Estimated Price: $375.00 (new) $99.00 (upgrade)
A graphic artist requires the control over precise image detail offered by bit-mapped graphics, the flexibility provided by vector-based objects, and an effective means of handling text in both environments. Until recently, that meant mastering several disparate programs like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw, and Adobe Inline Design or Quark Xpress. Unfortunately, each of these programs has a unique interface and so mastery can be problematic; fine-tuning a publication using three or more software tools can be time consuming, and the cost of purchasing a software suite is unwieldy. The sum of the parts can significantly detract from the whole.
In contrast, Canvas 7.0 is a complete graphics package that includes much of the functionality of the Adobe suite, breaks new ground in terms of graphics and text manipulation, offers impressive desktop publishing, desktop presentation, web authoring capabilities, and sports an uncluttered, elegant interface.
Though Canvas 7 will appeal to the graphic artist, it also is an important tool for the average computer user who needs to create a publication, modify a scanned image, edit a web page, or prepare a presentation. The program is relatively inexpensive, easy to learn and easy to use, and is a natural fit for the education and consumer markets.
Canvas 7.0 offers an enormous number of options via twenty-one ‘graphics palettes.’ Instead of cluttering the screen with overlapping toolbars sporting dozens of icons, the program lets you drag a palette up to a Docking Bar and ‘dock’ the palette temporarily there. After docking, a palette is mapped into a simple tab that can then re-accessed without resorting to the Palettes menu. Thus, it is possible, for example, to select a handful of tools, dock their palettes, and work on a tidy screen emphasizing your work area rather than extraneous clutter. Our friends at Microsoft and Corel could learn a lot from the Canvas interface.
Canvas provides the user precise control over layout. For example, you can display a customizable grid and then autosnap objects to x-values or y-values, giving you fairly exact control over object location. You can also display object sizes to the nearest thousandth of an inch; show rulers, guides, page breaks, text boxes, text invisibles, spelling errors, text flow bars, text rulers, and display graphics as wire frames. A ‘Gamut Warning’ option shows potential problems printing with CYMK colors and an ‘Ink Coverage’ display option shows what colors will print using an excessive amount of ink.
Context sensitive menus can be summoned at the click of a mouse and these menus offer only commands that currently can be executed. If an object is not currently visible, you can point at the location, and the pop-up menu lets you choose it by name.
With the Customize command, you can assign keyboard shortcuts to commands, tools, attributes, object styles, and font styles. You can also place buttons for these items on the Toolbar at the top of the screen. The Preferences dialog box lets you set the number of ‘undos’ that Canvas will support.
Objects and Attributes
Canvas supports four object categories including vector objects (Figure 2), paint objects (Figure 3), text objects, group objects, and each type of object incorporates unique properties. Vector objects consist of geometric shapes such as lines, circles, polygons and smooth curves, and Canvas defines these internally by formula. Paint objects are rectangular containers that contain pixel-based images such as scanned images, clip art, digital photos, and so on. Text objects are containers for text that can be formatted at the character or paragraph level and these can be empty or contain text and can be linked together. Group objects are collections of objects that have been united by the group command and groups can contain objects of any other type including groups themselves.
One advantage of using objects is that they are easy to select, modify, and manipulate. When you point and click an object with the Selection Tool, the object displays its bounding box and handles for resizing. Usefully, Canvas also provides a Direct Selection Tool that can be used to select an object even after it has been grouped with other objects. Holding down the shift key allows you to select multiple objects by pointing and clicking.
Double-clicking an object places it in edit mode. When you put a vector object in edit mode, you can modify anchor points and segments to reshape the path. Making a paint object editable, lets you apply paint commands to the image that it contains. Editing a text object lets you employ a full range of word processing tools.
Objects can be duplicated or replicated, and the replicate command provides options to rotate replicas by a given angle and increase or decrease size by a given percentage. Canvas also lets you copy attributes of an object and paste them into another object. This is useful for maintaining consistency from one object to another.
Objects can be aligned vertically and/or horizontally, distributed over a given distance, rotated freeform or in precise increments, flipped, and scaled. You can also choose object attributes and define them as a style that can be saved and applied to other objects.
Graphic artists will relish the rich range of Canvas drawing tools, while beginners will appreciate some simple algorithms that make Pierre Bézier seem like the kid next door. Canvas 7 features a new Bézier editing engine that is precise and easy to use. An Auto Curve tool generates smooth curves as you click, and a Reshape tool makes editing curves straightforward. Simulating a pull or a push on a rope, the Push tool can be used to modify any path and, for users with more expertise, the Freehand tool can be used to sketch paths. A Reduce Points command can later be used to minimize points and handles and the Fit Bézier command converts polygons to smooth curves.
