ACD Systems Canvas X review

£350
Price when reviewed

Open up Canvas X and the first thing that greets you is the start-up panel. This provides access to recent documents, context-sensitive onscreen help, online forums and, more importantly, four main options: to create a standard illustration, a DTP publication, a business presentation or an animation. It’s the first indication of the program’s breadth of power, to which you can add a whole list of other capabilities such as built-in bitmap editing, direct painting, 3D extrusion, HTML and PDF output, and an impressive system of non-destructive sprite effects. It gives the impression that Canvas will tackle just about any graphical task you care to throw at it.

ACD Systems Canvas X review

However, despite these wide-ranging strengths and the ensuing benefits of integration, which at one time put Canvas on the PC Pro A List, the program has historically been too much of an all-rounder to make serious headway against the three big vector players: Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia FreeHand and CorelDRAW. Eventually, Canvas was bought from its original developer (Deneba), and its new owner (ACD Systems) rewrote Canvas 9’s drawing engine to focus on yet another area of graphics production: precision technical drawing. This, in turn, enabled two more graphical fields – geographical mapping and data visualisation – to be brought into the Canvas fold via dedicated GIS+ and Scientific Imaging add-on modules ($300 and $200 respectively).

To make the most of its all-round capabilities, ACD is determined that Canvas X should operate as a central graphical hub, and in this latest release provides the ability to import and export graphical files (and non-graphical files such as Word and Excel documents) in over 100 formats, ranging from MacPaint through to AutoCAD. With its new primarily technical audience in mind, CAD-based standards are especially important and two in particular have been enhanced. The DXF/DWF import filter now enables 3D drawings to be projected as precision 2D plans, while CGM import now supports the ATA (Aviation Transportation) standard. For CGM-based seismic data, Canvas X even offers a new Seismic Traces docker palette, which provides dedicated control well beyond any non-vocational use. Presumably such niche power was originally intended as a new add-on module, but, bizarrely, it’s ended up being incorporated into the main program.

Canvas X moves beyond traditional import filters with two new capabilities. The first is a scripting utility that enables CorelDRAW, Visio and PowerPoint files to be recreated in Canvas. It sounds interesting, but in practice boils down to copying and pasting individual objects as WMF graphics. The second is a far more impressive and universal solution that employs a PostScript-based Canvas print driver to enable any application to print pages directly to Canvas X. For the most part, the system works as intended, but ultimately neither solution is much more than a workaround, as serious editing of the results, such as changing text, is either impossible or impractical. Where both approaches could come in handy is as a way to add some graphical flair and to open up export options.

Undoubtedly the most useful of Canvas’ many output options is the ability to export directly to Acrobat PDF format, and this has been enhanced with new support for secure encryption and password protection. There’s also new support for PDF-based layers, which should be useful with Canvas X’s range of highlighter and redline Markup tools – these can be automatically added to their own markup layer. Unfortunately, although the layers did make it through to the PDF, it isn’t possible to toggle their display.

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