Author: Stephen J. Kayner
Date: July, 1993
Keywords: application program review graphics art drawing draw
Text: During the last couple of years, I was limited to the one drawing package available at my place of work. Without naming that program, I can tell you that it has come up short of my needs many times, leaving me to patch together some very inelegant solutions. Botched curves, patched fills, second-rate text, and other flaws often made me look like an idiot when the resulting drawings were submitted for presentation. This has all been resolved now that I have Canvas. I can still botch a drawing, but I can no longer blame it on the software. Canvas ships on four 800K program diskettes that will use up 5.3MB of hard disk space if the tutorial, the color system, and all the samples are installed. The program file itself takes up 956K. There is also a Pantone color diskette, but three of the four palettes on it are found in the Canvas folder after the full installation, without even putting it into the drive (partial osmosis, I'd guess). The Canvas installation program is just like the one for Mac system installation, and it reads the disks onto the hard drive in a hurry (there's none of that disk hustling that some software puts you through). When the diskettes have been loaded onto the hard drive, the decompression starts, and it takes quite a while. The first time you start Canvas, you must ''personalize'' the program by typing in a name, organization, and the program serial number. The Canvas manual is huge, probably five pounds, containing more than 900 pages. It is so large that flipping between the index and subject matter is a bit awkward. It is complete though, and explains all of the features I looked for in sufficient detail. I had heard good things about Canvas, and as a certified AutoCAD operator, and experienced computer doodler, I was itching to get into the heavy stuff. First, however, I worked my way through the tutorial. It was easy to see how they used up over 900 pages for the manual. The tutorial starts by teaching how to use the File:Open command, and works slowly through such fascinating topics as File:New, and the use of scroll bars. Heady stuff, indeed! In Deneba's defense, this material is probably included to save the tech support staff from having to answer some of the questions about things that should have been learned from the Macintosh manuals. The five-chapter tutorial is well done, and considering Canvas' depth, it makes sense to have an organized approach, starting with the basics and moving forward from there. Most users can skip those portions learned in Macintosh grammar school, and dig in where the unfamiliar material starts. The middle portion of the manual (Chapters 6-18) is broken into sections covering use of the Canvas environment, the basic tools, the advanced tools, text, dimensioning, hatch patterns, MacrObjects, editing, design graphics, painting, the Effects menu, printing capabilities, and using color. Chapter 19 is an alphabetized reference of all the tools, menus and dialog boxes. There are also three
Appendices: a glossary, and lists of keyboard shortcuts and error codes. The first thing I noticed about Canvas, was the strange behavior of the menus when dragging the pointer down them. Some of the menu items would be copied to various places on the menu panel when the pointer passed over them. This was caused by an incompatibility with the menu font enlargement in the control panel of my E-Machines video card. Turning off the enlarged font fixed the problem. Another interesting discovery occurred while I was writing this review. I had a Canvas window open beside the active Word window, and noticed that the Canvas status line was tracking the cursor position whenever it was in the positive X and Y positions relative to the top left corner of the Canvas window. It did this for points all over the screen. Useful?, no. Strange?, yes. There were some minor flaws in the viewing and text handling, but a couple of calls to Deneba's excellent toll-free tech support resulted in the issuance of an update disk that seems to have corrected the problems I'd encountered. The original version, 3.03 was updated to 3.06. Deneba has also made this updater available on America Online, and possibly other on-line services as well. The techs I spoke with were always knowledgeable, courteous, and professional, and I never got a busy signal. I can almost recommend Canvas on this basis alone. Once I got past the tutorial, and had fiddled with a few of the many dialog boxes, I started to work. My task was to recreate a series of complex charts, some of which had multiple non-linear axis, compound data curves, and numerous text and data overlays. Right away, I found the floating menus for layer control, line weights, and other frequently used functions very helpful, saving time and mouse-strokes. The duplicate command provided plenty of control, and made it easy to accurately place repetitive objects. This degree of control is available throughout most of the program, and this is what makes Canvas a precision drawing program. Much of this control is applied through the Managers sub-menu. The Managers allow fine-tuning of the parameters for 17 of the Canvas tools and functions. Included among these are Auto Trace, Color Info, Dimensioning, Gradient fills, GridMaker, Multigon, RGB Colors, and the Smart Mouse settings. These are some of the features that set Canvas apart from the Kid Pix* of the graphics world. An example of the degree of control offered by these Managers is seen in the small but feature packed Auto Trace settings dialog box. It has one scale for setting the Tolerance ranging from Loose to Tight, and one for Corners that ranges from Round to Sharp. There is a sample trace image that reflects changes made to the settings. There is also a list of check boxes for Centerline, Corners, Filter, Fixed Ends, and Smooth. These tell Canvas what to look for when the Auto Trace feature is used. This dialog also has a pull down menu of predefined settings such as 300 dpi scan, 72 dpi line art, 300 dpi centerline and Freehand curve. The user can define and store his own settings and switch among them from this menu. The SmartMouse feature is used to constrain the pointer to user defined settings that allow easy alignment of objects, predefined angles, line lengths, tangent and parallel lines, and more. The SmartMouse Manager has a scrolling list of constraints that can be checked off, and the user can define others and add them to the list. The sensitivity distance for the constraint range and object alignment can also be adjusted. The MacrObjects are predrawn objects that can be stored as sets, and called up for use in any drawing. The user can just load the MacrObject set, then select an object name from the menu, and place it anywhere on the drawing at any size, by dragging it out with the pointer. Dimensioning with Canvas is easy, and there are fifteen types that can be applied from the Dimensions tool sub-menu. The Dimensions Manager gets into the nitty gritty of text and leader orientation, radius and diameter symbols, numeric precision, and tolerances. Using the Manager, customs scales and units can be specified. There are five supported standards for dimensioning, ANSI, DIN, BS-380, ISO, and JIS. These standards can all be modified and saved as new, user defined standards. Dimensions are not static, and can be sized to match changes in the objects they represent, with the numbers changing as the dimension is dragged. Combined with the SmartMouse object snaps, this is truly a fine way to work. The Multigon tool is for creating multi-sided closed objects. The objects can be rounded or equal sided by using a modifier key when drawing them. The objects can be created with or without spokes, or can be drawn with spokes only. It is easy create wheels and flowers using this tool, and together with the Star tool, Canvas can compete on the Kid Pix* level. After all, it would be a shame to spring for Canvas, and then have to buy a ''fun'' draw package for the kids. Canvas has the ability to print separations for sending drawings out to be reproduced in color. Halftones, color corrections, overprinting, crop marks, registration marks, color angles, separation names, and file names and dates are all included options for this process. Canvas supports the use of the Pantone color scheme and ships with four Pantone color palettes. The Preferences menu item brings up a dialog box like the old System 6 Control Panels, with a scrolling list on the left, and an area on the right that changes to reflect options available for the selected list item. There are 11 selections in the list, and they control what happens when an object is selected, dragged, or double clicked, and what kind of paint object, Bezier curve or polygon will be created. There are also controls for the type of coordinate system used, the information displayed at the bottom of the Canvas drawing window, and general controls for redraws, updates and tool selection. Preferences can be stored for a variety of configurations, and called up to restore the settings for a particular type of task. The Layers capabilities in Canvas are easy to use, and layers can be visible, invisible, grayed, or colored. Object selection can be limited to the active layer, or can be made across layers. Individual layers, or groups of layers can be selected for printing. The Slides command can be used to create a slide show from the layers in a drawing. This feature goes full screen, and can have a designated Master Layer, and a timed display interval. Canvas text can be bent to fit curves and other shapes, and can be wrapped around irregular objects. In addition, Canvas offers slanted margins, text fit within shapes, full justification, Bezier conversion of Type 1 fonts, single character font scaling, subscripts, superscripts, small caps, kerning, and fractional leading and tab support within text blocks. Also included is a spelling checker with a 100,000 word dictionary. There are a limited number of paint tools available, and Canvas can edit imported paint objects. Canvas has the ability to edit Bezier curves, blend objects, rotate, skew, distort, and stretch objects, and apply perspectives. Magnification and reduction capability is available either as a tool which is controlled by the mouse and Shift key, or by a pop-out menu that lists zooms from 32 times to 1/32nd. Canvas is System 7 savvy (don't you hate that phrase?), supporting Publish and Subscribe, Balloon Help*, 32 bit memory and AppleEvents*. Canvas stores its tools, effects, and such externally, and loads them at startup time. The ToolPicker can be used to select the items to be loaded, and can save sets of items for selection at startup time. The stock Canvas package comes with a large number of tools, and Deneba offers three additional packages of forty tools each. The Design, Imaging and Utilities ToolPacks sell for $49.95 each, or $99.95 for all three. There is a $10 shipping and handling charge per order. Third party tools are not widely available. Without taking the space to recite the entire manual, I hope I've provided a sampling of the extensive features offered in Canvas. If this is not the most fully featured drawing package in its price range, then surely it ranks among the top three (this month). For those who have an unsatisfactory drawing package like the one I described at the beginning of this review, Deneba is offering a competitive upgrade to Canvas 3.0 for $149. If your package can qualify as a ''competitor,'' I strongly suggest you look into this offer. If you are put off by the plethora of advanced features, don't be. The manual is very clear, and covers the features extensively, and the tech support is excellent. Canvas retails for $399, but street prices are around $250. For those who might like a better mix of drawing and painting capabilities, Deneba has recently released artWORKS which combines Canvas drawing tools, painting tools, image editing, and 24 bit color at a much lower price ($149). This may turn out to be an excellent mix of features, and will no doubt reflect Deneba's long experience in refining Canvas.
Canvas and artWORKS are from: Deneba Software, 3305 Northwest 74th Avenue, Miami, FL 33122, (305) 596-5644
Copyright © july, 1993 by Stephen J. Kayner