3D Technical Illustration with Canvas X3 CADComposer
Michael Alba posted on December 04, 2019 |
Users can now import and manipulate native CAD files in Canvas X.
Canvas X CAD Composer now allows users to import and manipulate native 3D CAD data. (Image courtesy of Canvas GFX.)
Canvas X3 CAD Composer now allows users to import and manipulate native 3D CAD data. (Image courtesy of Canvas GFX.)

Canvas GFX has sponsored this post. 

Last year, we reviewed Canvas X 2018, a technical illustration application from software developer Canvas GFX. While we found Canvas X to be feature-packed and user friendly, we noted one big gap in the software: a limited ability to work with 3D CAD models.

Canvas GFX listened to that critique and developed a new product in the Canvas X family: Canvas X3 CADComposer. Released on December 3 (just in time for Christmas!), Canvas X3 CADComposer is an extended version of Canvas X 2020, the latest release of Canvas X. It retains all the technical illustration tools of Canvas X, but packs in the ability to import many native CAD file formats—allowing users to salvage existing 3D models for documentation.

A Canvas for CAD

The previous version of Canvas X3, Canvas X 2018, allowed users to work with some CAD data—but it was limited to DWG and DFX files only. This meant that any users wanting to bring in models from popular CAD programs such as SOLIDWORKS, Creo or NX were forced to go through a tedious conversion process. Thankfully, Canvas X3 CADComposer greatly extends the list of supported native CAD formats:

  • 3DXML (*.3dxml)
  • 3D Manufacturing (*.3mf)
  • ACIS
  • CATIA V4
  • CATIA V5
  • CATIA Assembly (*.CATProduct)
  • CATIA Part (*.CATPart)
  • COLLADA (*.dae; *.zae)
  • AutoCAD (*.dwg; *.dxf)
  • Filmbox (*.fbx)
  • IGES (*.igs; *.iges)
  • Inventor (*.ipt; *.iam)
  • JT Siemens (*.jt)
  • NX Siemens (*.prt)
  • OBJ (*.obj)
  • Parasolid
  • Pro/E/Creo (*.asm; *.prt)
  • Pro/E/Creo Assembly (*.asm)
  • Pro/E/Creo Part (*.prt)
  • Rhino (*.3dm)
  • SolidEdge (*.par; *.asm; *.psm)
  • SolidWorks
  • SolidWorks Assembly (*.sldasm)
  • SolidWorks Part (*.sldprt)
  • STEP (*.stp; *.step; *.stpZ)
  • STL (*.stl)
  • VDA-FS (*.vda)
  • XCGM (*.xcgm)

To bring one of the above file types into CADComposer, there’s a new button in the top right of the Canvas X interface called “Place 3D Model.” Clicking it opens the file explorer. After picking a CAD file, the 3D workspace opens in a new window over top the Canvas X document.

The Place 3D Model button in Canvas X CADComposer. (Image courtesy of Canvas GFX.)
The Place 3D Model button in Canvas X3 CADComposer. (Image courtesy of Canvas GFX.)

The CAD model doesn’t come in as a mere dumb solid. Canvas X3 CADComposer will import the full assembly tree, listing all the parts and subassemblies. Users can select individual parts in the model and hide, isolate or ghost them (make them barely visible). Users can set custom colors and opacities for every part, and can even click and drag parts to explode the assembly however they want.

The 3D workspace in Canvas X CADComposer. Here, a user is dragging a part of the assembly along a linear axis. Properties of the part, such as color, opacity, name and more are available to edit in the panels on the left. (Image courtesy of Canvas GFX.)
The 3D workspace in Canvas X3 CADComposer. Here, a user is dragging a part of the assembly along a linear axis. Properties of the part, such as color, opacity, name and more are available to edit in the panels on the left. (Image courtesy of Canvas GFX.)

The CAD models can be rendered in a variety of ways, including smooth, technical, wireframe and others. The camera can be set to orthographic or perspective mode. Naturally, users can pan, zoom and rotate the 3D model with standard navigation controls. One minor quibble is that Canvas X3 CADComposer does not support 3D mice (my preferred tool for CAD navigation).

A selection of render modes in Canvas X CADComposer (not pictured: smooth with outline and flat mode).
A selection of render modes in Canvas X3 CADComposer (not pictured: smooth with outline and flat mode).

Once satisfied with a view of the model, users can place it in the Canvas X document and manipulate it just like any other object (pictures, shapes, text, etc.). The model is placed in the document as a rasterized image, and users can adjust the resolution as desired. The model can also be converted to a vector object, though this forces the model into the orthographic camera and flat technical render mode. The view of the model can be readjusted in the 3D workspace by double clicking on the object (unless it’s been vectorized).

Difference between the original raster object and its vector counterpart. The zoom lens bubbles were added in Canvas X CADComposer with the zoom lens tool.
Difference between the original raster object and its vector counterpart. The zoom lens bubbles were added in Canvas X3 CADComposer with the zoom lens tool.

Since Canvas X3 CADComposer brings in the full assembly tree, it’s extremely easy to label parts in a document. Hovering over a 3D assembly with the Annotation tool will automatically create a label with the name of the part. You can also add a parts list by clicking on the CAD object and clicking the Create Table button.

Part labels and a parts list created in Canvas X CADComposer.
Part labels and a parts list created in Canvas X3 CADComposer.

All CAD models are imported directly into Canvas X files, rather than treated as an associated link. While this can create larger file sizes, it means users can share their Canvas X documents without having to send their CAD models along for the ride. For example, the document “Welcome to Canvas X3 CADComposer” contains the CAD model we’ve used throughout this article. It was originally a SOLIDWORKS assembly file (“Universal Joint - 2.SLDASM”), but we didn’t need that file to manipulate it in Canvas X3 CADComposer.

Next Steps for CADComposer

While Canvas X3 CADComposer greatly improves upon Canvas X 2018’s limited 3D capabilities, there’s still room for improvement. There’s currently no support for 3D animations, a feature available in competing software such as SOLIDWORKS Composer. Canvas GFX’s VP of Products, Simon Tipler, tells us that the company is planning to add 3D animation support in future releases. Another missing feature is the ability to create cutting planes. Again, Tipler tells us it’s coming. Finally, there’s room for performance optimizations—while smaller CAD files work seamlessly in Canvas X3 CADComposer, we found that larger models can cause considerable lag (though higher-end graphics cards should attenuate this problem).

The CAD functionality in Canvas X3 CADComposer comes by way of a partnership with Spatial, a subsidiary of CAD giant Dassault Systèmes. Spatial provides a 3D software development kit that Canvas GFX used to build the CAD tools in its new application.

Canvas X3 CADComposer is blazing a new trail for Canvas GFX, as it’s the first Canvas X3 product that will be available exclusively via subscription. It costs $699 for a 1-year subscription or $559.67/year if users commit to a 3-year subscription. In contrast, Canvas X 2020 (without the CAD tools) is $259/year or $133/year with a 3-year subscription.

Engineering.com will be conducting a full review of Canvas X3 CADComposer over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, you can try it out for yourself: Canvas GFX offers a free 14-day trial of Canvas X3 CADComposer with no limitations or restrictions.

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