As an image-editing and illustration program particularly well-suited to technical drawings, ACD Systems’ Canvas X is truly desert island software—if you can have only one application, Canvas X can handle every graphical task.
The program allows you to work with both bitmap and vector graphics with the precision of a CAD program and the capabilities of a page-layout application. It also can be used as a presentation tool and Web-page creation software. While its features are not as extensive as dedicated graphic or Web design applications, Canvas X nonetheless excels at all these tasks.
New features benefit workgroups and CAD users
The improvements in 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 capabilities to include 80 file formats, including DXF and DWG import and DXF export, making Canvas compatible with the most widely used CAD formats, including AutoCAD. I’d like to see the ability to export as DWG as well as DXF.
Canvas X’s Smart Toolbox (left) and Canvas Assistant (right) are valuable interface improvements that make the program easier to use.
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Canvas X now allows you to add annotations, markup notes, and comments to collaborate with other people in your workgroup. Annotation tools include highlight, redlining, and callout tools. However, recipients of your files will need Canvas X to view those comments. It would be nice if the annotations could translate into Acrobat 7 annotations when saving as a PDF file.
Canvas X has a more extensive startup dialog, which gives you 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 dozens of typical tasks are organized and outlined in quick how-to guides.
The new Canvas Assistant is a more extensive 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.
Flexible for both bitmaps and vectors
For technical illustration, some of Canvas X’s strengths over other illustration applications come from the CAD (computer-aided design) world, and include extensive 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’ best new features is its Sprite Effects, which allow you to apply one or more filters (such as zoom, sharpen, color balance, or transparency) to one 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 Sprite Effects 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 the top of the workspace underneath the toolbar, automatically displays the controls and properties for the currently selected object. The Smart Toolbox, Canvas’ tool palette, ensures that only related tools and tool options for the currently active tool are displayed. Even the program’s help 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.
Macworld’s buying advice
There are enough new features here for existing Canvas users to easily justify an upgrade. New users who can take advantage of Canvas X’s versatility will save hundreds of dollars over buying a suite of products to cover all of Canvas’ capabilities. Existing users of dedicated applications, such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator may find Canvas X somewhat lacking in their specific area of use, unless they need the added accuracy and features of Canvas’ technical illustration capabilities.
Greg Miller holds a Master’s degree in architecture and is chief technology officer of RDC Interactive, which specializes in new media for the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) and publishing markets.