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Hi Ho, Hi Ho, to Visioland We Go!

Custom Shapes and Stencils

Creating Shapes
The easiest way to create a new shape is to put it together from existing shapes. You can draw in Visio but chances are that somebody else has already drawn the basic building blocks of what you need. Searching for "visio stencil" returns nearly 70'000 hits. Many are free, e.g. Jesse James Garrett's stencil for sitemaps.

Saving Shapes to a Stencil
  1. Create a new stencil by doing Menu: File > Shapes> New Stencil
  2. Make sure your shape has been grouped so it's actually one shape, not several.
  3. Drag the shape you want to save to the stencil.
  4. Right-click on the shape in the stencil pane and do Edit Master > Master Properties to give the shape a name, keywords and a description.
  5. Please actually think when you write the description. We already know how to use a shape, so don't tell us that. Tell us what you think this particular shape is intended for or something useful like that.
  6. Right-click on the name of the stencil and save it. The file name will be the name of the stencil, so make it a good one.


Each layer applies to one page only. But it's a good idea to use the same layer names throughout a document. Shapes can be associated with specific layers. If the layer that is associated with a shape is present on the page that you drag the shape to, the shape will automatically be linked to that layer.

Assigning Shapes to Layers Using Menus
  1. Select the shapes
  2. Menu: Format > Layer
  3. Tick the boxes

Assigning Shapes to Layers With Right Click
  1. Select the shapes
  2. Right-click: Format > Layer
  3. Tick the boxes
You can also place a button on the Toolbar to access the Layer dialogue. Finally, the keyboard shortcut kombination is ALT-O R

Linking A Shape to a Layer by Default
  1. Right-click the shape in the Stencils pane.
  2. Menu: Edit Master > Edit Master Shape
  3. This will give you a giant version of the shape in a separate window.
  4. Select the shape.
  5. Menu: Format > Layer or ALT-O R
  6. Assign the default layer for the shape.
  7. Hit the X to close the shape window.
  8. When asked if you want to update the shape, answer OK.
  9. Test the shape by pulling it to a new page and checking which layer it ends up in.

Manipulating Layers Using Menus
  1. Menu: View > Layer Properties
  2. Tick "Remove unreferenced layers" (ALT-U) and hit Apply to remove all layers that aren't actually used on this page
  3. Experiment with ticking and unticking boxes and hitting Apply. The Visible property is particularly useful.
I have a button on the Toolbar for opening the Layers Properties dialogue. The keyboard shortcut is ALT-V L.

Keyboard Shortcuts

  • ALT-F6: Zoom in
  • ALT-SHIFT-F6: Zoom out
  • ALT-O R: Open Layers dialogue box if you have one or more shapes selected.
  • ALT-V L: Open Layers Properties