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All About Connectors

Connectors in Visio are those lines that connect shapes. In fact, connectors are actually shapes in Visio. They're one-dimensional shapes that are used most frequently to connect two-dimensional shapes. You can tell the difference between one- and two-dimensional shapes in Visio by the behavior of the shape when you select it. One-dimensional shapes will display endpoints, whereas two-dimensional shapes will display a selection frame with green sizing and rotation handles.

Because they're shapes themselves, connectors also have properties you can use to customize them. So far, you've seen only line connectors, but there are other types as well, such as arrows.

Connectors are fundamental to many types of Visio diagrams. You might not need them in, say, office layouts, but you do when you're creating an organization chart. Or a software flowchart. Or an electrical circuit.

For example, take a look at Figure 3.1—an organization chart. The connectors there make the relationships between people clear.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 An organization chart.

There are all kinds of ways of connecting shapes in Visio, such as these:

  • Select the Connector tool in the toolbar—This tool is in the Standard toolbar.
  • Drag a connector from the Shapes window to the drawing surface—Many types of connectors appear in stencils.
  • Click the Connect Shapes button in the toolbar—This tool is in the Action toolbar.
  • Use automatic connection points—They're those light-blue triangles that appear around shapes.

In Visio, connectors are not just simple lines. You can have dynamic connectors, which will reconnect themselves to other connection points as you move a shape in order to not make the drawing look tortuous. And there are smart connectors that change their shape or form to avoid other shapes as you adjust your drawing. You're going to see this kind of behavior in this chapter.

There are many different ways of adding connectors to a drawing. For example, you can use automatic connections. To do that, make sure that the AutoConnect tool has been selected (it appears in the toolbar with a border around it). The AutoConnect tool appears in Figure 3.1 just to the left of the Zoom box at the right end of the top toolbar.

When you use AutoConnect, Visio connects shapes for you. You can use it with the two shapes shown in Figure 3.2—just let the mouse rest on a selected shape, and the automatic connection points will appear, as light blue triangles. Roll the mouse over one of those automatic connection points, and it will darken to dark blue—and a neighboring shape will get a red rectangle around it, indicating that it's the target of the automatic connector. You can see this at work in Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 Automatic connectors.

If you click the darkened automatic connector, the connector will be drawn between the shapes, as shown in Figure 3.3.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 An automatic connection.

Creating Connection Points

That's fine as far as it goes, but sometimes shapes don't have connection points where you want them. Connection points appear in shapes as small blue ×s, and you can see them at the vertices of the stars in Figure 3.3. But what if there is no connection point where you want it? You end up with the kind of situation shown in Figure 3.4, in which the connector that should have gone to the middle of the upper edge of the square instead went to one corner of the square.

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 Connecting a star and a square.

In Visio, you can create your own connection points on a shape! Visio provides connection points at the vertices of most shapes. However, that's often not enough, so it's handy to be able to add connection points yourself.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Select a shape. This is the shape you want to add connection points to.
  2. Click the drop-down arrow in the Connector tool in the toolbar. This tool is to the left of the Text tool (showing the letter A).
  3. Select the Connection Point tool. This tool is the one that lets you create connection points.
  4. Hold down the Ctrl key and click the shape where you want a new connection point. That creates the new connection point. Impressive.

That lets you add a new connection point to a shape. Now you can change the connector shown in Figure 3.4 to the one shown in Figure 3.5, which looks a lot better.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 Using a new connection point.

Being able to add your own connection points is a powerful part of Visio, and lets you customize what's going on with your drawing. It's a simple skill, but it's a strong one.

You can even add your newly configured shape to a new stencil in Visio, using techniques you'll see later. From then on, you'll have the new shape—with the new connection point—at your disposal.

Deleting Connection Points

You can also delete connection points from a shape that you don't want to use. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Click the drop-down arrow in the Connector tool in the toolbar. This tool is to the left of the Text tool (showing the letter A).
  2. Select the Connection Point tool. This tool is the one that lets you create connection points.
  3. Click the connection point you want to remove. The connection point turns magenta.
  4. Press the Delete key. That deletes the connection point.
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