SAN FRANCISCO (01/25/2000) - Every time Deneba Systems Inc. releases a new version of Canvas, the same thing happens -- the company stuffs gobs and gobs of features into the already jam-packed program, and the user is left to sort them all out. Canvas 7.0 is no different. Deneba has made a huge number of changes in the latest version of its integrated page-layout, illustration, presentation, and Web-design package, and the company has introduced SpriteEffects, an excellent filtering technology that even Adobe Photoshop users will envy. The problem is, Canvas is trying to be so many things to so many users that it's starting to lose its focus.
Jack of All Trades
Canvas provides the same tools -- with slightly different interfaces -- for each of its many functions. For example, if you're working on an illustration -- either vector- or pixel-based-the program presents you with an interface that resembles a cross between Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator; if you're working on a desktop-publishing project, you'll get an interface that owes much to Adobe PageMaker; and for presentations, you'll see something akin to Microsoft PowerPoint. But no matter what type of document you're working on, all of Canvas's tools are available and function as they should.
Although this approach is an effective way to integrate a lot of functionality, it results in an often clumsy and bulky interface. Canvas has some good organizational features -- you can, for example, dock any dialog box on a special docking bar -- but you'll frequently find yourself digging deep into nested submenus, dialog boxes, and palettes. It will take some time for new users to learn where everything is.
SpriteEffects filters, Canvas 7's most impressive new features, let you add multiple parametric effects to images. While Photoshop lets you apply image-processing and special-effects filters to bitmapped images, Canvas lets you apply its SpriteEffects filters to both bitmapped and vector-based images.
Canvas also lets you go back at any time and remove a filter, change a filter's settings, or reorder effects.
You attach a SpriteEffects filter to an object from either the Object menu or the SpriteEffects palette. The SpriteEffects palette includes standard filters, such as blurs, noise, and color and level adjustments, as well as a few stylized filters, such as Emboss and Trace Contour.
Canvas 7.0's SpriteEffects Lens tool lets you apply parametric filter effects simultaneously to multiple objects, which can be either bitmapped or vector-based.
You can also apply SpriteEffects filters through lenses, which let you apply a filter simultaneously to multiple objects of different types. For example, if you've got a vector object, such as text, stacked atop a bitmapped picture and you want to add noise to the whole image, you can simply set a noise lens on top of the entire stack.
You create a lens from a vector outline: just draw a shape, select it, and then choose Convert To Lens from the Object menu. You can then apply a SpriteEffects filter to it, just as you would to any other object. Move the lens around, and its SpriteEffect is applied to everything underneath it.
Canvas 7's SpriteEffects technology is a great idea that's long overdue-in any program-and Deneba has done a very good job of implementing it. However, we wish the Lens tool supported feathered edges for softer effects, and gradient fills for creating fades.
As if Canvas didn't already have enough document types, Deneba has added another one: the new Animation document, for creating simple animated GIFs.
Each page of an Animation document represents a separate frame of an animation.
Although this animation feature is pretty bare-bones, you do get an onion-skinning feature and a unique Disperse command that lets you draw a number of frames on one page and then automatically move them to separate frames.
Canvas's GIF export provides full control over looping and background transparency, but the program cannot play animations -- an odd omission.
Overall, the animation tools perform passably for quick and simple animations; for serious work, you'll want a more powerful tool.
Canvas's new Web wizard provides an export dialog box similar to Adobe ImageReady's. A number of thumbnails can be displayed side by side, each with separate compression settings. Unlike ImageReady, however, Canvas does not estimate download times.
Canvas can now export any type of document as HTML. Unfortunately, this feature frequently failed during our tests, producing documents with extreme layout problems. If you want to do HTML work, you're better off picking a dedicated HTML package.
And the List Goes On
The rest of Canvas's modules have seen a number of improvements and upgrades.
Although the painting tools are mostly the same, the program's illustration tools have been augmented with new CAD-like snapping features, including tangent, parallel, and vanishing-point snaps.
