Canvas X: Ten Times the Versatility of Your Average Graphics Tool

By Scott Koegler | Posted April 04, 2005

Most graphics applications work with a particular type of graphic file. For example, Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, PhotoImpact and Microsoft Photo editor handle bitmap files but can't touch vector-based images. In the same way, Adobe Illustrator does a great job working with vector images but is limited in its ability to edit bitmap images. The same specializations extend to the way different programs work with page layouts and presentations.

Canvas X, on the other hand, crosses these boundaries and more while keeping its overall price reasonable at just under $250. (And if you're upgrading from a previous edition of the software, you may qualify for an additional discount of up to $150.)

Installation
Canvas X is a great fit for mixed-platform environments because it installs and runs on both Windows and Mac computers from a single distribution, and the program's interface is identical regardless of the operating system used.

We installed the program on an Intel P-4 1.3Ghz running Windows XP Pro from the single CD. A DVD is included in the package and contains a library of images, clip art, and backgrounds for use in your designs. There's also a large collection of fonts in both TrueType and Postscript formats for PC and Mac on the DVD.

Once installed, Canvas' interface is refreshingly different. The familiar floating tool palette is available for quickly selecting the program's various pointing functions, and in keeping with Canvas' overall design, each tool selection expands to display its sub-tools.

For example, selecting the Paintbrush tool displays its various optional settings. This design feature makes finding and using the right tools quick and simple, while also keeping the overall layout from being too cluttered and confusing.

We found Canvas to be relatively quick to master compared to the time it took us to initially get up to speed with Adobe's Photoshop. One reason for this difference is that functions, settings, and tools are displayed in the main workspace and change in context with the particular task setting in effect.

As an example, when working with a photographic image, the top information bar shows size, opacity, cropping, filters, and other basic functions. These change to reflect the available settings for each tool selected. For example, the pointer tool displays controls that affect the entire image, while the paintbrush tool only shows options pertinent to the size and stroke of the brush.

Canvas X is a document-oriented application, which makes it inherently different from most image editors that work on individual images and consider pages something to deal with later, if at all. Page orientation lets Canvas combine images in a document while providing extensive editing capabilities within both the image and the document at the same time — all without the need to change programs.

As an example, we created a multi-page document using Canvas' Presentation mode and its default formatting. While there were few options in the default template, we were able to make presentation-wide changes in the master slide that affected all the slides. Placing text boxes, images, and effects is similar to performing the same functions in PowerPoint, but because of Canvas' image editing capabilities, there is a dramatic difference in the amount of image editing that can be done directly within the slide.

Vectors
Most photo editors deal with images as bitmap files, while those in the graphic arts world often deal with hand-drawn images consisting of curves and lines rather than dots. The functions needed for working with these types of vector-based drawings are not normally included in bitmap editors, resulting in the need to use multiple applications when crossing over from one type of graphic to the other.

Adobe's Illustrator standalone application, for example, can be used alongside Photoshop and the images produced by each can be intermingled. Canvas X, on the other hand, provides both bitmap and vector capabilities within the same program and in the same file.

Text
This combination makes a wide variety of effects possible and simplifies the process of integrating images for designers who need to handle a diverse set of files. We don't consider ourselves artists, so our editing work stays on the bitmap side; similarly, the added functionality may be lost on the average digital photographer.

Canvas' text function allows the same kind of text creation and placement you would expect to find in an image editor and includes the ability to place text on curves. However, its page layout functions also let you create "snaked columns" with text automatically flowing from one column to the next, and from one page to another, a function also found in other document-oriented publishing packages like Adobe PageMaker and InDesign. We created a simple two-page pamphlet and were able to place images and add text, and then easily manipulate both the text and the images.

Other text manipulation tools in Canvas X allow typing on curves, as well as the ability to extrude text, apply images within text, convert text to curves and manipulate the individual character shapes.

New in Canvas X
The recently released version 10 adds a variety of new features and enhancements for both power and novice users, including the new Canvas Print Driver, which makes it possible for virtually anything that can be printed to also be brought into Canvas X for editing, enhancement, presentation, and distribution.

It also supports ActiveX controls; the ability to create and share Secure PDF files; new collaboration tools (mark-up pen and highlighter, circle red-line, and rectangle red-line tools) for easily indicating revisions and adding comments to objects that may require attention or correction.

Other features include a Trim-to-Path command; a 3D Emboss command; the ability to import DXF/DWG files with "pinpoint accuracy"; a scripting utility that lets you open, view, and edit Visio, Corel, and PowerPoint files within Canvas. You also get the new Canvas Assistant, a helpful tool with instant context-sensitive help designed to reduce the learning curve for new users.

The Canvas Print Driver, support for ActiveX Controls, and the scripting utility for working with Visio, Corel, and PowerPoint files directly within Canvas are new features exclusive to the Windows edition of Canvas X. A complete list of new and enhanced features in Canvas X can be found on the Canvas X Website.

Advanced Functions
Canvas X includes the customary image editing abilities including color balance and equalization, contrast, and saturation, along with a variety of modification effects like lens flair, noise and oil painting. Its Sprite function lets you take one set of filters and effects and apply them to another section of an image, to another image, or even to a collection of images, making quick work of correcting an entire set of images that were shot with the wrong settings or that each need the same enhancements.

We were able to use the layers function to view different versions of the same file by making some layers visible and hiding others. You can group multiple layers so that you can view one single Canvas file as different versions simply by switching layer groups. If you're showing your work to a client, this function saves you from creating separate copies of a piece of work.

Reusing a piece of work can save hours. Canvas X takes repurposing in stride and can output pages as images, documents and Web pages. We used a wizard to automatically collect pages for output and to optimize the images on the pages. If you're designing Web pages specifically, Canvas X has an extensive set of tools for slicing images and for creating hyperlinks.

Though it may be beyond the standard use of an image editor, Canvas X includes a full set of technical drawing tools, including shapes and smart-lines to ease the creation of flow charts.

If you've advanced beyond the starter packages that came in the box with your digital camera and need an advanced image editor, take a long look at Canvas X. If you spend a little time with the program's tutorials you'll quickly find that you can not only tweak your images to make them the best they can be, but you can use your imagination to create images you're proud to display on your wall or on the Web.

Pros: Intuitive and unique design, minimal learning curve, extensive set of features, excellent tool for all graphics needs (creation, manipulation, enhancement, presentation, and sharing), works with both bitmap- and vector-based images

Cons: May be overkill for the average digital photographer or graphics user, price relative to apps like Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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