In the graphics world, Canvas is something of a wallflower. Despite offering what no other program can - high-level bitmap, painting, illustration, presentation, animation and layout tools in a single program - it's overshadowed by more fashionable but less versatile names.
Underappreciated in one sphere, this release edges Canvas into the more welcoming fields of technical, business and scientific illustration.
Thanks to intuitive linear dimensioning tools and a precision co-ordinate system, Canvas has long held its own as a technical tool. But Canvas X, which also comes in special GIS (geographic information system) mapping and scientific-imaging versions, boosts its reputation further. This is thanks to improved support for the DXF and DWG AutoCAD formats, and the incorporation of features such as a tool for seismic data analysis.
Other improvements include scripts to automatically import Visio and PowerPoint files, and new collaboration tools. These are clearly aimed at the enterprise market. The annotation tools let colleagues add comments and markup objects to documents.
Comments, along with their authors, are summarised in a palette and, usefully, these markup objects can be allocated to separate, non-printing layers so they are easy to isolate from the main design. Given the program's price, it should appeal to anyone with a creative streak,
no matter how inexperienced.
Thankfully, Canvas X's versatility doesn't result in a chaotic user experience, as its interface adjusts to the type of document you're creating. You can choose between document types from an inviting opening dialog box, which also links to online community forums and a series of well-written tutorials. Beginners will appreciate a live, context-sensitive help window that gives feedback on tools or objects as they are used. It works well, but more experienced users will find that the screen space it occupies is better used elsewhere.
The working area is well thought out. Tabs along the bottom of the active window offer quick access to layers, while tools are tucked away in a neat contextual properties bar or in a spartan-looking toolbox which spawns sub-palettes when needed.
Canvas's new direction may hold less appeal to its core constituency of creative artists. To them, the appeal of the program, like that of Microsoft's Acrylic (reviewed last month), is that it lets you freely mix vector and bitmap artwork.
Photoshop-compatible filters - Canvas calls them SpriteEffects - can be applied to lines and text as easily as to images. And you can apply, stack and reorder effects, such as blur and noise, from a single palette.
But there are slim pickings for graphics pros who'll have to be satisfied with a couple of new effects. These include a basic Emboss tool and a more impressive trim-to-path feature, which means cropping an image to a set shape takes only two simple steps. Simply place a trimming shape above the image and select a menu option. It easily beats the tortuous vector and layer mask methods employed by the likes of Photoshop to achieve the same effect.