Painting and Image Editing
Canvas lets you create Paint objects from scratch or ‘render’ existing vector objects. You render an object by using the rendering command, copying and pasting an image to and from the clipboard, using the camera tool to take a rasterized snapshot of an object, or saving a graphic using one of the many paint formats Canvas supports. The rendering command and the camera tool provide optional controls over the color mode, size, resolution, visibility, and transparency of the rendered graphic.
Once in a Paint environment, a host of customizable paint tools can be accessed. Paint tools include pencil, marker, brush, airbrush, neon tool, paint bucket, a blend tool, a blur tool, a sharpen tool, a ‘Rubber Stamp,’ a smudge tool, a dodge tool, a burn tool, and a sponge, and all of these tools are configurable
While in edit mode, you can apply painting tools to the whole image. Canvas also lets you select pixels in various ways and apply filters, tools, or other adjustments specifically to a selection. Selection tools include the standard rectangular marquee, an oval marquee, column and row selectors, and a lasso. Keyboard modifiers let you use these tools to add, subtract, or choose an overlap with existing selections. In addition, you can use the Wand tool and the Color Range command to select parts of an image based on color.
Canvas uses up to twenty-four image channels, alpha channels, and channel masks to store information about a paint object and the Channels Palette displays the channels of an image. An alpha channel is like a mask that selects some areas and protects other areas from painting and image editing tools, and alpha channels can be created from selections. There are a host of editing options related to Canvas channels.
If a picture or a graphic is worth a thousand words, then a picture with embedded text, text annotation, or surround text can be worth a whole lot more. Accompanying text often focuses the viewer, thereby maximizing the impact of a drawing, photograph, or chart. Thus, the interaction between graphic elements and text is an important feature of any graphics software.
Canvas 7 offers a range of text manipulation features giving the user extensive control over both ‘text as text’ and ‘text as graphics.’ The former means that Canvas can be used to accomplish sophisticated desktop publishing, while the latter adds significantly to its use as an illustrator.
Canvas differentiates between the Text Tool, that generates a standard insertion point and lets you enter text, and the Text Objects Tool, that allows you to create containers that can later be filled with text. The Text Link tool links text objects so that text flows from one to another, and text can also auto-flow into other Canvas objects like ovals and polygons. There is also an Unlink Text tool and a Link Info tool that displays arrows showing the direction of text.
The Section Tool is used when you need to change the number of columns or custom formatting within the same document. For example, a newsletter might juxtapose a half page section of two-column text with another half page section of three-column text. The Section Tool can also be used to modify the size of existing sections.
The Path Text Tool assigns text to the ‘path’ of any vector object like an oval or a curve. Text on a path includes handles to arrange the orientation, distance from the path, and to link any overflow text to another object. Clicking anywhere in the text and choosing Select All from the Edit Menu selects all of the text on a path.
When you enter text within Canvas, the program maintains the current text settings for font, style, type size, justification, kerning, and leading, and also applies the current fill ink. Once you have entered text, there are two types of selections. You can highlight text by dragging over it with the cursor and then change a setting to that specific selection, or you can select the text object and apply a change to all text within that object. The latter option can save you lots of text formatting time and greatly adds to the utility of this software.
The program includes a spell checker that lets you to check your text against a 100,000 word dictionary and it suggests replacements in a pull down spelling menu. When you replace a word with a Canvas suggestion, the program automatically adds the original spelling and the replacement to the AutoCorrect facility. Unfortunately, the program does not offer a universal replacement and, at times, I found the dialog box that purports to show you a misspelling in context often lost the misspelling at the top of the box—just barely legible to the user.
Usefully, you can ‘Find’ text by text string or by attribute and the ‘Replace’ command includes a global option. Canvas highlights the word it finds, but sometimes fails to adjust your window so you can see it. The program also includes an extensive ‘Find Objects’ option that will search for object by name, attribute, or type. You can, for example, find all lens objects, lines, ovals, and SpriteEffects.
Canvas 7 introduces an exciting new graphics technology called ‘SpriteEffects,’ that provides an organized approach to applying image filters and extends the range of most filters to cover vector objects, images, text, and grouped objects. In previous versions of the program, you could convert a vector object to an image and then apply an image filter, but you permanently lost its vector attributes. SpriteEffects lets you apply filters directly to an object, edit the vector object or text, and then automatically reapply the filters. You can also re-edit an image and then reapply filters.
SpriteEffects works with Canvas plug-ins as well as most third party plug-ins compatible with Photoshop 4.0. Plug-ins are installed by copying them to the Canvas Plug-in folder.
