Hit the Canvas running
Canvas gets you up and working quite quickly. Installation flies by, and a few hours with its well-designed tutorials can teach even first-timers basic concepts and common tools. A consistent, easy-to-learn interface lets you double-click to edit any type of vector, paint, or text object. Canvas combines advanced drawing functions, such as the Bezier curve tool, with easier alternatives such as Auto Curve and EasyShapes. To help you organize all of these tools, Canvas stores its diverse array in 26 palettes that you can dock, drag and drop, expand, and contract.
Jack-of-all-trades, master of none
Although Canvas 8.0 still can't match the functionality of dedicated drawing, image-editing, presentation, diagramming, or page-layout programs, this version comes closer than ever. Canvas 8.0 now lets you undo actions in any sequence and provides copious calligraphic drawing tools. Canvas's Ink Manager lets you color objects with patterns (such as gridlines) or textures (such as those for 3D objects) and vector objects (such as rectangles), similar to the way Windows lets you define tiled wallpaper.
In addition, Canvas's basic CAD-like technical illustrations provide the basic tools that mechanical engineers and architects need to create designs. Canvas also sports a few advanced features that let you enhance drawings with text imported from databases, desktop publishers, and other third-party applications. We're also impressed with Canvas's Web and presentation features, with which you can produce intelligent flowcharts, self-executing slide shows, and specialized Web graphics such as rollover buttons and GIF animation. Cooler still, the SpriteEffects feature lets you apply layers of bitmap and vector effects to objects, edit them, and save them to reuse later. If you work in a multiplatform environment, you'll appreciate how Canvas's sophisticated PDF-export capabilities let you produce Mac and Windows Acrobat documents that contain embedded fonts, URLs, and page transitions.
Still can't beat the big guys
Perhaps because of this abundance of tools, we were disappointed that Canvas didn't provide pop-up Tool Tips for all of its tool buttons--a serious drawback in an application packed with hundreds of functions. In addition, its brushes aren't nearly as sensitive or flexible as those in packages such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel Photo-Paint. The program also lacks many key features that high-end applications supply, such as natural-media drawing tools and effective viewport management, which allows technical illustrators to work with several views of their drawings simultaneously. Still, Canvas's all-in-one approach can save you loads of cash. Rather than purchase Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign (each at $400 to $700), you can get many of the same functions and features in Canvas for only $399.
The big picture
Although Canvas is generally easy to use, you may need help with some of its advanced functions. In addition to fax and e-mail tech support, online knowledge bases, forums, newsletters, and updates, Deneba maintains a Napster-like peer-to-peer network where users can exchange scripts, macros, and graphics. But the company provides only 90 days of free phone support (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, via a toll call) and charges a hefty $30 per incident thereafter. We found Deneba's tech-support reps knowledgeable and courteous but firm about answering calls from registered users only.
Nonetheless, we know of no other software offering that seamlessly blends so many types of graphics functions. If you don't need the above-and-beyond functionality of CorelDraw or Illustrator, give Canvas a look.