Canvas delivers crisp technical drawing tools

The package can do basic desktop publishing or photo editing, but its strength lies in
technical drawing tools you sometimes don't get even in computer-aided design software.


The program comes on multiple CD-ROMs with 20,000 images, 5,000 symbols and hundreds of
pages of documentation.


It is a technical graphics publisher in the same sense that Adobe PageMaker is a text
publisher.


Many word processors can do a limited amount of desktop publishing, but even Microsoft
Word or Corel WordPerfect can't handle specialized publishing jobs.


Likewise, you can make technical drawings in Autodesk AutoCAD and even publish them,
but an illustration program does a much better job of publishing.


As a technically oriented vector graphics package, Canvas has most of the capabilities
of an office suite, except they're integrated and not just related programs sharing data.


It has sophisticated text manipulation tools, and its graphics filters, drawing and
image manipulation tools are even more powerful. Although the tool bar looks bacic,
underneath its few tool buttons lie vast numbers of functions.


The Spartan approach means infrequent users will have to keep relearning the program.
But experienced graphics workers likely will prefer the uncluttered workspace instead of
seeing all options.


The Toolbox displays only 10 tools at once. Forty more are hidden underneath. For
instance, if you click on the line-draw toolbox, you see a Color palette with Gradient,
Hatch, Symbol and Texture options hidden.


Choosing the Type toolbox presents buttons to link text or place it on a curved line.
Another text button shows two tiny arrows at the bottom corner. The double arrow indicates
more tools in a hidden Type palette where you select fonts, hyphenation, paragraph styles,
and options for spacing letters, paragraphs and words.


You can click on a toolbox button and drag it to make new toolboxes containing only
related text, paint or draw functions. Palettes can be placed anywhere and kept in full
view, collapsed to a narrow band to free up work space, rearranged from the Windows
pull-down menu, individually modified or hidden with a mouse click.


Palettes also can be separate from some of the pull-down menus. Clicking on URL Tag in
the Object menu brings up a separate palette for adding uniform resource locator tags to
documents.


Canvas has the same sort of precision as a CAD program, and some of the same tools, but
it's much easier to use. All the usual Bezier and other advanced tools are here, plus
smart tools that maintain object spacing.


There are 21 tools for bitmap editing. The 3-D support includes movable light sources,
though not a 3-D modeler. Text formatting tools and 2,000 included fonts equal those in
any word processor or low-end desktop publisher.


Whenever you start a new document, you must choose a type--Illustration, Publication or
Presentation. An Illustration document can have multiple layers but only one page, whereas
a Presentation can have multiple pages but only one layer. This reduces flexibility, but
as you know in advance what you're designing, it isn't a real drawback.


From the opening window, you choose from a number of single layer and multilayer
templates or start on a blank page. There are eight Presentation templates and eight
Publication templates.


You can see a thumbnail preview of all Canvas-formatted images, but not of other
imported formats, so the feature isn't as useful as it sounds. Scan in an image and you
can auto-trace the object outlines to make vector images.


The filters called Blur, Noise, Render, Sharpen, Stylize, Video and View each have
options. Under Stylize, for instance, you can choose Emboss, Solarize or Trace Contour.


Canvas' supported file formats include Amiga, Adobe, fax, CorelDraw, DCX, DXF,
Encapsulated PostScript, IMG, GIFF, Halo CUT, Hewlett-Packard Graphics, JPEG, Kodak
PhotoCD, PhotoShop, PaintShop, TIFF, text, WordPerfect graphics and others.


Importing or exporting non-Canvas files often sacrifices some information, but at least
you can transfer the bulk of the image contents. Dialog boxes let you decide how to
convert some features.


For instance, in exporting from Canvas to AutoCAD's .dxf, you specify the target
platform, whether to represent lines or polylines, and whether to convert circles as
circles or polylines.


Coming in the other direction from .dxf to Canvas, you specify the scale and coordinate
options. Even if you already have a competing program such as Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw
or Macromedia FreeHand Graphics Studio, Canvas's unsurpassed precision makes it a good
buy.


Although Canvas claims to support Corel Corp. file formats, in my tests, it failed to
load huntress.cdr and other CorelDraw 8 sample files. I also encountered some problems
exporting Joint Photographic Experts Group-compressed files and importing other files.


If you do mostly World Wide Web publishing, this isn't the best program for you. It's
weak in Web features. On the other hand, it's definitely optimized for technical graphics
professionals who like a clean work area.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.


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