When an object is selected, the SpriteEffects palette shows a list of filters applied to that object. Double-clicking on a filter in the list summons the controls for that filter which can then be modified. You can also drag a filter up or down in the list to change the order, turn a filter on or off, and delete a filter from this palette. Most filters offer a preview facility and so the SpriteEffects palette provides an interactive environment for fine-tuning your effects.
Filters and adjustments can be applied directly to a vector, text, paint, or grouped object. Direct Effects impact on the entire object, including its fill ink, pen ink, and stroke.
SpriteEffects introduces a new kind of object called a Lens object. After you create a Lens object, you apply effects to the Lens, which will effect other objects that you view through the Lens. You can move the Lens around your illustration to assess the corresponding impact of filters.
A Lens object can also be used to magnify a part of your illustration and you have the option of setting a relative or absolute viewpoint. A relative viewpoint changes as you move the lens, while an absolute viewpoint stays focused on a specific reference point. You can also freeze your viewpoint, which is analogous to taking a snapshot of the lens view.
Inks and Strokes
The software includes an impressive array of different types of inks and strokes that correspond to the traditional fill or pen tools. The color palette, for example, features a full range of RGB, CYMK, Pantone, and TOYO colors, and you can view the colors by name, color icons, or small tiles. You can also use the Color Manager and HSL wheel to define your own. There are also numerous options for applying ‘Hatch,’ ‘Gradient,’ ‘Symbol,’ and ‘Texture’ inks and using corresponding managers to tailor these inks to meet specific needs.
Strokes are lines that outline vector objects and text. You can define the shape of a stroke by using standard or calligraphic pens, parallel lines, ‘neon tube’ effects, dashes, or arrowheads. The full range of inks available for fills can be applied to pen strokes.
Sprite Layer Effects (as distinguished from simply Sprite Effects) allows you to apply transparency to objects and text and the Transparency palette serves as a kind of control center. This palette includes controls to manipulate opacity, masks, transparency, and transfer modes.
When an object’s opacity is adjusted to less than 100%, it becomes translucent and Canvas lets you modify the opacity of any object by setting the opacity slider in the Toolbox or in the Transparency palette. Of course, when an object becomes translucent, anything in the background becomes at least partially visible. Canvas also gives you control over the scope of transparency where the scope refers to fill ink and the pen ink on the object’s stroke.
The sophisticated transparency tools in Canvas 7 add an impressive level of sophistication to Canvas illustrations. Transparency options combined with Sprite Effects and the other accessible power of this program lets the personal computer user create graphics that rival those produced by graphic artists or professional graphics bureaus.
As integrated software evolved, it seemed that loads of programs claimed they could do an adequate job of desktop publishing and presentation graphics. That is, word processors were extended to do multiple columns and wrap text around graphics and staked a claim to at least low-end desktop publishing. Similarly, outline processors and some word processing software eventually incorporated presentation features. These all inevitably fell short of the mark because they were mainly text-based and so required outside graphics support. Canvas, on the other hand, is integrated software with a built-in graphics engine complemented with sophisticated text handling. Thus, it is perfectly suited to accomplish desktop publishing, desktop presentations, and web authoring.
Canvas supports the creation of animation documents. These are the digital equivalent of a stack of pages with drawing changes made on each subsequent page. Flipping through the pages give you the illusion of movement on the graphic. One challenge in creating animated frames is ensuring that a graphic is positioned exactly the same on each page except for that part that’s supposed to be in motion. Canvas addresses this problem by providing ‘onion skin view’ that lets you see the grayed-out facsimile of the preceding page. That way, graphics on the current page can be exactly aligned with that on the preceding page.
The Document Layout palette shows a list of all the animation frames and includes options to modify the duration time for a frame, show or hide the master page or any other frame, create new frames, and create new layers within a specific frame. This palette also lets you lock or unlock a frame, apply an override color to a layer, and determine which frames may be sent to the printer.
Once an animation document is completed, you can save it as an ‘animated gif’ that is compatible with most web browsers. While saving as an animated gif, you are given several choices that effect the behavior of the animation in a web environment. You can also open an existing animated gif file and edit it within Canvas 7.
The program provides a range of web publishing features including the ability to create hyperlinks from vector or image objects, text selections, buttons, and animations. A URL Attachment palette lets you attach URLs to objects or text, find objects that have specific URLs attached to them, display the URL of a selected object, attach sound and animation controls, format hypertext, and specify the path of a URL for relative links. I found creating links to files on my hard drive confusing and I struggled to make the pertinent dialog box (Directories for Server Aliases) work properly.
Canvas also includes a Button tool and a Button palette that lets you assign a different image or separate object for each of the button’s three states: when a pointer is not on a button, when the pointer touches the button, and when the button is depressed. There is also a preview option that activates the various states and an option to save buttons within the palette and paste them into multiple pages.
Though you can save pages as HTML and publish pages to a website, Canvas lacks a web preview facility that is a crucial part of any serious web publishing software. This is particularly important when you are assigning absolute or relative URLs to text, objects or buttons and need to test the links.
Input and Output
Canvas 7 has extensive input and output options. The program can place objects in all major graphic formats and pages or selections can be saved in an equally impressive range of file formats. There is also a comprehensive set of printing options that supports regular printing or the printing of color separations. A print preview dialog box provides even more alternatives.
In the bad old days when processor speed was measured in the 5 Mhz range, software performance was an important issue. I recall doing a series of word processor reviews for Byte Magazine, for example, and the editor asked me to perform benchmarks on how fast the document scrolled, how quickly you could do a global find and replace, and how briskly a program opened and closed. Today, with processors like the G4 executing over a billion instructions per second, software performance may seem like a superfluous issue. I tested Canvas on systems running from 80-450 Mhz and, clearly, with the versatility of SpriteEffects encouraging you to apply and reapply graphics filters, it is important to have a fast machine.
Much more important than program speed, however, is reliability. I used Canvas 7.0 several hours a day for a couple of weeks and the program rarely crashed, froze, or displayed an error message. For a ‘dot 0’ software release, that performance is very impressive indeed.
Documentation and Support
Canvas 7.0 comes with a useful 94 page ‘Getting Started’ guide a well-written 550 page reference manual. The program also includes detailed on-line documentation along with a reference to the Deneba website. The Deneba website offers tips about using Canvas, updates, technical notes, profiles of users, and contact information and the Canvas library lets you download free plug-ins and palettes.
Canvas 7 is more than a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of graphic applications software. Each Canvas Tool is competitive with higher priced and yet more narrowly focused software, and the combination of state-of-the-art paint, draw, and text manipulation tools under a simple, uncluttered interface, offers unparalleled accessible power to both Windows users and ‘the rest of us.’
Graphics Background (Sidebar)
When the Macintosh was introduced back in the mid-80s, the first two important Mac graphics programs were MacPaint and MacDraw, both from Apple Computer. MacPaint was bundled with the Mac and offered some basic bit-mapped graphics options. Bit-mapped graphics were ideal because the user could edit them down to the pixel level. On the other hand, differences between the resolution of the screen image and printer resolution added a level of complexity to printing bit-mapped graphics.
MacDraw, on the other hand, offered a vector-mapped object environment—that is, draw objects were based on geometric figures that could be resized without distortion, assigned new attributes, aligned and grouped, and printed with some degree of predictability. For a brief period, it seemed like never the Twain (so to speak) would meet.
Text in a bit-mapped and vector-mapped environment behaved differently. MacPaint gave the user one shot at editing text and it had to come immediately after the text was entered, while MacDraw treated text as an object that could be edited at will. In those early days before TrueType Fonts, the treatment of text was also complex as the user had to distinguish between screen fonts that looked nice at specific sizes, bit-mapped fonts, and printer fonts.
SuperPaint — Where Have All The Flowers Gone (Sidebar)
Silicon Beach’s SuperPaint presented both bit-mapped and vector-mapped layers and provided the facility to cut and paste between layers. That is, you could edit a bit-mapped image, select the graphic with the lasso tool, and cut it to the vector layer. Though you were limited in what attributes you could change in the vector layer, you could accomplish some things. SuperPaint’s handling of text was particularly important because the vector layer allowed you to change text formatting on the fly. The powerful text editing tools combined with ‘vector bit-maps’ was an important step forward for computer graphics. Almost inexplicably, Aldus bought the rights to SuperPaint, Adobe bought Aldus, and SuperPaint has virtually disappeared.
Canvas: The Review (Sidebar)
The conventional wisdom is that to write columns or reviews for the web, you should keep them brief as the average surfer does not have the interest or attention span to read a lengthy article. I’ve never subscribed to this point of view because I don’t believe that My Mac readers are average, and it’s impossible to adequately review a piece of sophisticated software like Canvas 7 in three or four hundred words. A superficial review is unfair to both the reader and the company that produced the software, and though editorial space in the print magazines may be limited (see the 350 word review of Painter in the January MacHome Magazine), My Mac Magazine has no such artificial limits. If the choice was between providing a vacuous short summary of a piece of software or doing no review at all, I would always choose the latter.
MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5