At a Glance
Canvas, from Deneba, brings together drawing, painting, page-layout, business-presentation, and Web-design applications in one package. The latest version, Canvas 8, has an improved tool set, new scripting features, and important interface improvements, and it's Carbonized for OS X. Canvas is a good tool for some graphic designers and business graphics users; however, high-end designers will probably want to stick with dedicated apps.
Though other painting and image-editing programs (such as Adobe Photoshop) may have vector tools, and other vector illustration programs (such as Adobe Illustrator) may have bitmap support, no other package offers such tight integration of the different drawing modes. In Canvas, you can apply the same effects to any type of object, whether it's bitmapped or vector.
What's more, Canvas's interface changes depending on the type of document you want to create, giving you a PageMaker-like interface for page layout, a PowerPoint-like interface for presentations, and so on. No matter which type of document you're working on, though, your tools remain the same.
With this version, Canvas's interface shows off a number of good tweaks and improvements. Floating palettes are now "magnetic" and automatically stick to each other, à la Photoshop 6's palettes. And by programming the keyboard, you can select any vector or image-editing tool with a single keystroke.
The most conspicuous change to Canvas's interface is the addition of the new Undo palette. The Undo palette stores a user-defined number of actions. At any time, you can undo an action by clicking on it. Unlike Photoshop's History palette, Canvas 8's Undo palette is nonlinear; you can undo any action anywhere in the queue. However, the generic action names in the Undo palette can make it difficult to know which action you're undoing. If you undo the wrong item, you can opt to redo the action, but this further changes the Undo queue.
Though Canvas 8 doesn't provide any revolutionary new drawing tools, it does implement some long-overdue changes to the program's drawing features. In the past, you had to double-click on an object to edit it. The new Direct Edit Select and Lasso tools let you operate on any object's control points without a lot of extra clicking. And Canvas now automatically enters Paint mode when you click on a paint object, making it much easier to switch between vector and paint objects.
Other handy features include the ability to convert an object to paths, and new tools for automatically distributing objects. With these additions, Canvas is just catching up to other illustration packages such as Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand, but they are welcome improvements just the same.
Although Canvas's painting tools are no substitute for the variety of tools available in a full-blown painting app such as Procreate's Painter, Canvas 8 offers some cool enhancements. You are no longer limited to painting with flat colors; you can now paint with any gradient or texture--a great way to create complex texturing and highlighting effects.
Canvas 8 also has several new effects filters, including natural-media effects such as oil painting. With Canvas's SpriteEffects technology, you can apply these filters to any bitmap or vector object without losing the abil-ity to edit the original object. SpriteEffects is still one of Canvas's biggest strengths.
The most substantial improvement in Canvas 8 comes in the form of new scripting facilities. The Sequence palette allows you to quickly and easily record a sequence of operations that can be played back at any time on any object. Analogous to the Actions palette in Photoshop, the Sequence palette lets you easily automate simple tasks, from applying filters to resizing objects. However, though most tasks can be recorded with the Sequencer, individual paint strokes cannot.
As with Photoshop Actions, sets of sequences can be exported to other documents, making it easy to create a standard set of style scripts for use across multiple documents.
For more-advanced automation, Canvas now offers complete support for AppleScript. While the Sequencer is great for creating quick little macros, Canvas's new AppleScript facil-ity allows you to create complex scripts that can interact with other programs, including databases and spreadsheets.
Canvas 8 delivers good performance in both OS 9 and OS X. Deneba seems to have done a bit of work on Canvas's memory management, and the program is better at handling large bitmap images (20MB or more) than previous versions.
Canvas 8 is fully Carbonized for OS X, and as we've experienced with other graphics apps, its performance in OS X is a little sluggish compared with its performance in OS 9. However, most users probably won't feel hampered by this slight performance loss.
Macworld's Buying Advice
It's unlikely that the improvements in version 8 will make Canvas converts out of users of other graphics applications. For the most part, a dedicated illustration, painting, pagelayout, presentation, or Web-design application will provide more-refined functionality than Canvas, with its integrated approach. But if you need a graphics package, this one is an excellent place to start. And for current users, the decision to upgrade will probably be a no-brainer; the tool enhancements and interface tweaks alone are well worth the $250 upgrade price.
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