• Price When Reviewed: $399.95

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For a one-stop, out-of-the-box graphic studio, Deneba Canvas surely holds the crown. It delivers a true, integrated mix of vector, bitmap, layout, and Web tools that let designers switch between vector and bitmap modes with ease. And while there are other graphics suites on the market – such as CorelDraw – none delivers the complete solution that Canvas offers, combined neatly in a single, creative wrapper. By utilizing both vector and bitmap tools on the same canvas, the application lets designers deploy both art types seamlessly within a single workspace. The previous version, Canvas 7, offered a range of performance tweaks, and its superb SpriteLayer and SpriteEffects technology allowed designers to use layered effects tools with equal gusto on both vector and bitmap objects and layers. The only irritation was that the interface proved a little cumbersome. Fans will be relieved with the upgrade, as Deneba has taken the best part of a year to overhaul the interface, rev the graphics engine (some tools, such as the Gaussian Blur, are now ten times faster), and bolt on hundreds of new features. And while none of them are killer, all are geared to making Canvas 8 a joy to use and provide instant access to all its features. New interface enhancements include one-click panel docking, instant drawing tool selection with a single hot key, context-sensitive menus, and a favourites palette. It might not sound much, but the auto docking button should win a prize for most timesaving feature, and the enhancements, when taken together, mean you’ll be motoring around the application in no time. Art tools, too, have been updated. Pretty much anything can be painted with tools such as the airbrush – including textures, vector objects, and gradients. New effects such as oils, stained glass, lens flare, and bevel bring it in line with other art tools – although its Sprite technology that lets you apply the effects to both vector and bitmap objects gives it the edge. A nod to the Web is included, with full support for the now de facto Macromedia Flash format, while an improved PDF export filter offers most of the features Adobe Distiller does, including a full compression range, direct embedding of fonts, hypertext links, URLs, and even PDF transition effects. Peer-to-peer artwork Perhaps the most groundbreaking addition is a kind of Napster for art. Dubbed DenebaShare, it lets users share work between machines anywhere in the world using peer-to-peer technology. Files can be registered with a central Deneba server and, if you make them public, anyone can share that file by searching through the server. Better yet, you can make your work private, only accessible to colleagues via a password, leading to a smart, simple way to collaborate on a project. There really are too many features to mention, and all are great. Features such as a sequence recorder to save then apply complex actions, and a fantastic scripting engine that lets you control Canvas 8 through any scripting language see it stand head-&-shoulders above the competition. After the lacklustre update to Macromedia FreeHand 10, Canvas 8 is all the more impressive in its innovation, attention to detail, and genuine passion in making workflow better. This is no cynical update, but a great application that is defining a genre.