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Working with Basic Diagrams in Microsoft Visio 2013

This chapter looks at templates and the drawing window in detail, providing a foundation to see how the many other features of Visio can be used later in your diagrams.
This chapter is from the book

Visio is all about making great visuals, and you will spend a lot of time focused on the drawings themselves. This chapter provides a good point to step back and see all the other features of Visio that will help you later as you work on those drawings. Consider how choosing the right canvas and frame can make a great work of art look awesome.

Templates, file formats, pages, backgrounds, and your work area are all fundamental to having the right canvas and frame for the drawings you create. We look at templates and the drawing window in detail in this chapter. Chapter 4, “Taking Control of Your Diagrams,” considers how pages and backgrounds further accentuate your work.

Making Diagrams

I enjoy building cabinets from scratch. Despite how satisfying the final product can be, finding the right wood and materials can be time consuming, and the project can also take much longer than expected (sorry, dear). For that reason I have on occasion been quite happy with purchasing a cabinet from IKEA and spending a fraction of the time assembling a very nice-looking cabinet.

Templates serve a similar purpose. No one questions your imagination and artistic abilities, and you certainly can create drawings from scratch in Visio if that is your preference. You will quickly appreciate the many advantages of using templates when you see how they save you time.

What Is a Template?

We’ve thrown this term around quite bit, but what is a template? Templates refer to the overall framework that determines appearance, purpose, and even the tools that are used to make your diagram. They include the sets of shapes and stencils present in the Shape panel; the size and scale of the page you work on; the paper size for printing; settings related to font, color, and many others that dictate the default behavior of shapes and connectors in your diagram. You might even see additional Ribbon tools unique to that template, as in the case of an Organization Chart template.

Find the Right Template

We used a Basic Flowchart template in Chapter 1, “Getting to Know Visio 2013,” and you no doubt were tempted to check out some of the other templates in the Template Gallery (see Figure 3.1). Visio 2013 Standard includes many predefined templates, and Professional has even more. The included templates have a very modern look with shapes and content that have been selected to reflect the times we live in.


FIGURE 3.1. Right away, you may recognize a few interesting-looking choices in the Template Gallery.

When you choose to start a new Visio diagram, you are presented with featured templates by default. You can refine the choices by using categories, which presents eight groups of templates as shown in Figure 3.2 (Business, Engineering, Flowchart, General, Maps and Floor Plans, Network, Schedule, and Software and Database).


FIGURE 3.2. There are eight categories of templates.

In addition you can search for online templates. We’ll come back to this feature later in this chapter.

Take a look at the purpose of these categories and what sets them apart from each other.

  • Business templates include Organization Charts, Marketing, and Charts and Graphs. You find tools for analyzing processes such as Cause and Effect or Fault Tree. Many people have learned to use mind mapping or brainstorming diagrams.
  • Engineering offers several templates, including Basic Electrical and Part and Assembly Drawing (see Figure 3.3).
    FIGURE 3.3

    FIGURE 3.3. Looking at a category of templates provides an array of choices, as these engineering templates illustrate.

  • Flowchart templates include the Basic Flowchart, BPMN Diagram, and Workflow Diagrams.
  • General includes Basic Diagram and Block Diagrams. This is a good area to start with if the diagram only needs very basic shapes and stencils.
  • Maps and Floor Plans include many types of templates. You can create 2D or 3D map graphics for advertising, floor plans and layouts, detailed HVAC, ceiling grids, and site plans.
  • Network templates include ways to represent the physical network, rack diagrams, and more conceptual diagrams to visualize Active Directory or LDAP Directories.
  • Schedule templates provide tools for calendars, Gantt charts, and timelines.
  • Software and Database has many templates, such as Data Flow, Database Notation, Program Structure, and Web Site Map.

When you select a specific template, a small window appears (see Figure 3.4) with a few details related to the purpose of the template and its origin. You can choose to use Metric or U.S. units of measurement and then select Create. You can also scroll to the left or right, clicking arrows to browse other templates.


FIGURE 3.4. Selecting a template provides you with an explanation of how you would use this template.

To learn how to create your own templates in Visio, see page 252.

Working Without a Template

You can start with a blank drawing if you decide not to use the templates for the sake of a quick diagram. You simply choose Blank Drawing from the selection of templates featured when you first open Visio.

If you have been working in Visio and want to create a new drawing, follow these steps:

  1. Select the File tab to open the Backstage area.
  2. Select New from the vertical menu to the left. You see the list of featured templates to the right.
  3. Select Blank Drawing and Create on the pop-up window that appears. Blank drawings open with no shapes, stencils, or any other configuration settings (see Figure 3.5). You can still work right away, selecting shapes and such from the Home tab and the Tools menu.
    FIGURE 3.5

    FIGURE 3.5. Starting a drawing from scratch using a blank drawing.

Clone Your Drawing

When you have invested blood, sweat, and tears into a diagram, you might not want someone else to tamper with it. Imagine that you need to make an updated version of an organization chart after a promotion has occurred in your company. Maybe you want to present a couple of similar variations of a diagram in a proposal with your customer. Rather than grabbing the original and modifying it, it might be wiser to clone the original and modify the copy. That way, you always have an intact original to refer back to.

Use a Recent Drawing

If you need to tweak a diagram or present variations of the same diagram, a nice feature is the capability to easily create a copy of an existing drawing from the Recent Drawings list in Visio.

  1. Open Visio and look for the list labeled Recent off to the left.
  2. Right-click a file and select Open a copy as shown in Figure 3.6. (The link at the bottom of Recent files labeled Open Other Drawings will take you to the Recent Drawing list discussed in the next set of steps.)
    FIGURE 3.6

    FIGURE 3.6. Use Open a Copy to protect your original diagram from accidents.

  3. Notice a copy has opened with a name like Drawing1. Any alterations to this drawing will have no effect on the original; they are completely separate.
  4. To save this copy, Select File and Save As to assign a unique name and location.

If the drawing is not listed in the Recent Drawing list, open it first so you have the option to right-click as described.

There is another way to get to this list of recent drawings:

  1. Select the File tab and then select Open.
  2. As shown in Figure 3.7, helpful thumbnails display when you view the list in this way.
    FIGURE 3.7

    FIGURE 3.7. The Recent Drawings list can also display thumbnails of your diagrams.

  3. Right-click a drawing and select Open a copy.

If you anticipate using a drawing as a base for future copies or just want to keep it handy, you can also pin the drawing to the Recent Drawing list. As you hover your mouse over the document in the Recent list, you see a pushpin to the right. As shown in Figure 3.6, when you click the pin you see the document pinned to the top of this list until you unpin it.

Find Online Templates and Samples

As mentioned earlier, when you look at the Template Gallery you see at the top of the page a field that allows you to search for templates from office.com. In addition, you can search other websites and then download templates and samples to use as a starting point for your own diagrams. Try to download from trusted sources to avoid unexpected surprises.

To find recommendations for online templates and samples, see page 311.

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