Canvas X 2018 – A New User’s Perspective
Scott Wertel posted on June 05, 2018 | | 1464 views
The best designers and engineers in the world are useless if they can’t convey their ideas. While 3D solid modeling, BIM, and even simulation have come a long way in presenting those ideas to the average information consumer, it is rarely in a format that is easy to consume. Consumers are not going to be proficient in the native software tool and even third-party viewers can be complex to operate if the consumer wants to interrogate the data: pan, rotate, zoom, section, explode.

And there is more to sharing data than design reviews. Often, the best way to convey an idea is through a story—a preset series of images that progress the consumer to the main point the designer or engineer is trying to convey. Whether that story be a formal presentation, concept sketches (long before the details in CAD have been worked out), marketing collateral, or even an animation, CAD is not always the right tool for the job.  Enter Canvas X by Canvas GFX.

Graphic Illustrations

I’m terrible at art. Really, I am. I cannot draw something and make it look real. The best artwork I do is perspective drawings, one- and two-point perspective mainly. Give me a straight edge and a scale and I can make it look real, because I’m using real measurements. However, ask me to freehand something and not a chance.

But sketching is an integral part of my job and a key component in explaining my ideas to clients. I’m always looking for a tool that will improve my sketching in a way that makes sense to me, with more measurement accuracy and less freehand. I’ve tried Photoshop. I’ve tried GIMP. I’ve tried MS PowerPoint and Word Smart Art. I’ve tried countless others. None of these tools gives me a result I’m comfortable associating my name with. So, when I was asked to review Canvas X, I was hesitant. How am I going to adequately describe a graphic illustration tool?

Wow! Sorry, that’s probably not very helpful.  Let me try explaining it another way.  Wow!  Better yet, how about a screenshot?

Figure 1. Captain, there be numbers here. —Scotty never said this. It’s possible to enter actual values and mathematical definitions of an element, or drag a shape onto the screen and drag control points.
Figure 1. Captain, there be numbers here. —Scotty never said this. It’s possible to enter actual values and mathematical definitions of an element, or drag a shape onto the screen and drag control points.

This is a screen clip of the Cube tool. Look, there are numbers there.  I can click and drag and create a rough cube in a perspective, or I can enter actual values and it will look real.  This interface is consistent across all geometry creations tools: squares, rhomboids, lines, polygons, s-curves, pre-defined shapes, circles, ellipses, spirals, arcs, and even vanishing points. The list goes on and on. The user experience is consistent and flexible. I can enter mathematical definitions of an element and click Create or I can drag it on the screen and then edit it later, either by dragging control points or by editing the mathematical definition.

If Canvas X contains mathematical parameters of its geometry elements, why wouldn’t I just use a CAD tool? First, because I haven’t gotten to designing yet. I’m still sketching concepts and Canvas X is much quicker than CAD for that purpose. Second, it handles all types of illustration files, both vector and raster, with the ability to intermix them on the same illustration. I clicked on File-> Open and scrolled through all of the file types Canvas X can import. Too many for me to spend time trying to count.

Canvas X also has the same set of tools as competitive graphics programs with the ability to organize your illustrations in sheets and layers. New to Canvas X 2018 is the ability to create shadows and reflections from 2D objects.  I am blown away.

Figure 2. My simple cube with color fill, shadow, and reflection.
Figure 2. My simple cube with color fill, shadow, and reflection.

But if “fake” 3D objects aren’t to your liking, you can import a 3D View of your solid geometry. I’m disappointed with the options, though. While the number of 2D graphics formats is vast, Canvas X only support 3D DWG or DXF. While I don’t expect it to import every native CAD format, I would expect it to at least import IGES, STEP, and 3D PDF. Kudos if they could support JT and STL.

Figure 3. The 3D Import Options are Limited.
Figure 3. The 3D Import Options are Limited.

Publications

I mentioned marketing collateral earlier. If you create trade show flyers, magazine pages, brochures, or other printed media, then Canvas X has you covered as well. Using standard page sizes, or your own custom page size, you can layout your illustrations for whatever two-sided, bifold, trifold, or single page handouts that you need. From my short time with the program, the functionality for creating printed media is the same as creating illustrations. This includes tools for adding copy (that are available in both environments): text, linked text to objects, text along a geometric path, and form fields. Once you learn one environment, you learn them all.  I’m curious why Canvas X has separated them.

This curiosity pertains also to the Animation and Presentation environment. When I create a new Animation or Presentation, all the same tools are available to me in the same interface format. I don’t see any difference in the environments. Granted, there are some templates available to create Publications or Presentations (as well as Illustrations), but the suggested layouts are not much more than formatting ideas, in my opinion. They don’t lend themselves to creating a better publication or a better presentation. If you are going to create a presentation, stick with PowerPoint, Slides, or Prezi. Embed the illustrations created with Canvas X into those programs.

Cool and Unique Features

During my discovery of Canvas X, I came across some unique features that I think are pretty cool and I think that you may also.

Annotation Lens

I prefer calling the Annotation Lens the “Detail View tool”, or even the “Zoom Area tool”.  Click on a spot and locate the detail circle. The circle shows an enlarged detail of the area it’s pointing to. The detail area is constant, from what I can tell, but the view itself can be sized.

Figure 4. Two clicks to create a close-up view of a select area.
Figure 4. Two clicks to create a close-up view of a select area.

Canvas Assistant

The right-hand margin of the application contains several tabs. One of those tabs is the Canvas Assistant. This flyout is a context sensitive help menu. For every click or function you select, the flyout provides information regarding the available options and links for further information. As a first-time user, I found this very helpful to learn more about the program and its capabilities.

Figure 5. The Canvas Assistant tab provides in-context help for the current selection.
Figure 5. The Canvas Assistant tab provides in-context help for the current selection.

Symbol Library

The Symbol Library contains a considerable collection of preinstalled symbols, plus the ability to create and store your own. If you lack artistic creativity like I do, starting with a built-in symbol may be exactly what is needed to kick off those amazing presentations.

Figure 6. Over a dozen pre-defined categories containing hundreds of symbols and shapes.
Figure 6. Over a dozen pre-defined categories containing hundreds of symbols and shapes.

Is it Worth It?

If you are fluent in GIMP or Photoshop, is Canvas X worth the investment? I can’t answer that. But I do know that the 30-day trial is free, so you can test drive it yourself.  As an engineer who is not very good at graphic arts, this is exactly the type of illustration program that I need to really make my marketing collateral and presentations pop. No more clip art for me! The level of technical definition that goes into object and geometry creation is comfortable for me, transitioning from MCAD to graphics arts. Getting into all the different types of image filters and channels is still foreign to me, but those tools are available to the professional user.

Is Canvas X the best-in-class tool for all workflows? No. For example, while Canvas X does have Flowchart tools and a comprehensive symbol library, I would still use Visio as my go-to program. The tools in Visio are more robust. That being said, if I didn’t already have Visio as part of my Office subscription, and I had Canvas X for illustrations, I wouldn’t bother paying for Visio. Between the symbol library for Flowcharting and the Kinked Smartline Tool (same as Visio Connector), I can certainly create and edit flowcharts relatively painlessly.

For organizations, Canvas GFX provides enterprise licensing as well as single user licensing.

If I had to sum up this new user’s experience with Canvas X 2018, I would have to say “Wow!” At $599 for a perpetual license ($299 to upgrade) or $239 per user per year for a subscription, I’m seriously considering adding this to my list of productivity software tools.

Canvas GFX, Inc. has sponsored this post. They have no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Scott Wertel


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