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Mental Canvas—The Radical New Drawing App You Haven’t Heard Of

Mental Canvas is an innovative and original new drawing application that put its user and viewers in the 3rd dimension. The app looks to be great for architects and those who sketch out spatial ideas. Alas, it is developed for Microsoft’s Surface devices at first.


Mental Canvas isn’t something Apple’s customers have likely heard of. Partly because the application is still in very late beta and partly because the application has been created for Microsoft’s Surface technologies, chances are this innovative app has slipped past your radar.

Unchanged Since the Renaissance

Mental Canvas is a drawing software application like no other. Developed from research at Yale University, the application enables the user to create freely, like we can do today in 2D on a notepad, but within a 3D type of drawing space. This app is different.

“Technology has revolutionized text, photography, and music, but drawing has largely remained unchanged since the Renaissance as today’s illustration tools merely simulate drawing on paper,” said Julie Dorsey, founder, and CEO at Mental Canvas and computer science professor at Yale University. “Mental Canvas reimagines the sketch and brings it into the digital age with an entirely new set of capabilities to accelerate the creative process and enhance idea sharing.”

01 - Mental Canvas is an innovative and creative new sketching application that brings in the 3rd dimension. It is developed ideally for the new Microsoft Surface with Dial but may expand to other devices.

01 – Mental Canvas is an innovative and creative new sketching application that brings in the 3rd dimension. It is developed ideally for the new Microsoft Surface with Dial but may expand to other devices. CLICK ON image to experience animation.

Mental Canvas supports sketching on what the app calls “canvases” that are situated in space. The net result is an experience where the artist can switch between drawing (sketching) and navigating spatially at the same time in a fluid way. This enables the artist to think and rethink work, advancing iteration and creativity.

Scenes can be saved in Mental Canvas and then animated or navigated. The best way to experience what Mental Canvas has to offer is to watch the video below or the animation in the image above.

Mental Canvas is a new innovative application in late beta and headed to the Microsoft Windows Surface family of devices first. It is not clear if this application will be targeted for Apple’s operating systems at this time. 

Mental Canvas is designed specifically for a range of people and professionals who sketch or draw ideas. Unlike existing 3D modeling or CAD applications, Mental Canvas has a very shallow learning curve and his highly intuitive.

“Mental Canvas pushes the boundaries of sketch, bringing an element of exploration that’s just not possible with pen and paper,” said Panos Panay, corporate vice president of devices at Microsoft. “This is a great example of hardware and software coming together to harness pen, touch and the new Surface Dial to help architects, designers and engineers bring their ideas to life in a more natural and personal way.”

Yale and Core Technology

Mental Canvas grew out of a research team at Yale University. This team was led by company founder and CEO, Professor Julie Dorsey. Prominent software engineers Dave Burke and David Pritchard are both associated with the University of British Columbia and also on the team.

With the creative freedom of a research environment and support of multiple grants from The National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, Dorsey and her team developed the product and launched the company without any additional outside funding. The company has two awarded and four pending patents.

To learn more about Mental Canvas go visit their website.


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