Periodically we will come across a piece of software that really intrigues one of us; in some cases it could be something game-oriented like FPS Creator Reloaded or RPG Maker VX Ace. While those two pieces are geared towards gaming we will occasionally see something that is a bit apart from gaming in general such as MAGIX Music Maker 2014 Pro. While not directly related to gaming, some applications can be tied to gaming in a roundabout way and that is the case with openCanvas 6 by PGN Inc.
I know that some folks may ask how it is that a design and illustration application can be related to gaming, especially one that works more like a canvas and brush than something like PhotoShop. Personally I find that the oil-painting style art found in most strategy titles, like Lords of the Black Sun or Endless Legend, to be stunning and openCanvas is designed to provide aspiring artists an affordable tool to create digital paintings with minimal overhead. I was recently provided the opportunity to review the latest release of openCanvas so read on to learn more about it.
Right from the get-go you can see that PGN Inc.'s openCanvas 6 is about simplicity; clean toolbars and a color scheme that is easy on the eyes helps keep openCanvas open and inviting. Maybe I am just a bit off-kilter, but the hyper small toolbars that are used throughout openCanvas are excellent; some design applications have these giant, gaudy windows that just irritate the socks off of me. With openCanvas that is certainly not the case as the primary toolbar is tiny and the entire right side of the application can be filed comfortably with 7 or 8 other toolbars. Honestly it was a joy to sit down and be able to position things just right and I think that this sort of modularity is one of the most welcome aspects of any application.
Outside of your various digital design tools like pencils, airbrushes, paintbrushes, an Calligraphy pens, you will have some basic text tools to markup your content. openCanvas is not trying to be a full image manipulation program like Photoshop, instead it is tailoring itself to canvas-based artist and while you have your basic effects, the core of the application feels very similar to how it does standing in front of an easel with a wet brush in your hands. I particularly enjoy the calligraphy pen as I am a nut for the flowing script; it is a real shame that calligraphy is not more widely taught, heck, even cursive writing is a dying art and that makes me very sad.
The real winner though, is way that the watercolors bleed together making a near-perfect replica of what oils on a canvas will; it is noticeable enough that my daughter got a kick out of how I was drawing on screen. Impressive when a piece of software (that is not a game) can make a 7 year-old look twice. With the advent of the internet and the collective "people's" imagination going wild, someone had the great idea of putting in a tool that allows you to capture the different steps as you create your masterpiece. This can then be saved as an event and then uploaded to PGN's website where you can share out a video in something akin to a speed drawing or a tutorial video. Very neat, if somewhat limited at this time.
openCanvas 6 set out to be a very clean and very easy-to-use painting application and is widely successful in that endeavor. The ability to save your events to a shareable format right from the application would be nice but I understand why it is that PGN did not include the feature; after all, they need to drive traffic towards their own services, rather than away. It would still be nice to get an MP4 out of it though.
While experts will be right at home with openCanvas 6, the ergonomic feel to the layout, ease of access to tools and filters, and the robust hotkey manager, the overall appeal of the application is definitely geared towards new artists and up-and-comers looking for an inexpensive yet highly polished application to help with creating concept art, fan art, or for other artistic needs (like how-to videos). Out of all of the different art software out there I enjoyed using openCanvas as much as other more well-known tools and feel that at the low cost, it should be in any artist's stable of tools.
Review by Robert