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ATPM 3.02
February 1997





Wishful Thinking

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Review: Canvas 5.0.1

by Belinda Wagner,


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Product Information:
Published by: Deneba Software
Phone: 305-596-5644
Fax: 304-273-9069
Competitive upgrade: $149
Regular street price of full version: $400

68020 or later, or PowerPC processor (PowerPC recommended)
System 7.0 or later
8MB available to Canvas (12MB or more recommended)
25MB free hard disk space for installation
256-color video display
High-Density disk drive (CD-ROM recommended)
Supports all Adobe Photoshop-compatible plug-in modules

First, I have a confession to make. I've been a Canvas user since version 1.0. I've traditionally used this gem from Deneba Software to assist in producing slides and figures for scientific presentations and manuscripts. Using versions 1.0 through 3.5.3, I would draw a box corresponding to the portion of X-ray or Polaroid film of data I wanted to include in the figure, then I would begin labeling across the top of the box. My colleagues and I enjoyed Canvas' ability to angle text, since our data was typically arrayed as a series of columns. Above each column, conditions which were varied in the experiment were graphically summarized (usually as "+" or "-") either at the top or bottom of the figure. Frequently, there were also names associated with one or a group of columns. This is where the ability to angle text was such an advantage.

In those days, Canvas was only available for Macintosh. Scientists are naturally competitive people and we are proud of our work. We like to make it look good for others. Those of us working on popular projects are often scheduled near other presenters displaying similar data from similar experiments. To stand out from the crowd, one needed to have the most dramatic slides and the most innovative, yet clear format for summarizing the experiments presented. DOS and, subsequently, Windows users' illustrations often looked quite pitiful juxtaposed in a journal or at a conference with those of a Mac-loving scientist using Canvas (unless they forked over "big bucks" to a graphic artist).

For years, I have happily constructed my "masks," consisting of a box with text and object labels (arrows are a particular favorite) around the perimeter. To make the slide or figure, I would print my Canvas document with a laser printer, carefully remove the interior of the box with an exacto knife, then layer the mask on top of the original film to frame the desired region. A Polaroid camera did the rest.

I could perform an experiment the night before a conference and have a slide made before I left for the airport. Quick turnaround, ease of use, and awesome results is what Canvas has traditionally meant to me.

Version 3.5.4 brought the ability to import TIFF files from scanned images processed with Adobe Photoshop. That eliminated the need for making "masks" and shooting Polaroids of the composite. However, as I began dealing with outside graphics shops to print out color files, I discovered weaknesses in Canvas' prowess. First, not many shops have Canvas installed, so file conversion was necessary. Converted files incorporating scanned images swelled to mythic proportions, so I learned how to upload files onto servers via ftp or attach them to e-mail (and pray) before I got my Zip drive!

Throughout its history, Canvas was a "hands-down winner" at vector graphics and stunning manipulations of small bits of text. However, when it came to text blocks that were larger than a single line, it was dismal. Even placing a paragraph in a Canvas document could be a nightmare.

Then came Canvas 5!!!

It was a shock when I installed the software and peeked at the accompanying tutorial. Normally, I avoid tutorials like the plague. However, there is a small "Getting Started" pamphlet that comes separate from the User's Guide. This itself was not surprising. Macintosh users have come to expect some sort of "quickstart" document and admittedly, the installation instructions for Windows occupy 2 full pages whereas those for MacOS are a mere half page.

As I turned to the Table of Contents, I noticed the very prominently bolded phrase, "Creating a newsletter." My curiosity was piqued. Coincidentally, I was beginning my second year as editor of a newsletter for a Professional Women's organization. The January issue needed to go out and I was feeling frustrated. I had milked ClarisWorks for everything it could provide in terms of design. I used Canvas 3.5.4 to design graphics for the masthead and some custom clip art, but because of the bulky conversion process, file sizes were huge and it took forever to print. If the graphics needed small modifications, it was a pain because I had to jump back and forth between two applications.

Eight hours after installing Canvas 5, the newsletter was completely redesigned. I used many advanced features and ventured far beyond the boundaries of the tutorial. I admit, I employed the User's Guide. Another pleasant surprise! The Guide is a truly excellent, well-written, well-organized resource! Another major improvement from previous releases.

The full range of features in Canvas is mindboggling. I consider myself an advanced user, and there's still a lot that I haven't tapped yet. So, I'll concentrate on a few highlights.

Canvas 5 retains Deneba's historical prominence in vector graphics yet extends its range to encompass the features of powerful word processing, desktop publishing, presentation, and image manipulation software in a single program. The only downside to all this power is speed. On my 68040 Performa running 7.5.3 with 20MB of RAM, it's slow. If you aren't familiar with previous versions of Canvas, learning this program from scratch may be agonizingly tedious on anything less than a PowerPC. But, if you'd rather skip the expense of buying three smaller programs and the hassle of trading bits and pieces of files among three open applications, it's worth the investment.

A feature that debuted in version 5.0 is the ability to activate floating palettes for a variety of functions: align objects, color and textures, text attributes, etc. These stay on the desktop and eliminate menu pulldowns when you are repeating similar operations on multiple groups of objects and/or text. To activate a floating palette from the toolbox, you need only "drag" it away from the toolbox window.

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Once palettes are freed from the toolbox, they can be positioned anywhere on the desktop and moved at any time. You can have as many floating palettes open as you wish. For my current projects, I typically have the typespecs and align palettes open to perform multiple operations easily from each group of functions.

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Another graphics feature that was greatly enhanced between Canvas versions 3.5.4 and 5 is the ability to deform standard shapes. For those of us without a graphics pad or precise tracking device for freeform input, this feature is a real plus. The way this is accomplished in Canvas 5 is by clicking on an object you want to edit using the pointer tool, then choosing "edit path" from the "Object" menu and "Paths" submenu as shown below.

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Steps 2 and 3 above demonstrate how editing "handles" are added to the shape and the effect of "pulling" on the handles, respectively.

What really comes in handy for anyone who wants to produce dramatic text documents is Canvas' ability to manipulate text:

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Text styles are created and saved in the "TextSpecs palette" which is activated by double-clicking on the text tool in the toolbar. This floating palette contains several submenus which control character attributes (my favorite is the ability to independently scale text horizontally and vertically), indents (including drop caps), paragraph attributes, etc.

Once you've created a paragraph, character, or a combination character/paragraph style, it can be saved via the TextSpecs palette in the "Styles" submenu. You can create document-specific styles or you can load from a stored library of styles for use among multiple documents by clicking on the arrow in the bottom left of the palette (shown below). Styles created in the current document can be saved to a library by the same procedure.

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I still don't know if version 5 has improved its file conversion capabilities to make dealing with commercial production easier, since a collaborator of mine purchased a Color Laserwriter and a Canvas 5 copy of his own. I suspect it has however, since it was a fairly well-known weakness and the "Save As" options are far more numerous in Canvas 5.

The figures included in this review were created with Snapz Pro 1.0.1 to capture the screen shot images, Canvas 5 to edit and combine multiple images, and finally, a Snapz Pro capture to save the final product as a single object to conserve file size.

Hope I "made ya look!" at Canvas 5!

[apple graphic] © 1997 Belinda Wagner, Belinda J. Wagner, Ph.D. is a molecular biologist and a faculty member of Bowman Gray School of Medicine in North Carolina. She studies how cells respond to their environment during wound healing.

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