Incorporating page design, illustration, and image editing into one document is an inherently complex task that typically involves using several different programs to create the final product. Moving vector art, text, and bitmapped images in and out of several different applications can be time-consuming and vexing because each application has its own interface.

The newly released Canvas 5 for Windows NT and Windows 95 from Deneba Software tries to solve this problem by unifying powerful illustration, page design, typography, image-editing, and digital slide-show presentation tools in one package.

Given the number of tools Canvas 5 has to juggle, the integrated interface is remarkably fluid. Interface levels are navigable with icons, floating tabbed palettes, or menus. Some keyboard commands, however, seem arbitrary, such as right-clicking the mouse instead of clicking Enter to complete an action.

You can load sets of tools selectively on startup and save them as tool sets. You can drag objects across document windows, and undo at literally a thousand levels. Canvas 5 offers full Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) support, and you can store custom views for magnifying and positioning image elements. Incremental zoom magnifications range from 3 percent to 2000 percent, a feature I wouldn't mind seeing implemented in all image-editing programs.

Page Design
The program's page design component comes with pre-existing style sheets for newsletters, brochures, and other columnar multipage documents. Formatted Master Pages that can include multiple columns, headers, text formatting, and kerning are easy to create, and you can assign two formatted Master Pages to a document to give your project a unified look.

You can view documents in double-page layout mode, as shown in Screen 1, and you can display pages in full color or in wireframe mode, to speed up display of complex pages. Pages can have dozens of image and object layers. You can name individual pages, lock pages, and assign the locks password protection.

The program has many features related to color accuracy, monitor adjustment, and printing, including the ability to determine colors outside the cyan, magenta, yellow, black (CMYK) color gamut used in most printing applications. In addition to the standard red, green, blue (RGB) color model, Canvas 5 supports the hue, saturation, and lightness (HSL) system and the PANTONE, Toyo, and TruMatch commercial color reference systems. Canvas can also generate color separations for final publication.

Layout and Illustration
Canvas 5's layout tools offer a high degree of precision dimensioning and alignment (down to 0.5µ on a 38.5' x 38.5' drawing area). You can stroke Bézier curves and lines with numerous effects, including dashes and calligraphic pens. You can easily autotrace high-contrast images into Bézier curves.

You can build objects in multiple layers and hide layers. The controls for manipulating shapes and paths and grouping and ungrouping, are all straightforward. You can join vector objects as Booleans (add, subtract, intersection) and control transparency, masking, slicing, and shading. Canvas 5 can rotate drawings and scale precisely, and the typography controls are similarly accurate.

With Canvas 5, you can turn curved vector illustrations into JPEGs and anti-aliased GIFs. The program also has limited 3D vector object extrusion and lathing capabilities, plus some other warping and fractalizing effects, but given the high power of most Canvas 5 tools, these other capabilities are not on par with the rest of the program. Although these tools can be useful for an occasional special effect, anyone looking for the depth and precision the rest of the package provides will have to look elsewhere.

Image Editing
The image editing component offers a powerful array of image adjustment and correction tools, including an array of brushes, selection tools, and filters. You can float selections, feather them, and control their opacity. In addition to providing a set of filters nearly identical to Photoshop 3.0's, the program supports the Photoshop filter extensions for third-party filter support.

Images can contain up to 24 alpha channels. Although the masking controls are not quite as capable as Photoshop's (you can copy Photoshop's channels from one document to another, and channel calculations can involve two source documents and a distinct result document), Canvas's suite of tools will take care of most page- and image-editing situations. The program supports more than 30 vector, image, and text file formats.

Presentation
The presentation component of Canvas generates slide shows you can view on a computer monitor. You can attach a Master Page to slide presentations, and you can layer individual pages of the presentation with text and images, the pacing of which the presenter can control. You have a choice of transition effects to apply to each page, and you can embed Audio and QuickTime video into the presentations.

Bonus Pack
Canvas 5 comes with two CD-ROMs loaded with thousands of images and fonts. However, finding anything on the CD-ROMs is about as easy as reading a barcode. A 5.01 upgrade featuring improved format export and kerning controls is already available from Deneba's Web site at www.deneba.com.

Strengths Outweigh Quirks
Each of Canvas 5's components is useful in its own right, but the strength of this release lies in the way you can combine the program's applications to create and edit publications. Despite a few quirks, Canvas 5 has a lot to offer.

Deneba says you can run the program under NT on a 486 with 16MB of RAM. But for the best performance, I recommend a Pentium and as much memory as you can afford. The program loaded easily and locked up only once during testing.

Canvas 5
Deneba Software * 305-596-5644
Web: www.deneba.com
Price: Lists for $599.95