shape complete with point to point control. Again it's hard to get too excited.

Integrated bitmap editing is still a strength but most new power is limited to the Scientific Image Edition.

It's especially disappointing as the Canvas developers have actually been very hard at work when it comes to bitmap imaging capability - but only for the Scientific Imaging Edition. Here they've added support for RAW format files and images with up to 32-bits per channel of data. They've also added a whole host of filters for processing and analyzing images such as x-ray scans or you can view and analyze the pixel values themselves. And in the vector arena there are 2D plotting options for visualizing mathematical equations as graphics.

Again the advances open up an entirely new area of graphics territory for Canvas, but inevitably the Scientific and GIS Editions are only of minority interest. That's fine, and exciting news for these users, but you can't help feeling that the amount of development on the core program has suffered as ACD Systems has targeted these new markets. Canvas remains an outstanding all-rounder, but for version 10 the vast majority of its users will be hoping to see more work on the program's creative core.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

August 2001

Deneba Canvas
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System requirements Pentium III, 128Mb of RAM, 100Mb of hard disk space, Windows 2000 or XP, 1024x768 display.

August 2001

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