Drawing and Drawables in Android Canvas

7 min read

In this article by Mir Nauman Tahir, the author of the book Learning Android Canvas, our goal is to learn about the following:

  • Drawing on a Canvas
  • Drawing on a View
  • Drawing on a SurfaceView
  • Drawables
  • Drawables from resource images
  • Drawables from resource XML
  • Shape Drawables

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

Android provides us with 2D drawing APIs that enable us to draw our custom drawing on the Canvas. When working with 2D drawings, we will either draw on view or directly on the surface or Canvas. Using View for our graphics, the drawing is handled by the system’s normal View hierarchy drawing process. We only define our graphics to be inserted in the View; the rest is done automatically by the system. While using the method to draw directly on the Canvas, we have to manually call the suitable drawing Canvas methods such as onDraw() or createBitmap(). This method requires more efforts and coding and is a bit more complicated, but we have everything in control such as the animation and everything else like being in control of the size and location of the drawing and the colors and the ability to move the drawing from its current location to another location through code. The implementation of the onDraw() method can be seen in the drawing on the view section and the code for createBitmap() is shown in the Drawing on a Canvas section.

We will use the drawing on the View method if we are dealing with static graphics–static graphics do not change dynamically during the execution of the application–or if we are dealing with graphics that are not resource hungry as we don’t wish to put our application performance at stake. Drawing on a View can be used for designing eye-catching simple applications with static graphics and simple functionality–simple attractive backgrounds and buttons. It’s perfectly okay to draw on View using the main UI thread as these graphics are not a threat to the overall performance of our application.

The drawing on a Canvas method should be used when working with heavy graphics that change dynamically like those in games. In this scenario, the Canvas will continuously redraw itself to keep the graphics updated. We can draw on a Canvas using the main UI thread, but when working with heavy, resource-hungry, dynamically changing graphics, the application will continuously redraw itself. It is better to use a separate thread to draw these graphics. Keeping such graphics on the main UI thread will not make them go into the non-responding mode, and after working so hard we certainly won’t like this. So this choice should be made very carefully.

Drawing on a Canvas

A Canvas is an interface, a medium that enables us to actually access the surface, which we will use to draw our graphics. The Canvas contains all the necessary drawing methods needed to draw our graphics. The actual internal mechanism of drawing on a Canvas is that, whenever anything needs to be drawn on the Canvas, it’s actually drawn on an underlying blank bitmap image. By default, this bitmap is automatically provided for us. But if we want to use a new Canvas, then we need to create a new bitmap image and then a new Canvas object while providing the already created bitmap to the constructor of the Canvas class. A sample code is explained as follows. Initially, the bitmap is drawn but not on the screen; it’s actually drawn in the background on an internal Canvas. But to bring it to the front, we need to create a new Canvas object and provide the already created bitmap to it to be painted on the screen.

Bitmap ourNewBitmap = Bitmap.CreateBitmap(100,100,Bitmap.Config.ARGB_8888); Canvas ourNewCanvas = new Canvas(ourNewBitmap);

Drawing on a View

If our application does not require heavy system resources or fast frame rates, we should use View.onDraw(). The benefit in this case is that the system will automatically give the Canvas its underlying bitmap as well. All we need is to make our drawing calls and be done with our drawings.

We will create our class by extending it from the View class and will define the onDraw() method in it. The onDraw() method is where we will define whatever we want to draw on our Canvas. The Android framework will call the onDraw() method to ask our View to draw itself.

The onDraw() method will be called by the Android framework on a need basis; for example, whenever our application wants to draw itself, this method will be called. We have to call the invalidate() method whenever we want our view to redraw itself. This means that, whenever we want our application’s view to be redrawn, we will call the invalidate() method and the Android framework will call the onDraw() method for us. Let’s say we want to draw a line, then the code would be something like this:

class DrawView extends View { Paint paint = new Paint(); public DrawView(Context context) { super(context); paint.setColor(Color.BLUE); } @Override public void onDraw(Canvas canvas) { super.onDraw(canvas); canvas.drawLine(10, 10, 90, 10, paint); } }

Inside the onDraw() method, we will use all kinds of facilities that are provided by the Canvas class such as the different drawing methods made available by the Canvas class. We can also use drawing methods from other classes as well. The Android framework will draw a bitmap on the Canvas for us once our onDraw() method is complete with all our desired functionality. If we are using the main UI thread, we will call the invalidate() method, but if we are using another thread, then we will call the postInvalidate() method.

Drawing on a SurfaceView

The View class provides a subclass SurfaceView that provides a dedicated drawing surface within the hierarchy of the View. The goal is to draw using a secondary thread so that the application won’t wait for the resources to be free and ready to redraw. The secondary thread has access to the SurfaceView object that has the ability to draw on its own Canvas with its own redraw frequency.

We will start by creating a class that will extend the SurfaceView class. We should implement an interface SurfaceHolder.Callback. This interface is important in the sense that it will provide us with the information when a surface is created, modified, or destroyed. When we have timely information about the creation, change, or destruction of a surface, we can make a better decision on when to start drawing and when to stop. The secondary thread class that will perform all the drawing on our Canvas can also be defined in the SurfaceView class.

To get information, the Surface object should be handled through SurfaceHolder and not directly. To do this, we will get the Holder by calling the getHolder() method when the SurfaceView is initialized. We will then tell the SurfaceHolder object that we want to receive all the callbacks; to do this, we will call addCallBacks(). After this, we will override all the methods inside the SurfaceView class to get our job done according to our functionality.

The next step is to draw the surface’s Canvas from inside the second thread; to do this, we will pass our SurfaceHandler object to the thread object and will get the Canvas using the lockCanvas() method. This will get the Canvas for us and will lock it for the drawing from the current thread only. We need to do this because we don’t want an open Canvas that can be drawn by another thread; if this is the situation, it will disturb all our graphics and drawings on the Canvas. When we are done with drawing our graphics on the Canvas, we will unlock the Canvas by calling the unlockCanvasAndPost() method and will pass our Canvas object. To have a successful drawing, we will need repeated redraws; so we will repeat this locking and unlocking as needed and the surface will draw the Canvas.

To have a uniform and smooth graphic animation, we need to have the previous state of the Canvas; so we will retrieve the Canvas from the SurfaceHolder object every time and the whole surface should be redrawn each time. If we don’t do so, for instance, not painting the whole surface, the drawing from the previous Canvas will persist and that will destroy the whole look of our graphic-intense application.

A sample code would be the following:

class OurGameView extends SurfaceView implements SurfaceHolder.Callback { Thread thread = null; SurfaceHolder surfaceHolder; volatile boolean running = false; public void OurGameView (Context context) { super(context); surfaceHolder = getHolder(); } public void onResumeOurGameView (){ running = true; thread = new Thread(this); thread.start(); } public void onPauseOurGameView(){ boolean retry = true; running = false; while(retry){ thread.join(); retry = false; } public void run() { while(running){ if(surfaceHolder.getSurface().isValid()){ Canvas canvas = surfaceHolder.lockCanvas(); //… actual drawing on canvas surfaceHolder.unlockCanvasAndPost(canvas); } } } }


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