The Auto Curve tool is a new type of pen tool that lets you create curves without fussing with control points and handles (3-D graphics users will recognize this tool as a natural-spline tool). With the Auto Curve tool, you simply click on certain points, to which Canvas fits a natural curve. A curve created with this tool requires many more points than a path of the same shape, but because you only have to click on points, you can usually create a path much more quickly this way than with the program's standard pen tool.
The new Reshape tool provides powerful new editing features for reshaping an existing path. You can reshape all or part of a path simply by drawing a new path or path segment. If you're used to editing paths with their control handles, it's easy to forget about this type of tool, but even experienced Canvas users should familiarize themselves with the Reshape tool.
For further editing control, Canvas 7's new Push tool lets you edit a path by pushing on the segment you want to change. The program automatically generates the necessary points and handles to create the new shape.
Canvas has many other new illustration features. The Reduce Points command simplifies complex paths by decreasing the number of control points. The Fit command converts polygons into paths, letting you create complex illustrations from simple shapes.
Finally, the new Path To Selection and Selection To Path commands let you use any vector path to select a portion of a bitmap. This is similar to using Photoshop's pen tool to make selections, but Canvas lets you use its entire vector arsenal to create a selection. Functions like these make Canvas's integrated vector-and-bitmap environment more than just a convenient way to prevent application switching.
Well, Extruuuude Me!
Canvas 5.0 introduced a QuickDraw 3D based extrusion palette for creating 3-D primitives and renderings. Version 7 greatly improves on this feature by using its own extrusion engine instead of QuickDraw 3D.
Canvas 7.0's revamped Extrude palette provides more lighting options and very basic lathing and sweeping controls, but no texture-mapping options.
As in a dedicated 3-D program, you begin an extrusion by drawing a 2-D profile using Canvas's vector tools. Canvas's Extrude palette offers three 3-D operations: Extrude, Lathe, and Sweep. Except for simple lighting controls, Canvas provides little in the way of options and variations on these basic processes. For example, there are no bevel controls for extruded objects.
In addition, the program offers no texture-mapping options, so you're basically stuck creating shiny, plastic-looking 3-D primitives. These tools are fine for creating 3-D text and very simple 3-D shapes, but for anything else, you'll need a dedicated 3-D package or plug-in.
Performance and Output
Canvas is not the speediest graphics program. Its filters are slower than their Photoshop equivalents, and very large bitmap files can noticeably hinder the performance of the entire application.
Fortunately, Deneba has fixed many of the import and export troubles we found in version 6. We imported a number of large and small files in various formats, and aside from a slowdown in performance, the program worked fine. Although we were unable to test Canvas 7 on a four-color offset print job, the output we did produce with the program was very good.
While Canvas's performance is OK for smaller jobs, high-end graphics users will probably find it too slow. But if you decide to try out Canvas on a large print job, make sure your service bureau can accept Canvas files.
Macworld's Buying Advice
A few years back, it was difficult for many Mac users to keep several RAM-hungry applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and PageMaker, open at the same time. But because today's Macs are so speedy and come with plenty of RAM, switching between open applications is no longer a problem. This, combined with the fact that most modern programs can easily exchange data, makes an integrated package like Canvas something of an anachronism.
However, Canvas has some fine drawing, painting, and page-layout tools, and its excellent new SpriteEffects features are well implemented. We'd like to see Deneba concentrate on these items and stop trying to expand the program with underpowered Web-development, 3-D, and animation tools. If you're looking for one program to provide tools for all your graphics needs, keep looking. But if you're a midrange user in need of a decent painting and illustration application, Canvas 7.0 is a fine choice.
RATING: 4.0 mice
PROS: Excellent new SpriteEffects technology; very good drawing and painting tools.
CONS: Overcrowded interface; buggy HTML features; some slow performance.
COMPANY: Deneba Systems Inc. (305/596-5644, http://www.deneba.com). List Price: