ACD Systems’ Canvas 9 Professional Edition is primarily for technical illustrators who need to design precision graphics. It can also pinch-hit as an image editor or an illustration program — plus, it can serve as a page-layout, drawing, presentation, and Web-site program. Surprisingly, Canvas does all of these tasks well, so it’s an attractive technical tool for illustrators who also like to exercise their creativity.
Developers of complex programs such as Canvas 9 strive to make efficient interfaces. ACD Systems has done this by enhancing existing features and adding new ones. A terrific new feature is the Properties bar, a horizontal display that shows relevant information about and options for an active tool or object. Select a new object or tool, and the bar changes to show the appropriate options. Properties — such as scale, dimensions, object locations, level of opacity, fonts, and kerning — are constantly displayed at the top of the main window, without intruding on the drawing. Available at a click from the Properties bar is the new dynamic help, which automatically shows detailed instructions for the current tool or object and doesn’t take up a lot of screen real estate.
Improved palette management gives you more control over palette and subpalette visibility as you move from one tool to the next. And you can minimize palettes and dialog boxes to unobtrusive, quickly accessible tabs on the edge of your drawing, so you can customize the interface according to your needs.
A new double floating point, 64-bit coordinate system gives Canvas 9 the precision that technical illustrators need in order to make scaled and measured drawings — precision usually found only in CAD (computer-aided design) programs. For instance, you can draw illustrations to scale; this is different from drawing them proportionally, as you might do in a typical illustration program.
Canvas provides the same functionality and ease of use generally found in CAD programs. To set dimensions — the notations on your drawing that indicate an object’s real-world size — just click from one point to another in your drawing; the program calculates and displays the dimensions. (You can customize the appearance of your dimensions.) You can place them one at a time or in strings that represent, say, different parts of a drawing. You can even adjust tolerances, so that
the dimension values allow for and track minor variances. This is useful in engineering and product- design where drawings need to account for the accuracy of actual manufacturing processes. And Canvas now provides a virtually unlimited zoom, and document sizes as large as 2,000 miles squared (to scale).
A feature from previous Canvas versions, Sprite Effects, remains one of the program’s best. With Sprite Effects, you can apply one or more filters — zoom, sharpen, color balance, and others — to part of an illustration without changing the underlying graphic. Sprite Effects work on bitmapped images, vector-based drawings, and combinations of the two. Similar applications are just catching up to this functionality.
In addition to the Professional version, Canvas 9 comes in two technical editions, each of which costs $200 more.
The GIS (Geographic Information System) Mapping Edition includes GIS capabilities and mapping, such as the ability to import and work with industry-standard Shape Files and their associated data files and integrate them into technical presentations. You can also import GeoTIFF
files and overlay and align aerial photography. Very few GIS applications’ technical illustration capabilities can come close to those of Canvas 9 — a unique and powerful application that lets you create GIS-accurate maps that are both beautiful and precise.
The Scientific Imaging Edition supports 32-bit images. Combined with the new Image Data viewer, this provides direct access to an image’s underlying numeric data, allowing graphic analysis of imagery and data from scientific sources. There’s also support for industry-standard file formats and image filters, all of which makes Canvas useful for professionals in medicine and life sciences.
A Stretched Canvas
Canvas 9 does a fine job of providing capabilities usually found in four or five separate applications, but it’s not the best option for any one task. People already committed to dedicated illustration or image-editing programs such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop will probably not want to switch, as those specialized applications typically outperform Canvas in their areas.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
While Canvas is an excellent technical-illustration program, we wouldn’t recommend it over a full-blown CAD program; it just doesn’t have all the tools an architect or an engineer needs in order to create technical drawings. However, if you want technical- and graphic-design capabilities without extreme specialization in one package, Canvas is your best bet.
If you already use Canvas, you’ll enjoy the interface upgrades. If Illustrator and Photoshop lack the precision you want, and if a CAD program stifles your creative expression, then Canvas is the tool for you.