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Chapter 4. Adding Text to Shapes and Dia... > Using Visio Shapes to Display Text

Using Visio Shapes to Display Text

When you want to call attention to information in a diagram, you can use one of the many predesigned shapes for formatting notes, titles, and file information. Visio includes numerous callout shapes, which are lines with a text box that you can use to type notes. If you’re working in a diagram that uses custom property fields to store information, you can use the custom callout shape to display property values. In addition, title and title block shapes help you display file information in your diagrams.

This section helps you locate some of the available shapes that you might not know about.

In Visio 2003 you can insert Shape Screen tips that explain the function of any shape, or just help those viewing your work. To do so, select a shape and then click Insert, Shape Screen Tip. Type your tip into the Shape Screen Tip window and click OK to close the window. Now, whenever you hold your cursor over the shape, it will display the Shape Screen tip.

Annotating Diagrams with Callout Shapes

If you like to draw arrows on a diagram to call attention to important information, you can save time by using a callout shape. Callouts typically look like a line to which a text box is attached, but Visio includes many styles, as Figure 4-24 shows. You type your notes or exclamations in the box and then point the line in the appropriate direction. Some callouts can even be glued to shapes so that they stay in place, which is handy when you’re still working on the layout of a diagram.

Figure 4-24. When you want to call attention to something in a diagram, use a callout shape.

A charming idiosyncrasy of Visio is that it includes a multitude of different shapes all with the name Callout. That makes it a little tough to use the Find Shapes command to search for a particular callout shape. However, the following list helps you locate many interesting callout and annotation shapes. And remember, it doesn’t matter which stencil you took a shape from or what it’s called. You might be laying out your house plan, but you can still use shapes from the Charts And Graphs solution. If the shape looks right, go ahead and use it.

Inside Out: Sending callouts to other Office files

You can drag callout shapes directly into other Microsoft Office files to annotate your documents with flair. Just tile your program windows so you can see both the stencils and the target document, and then drag and drop. The shapes are added to Office documents as embedded objects.

You’ll find the biggest variety of predesigned callout shapes on the following stencils:

  • Callouts stencil Use any of the dozens of callouts, starbursts, bracketed notes, and other great shapes to add text. To open this stencil, click the drop-down list arrow for the Open Stencil button on the Standard toolbar, and then choose Visio Extras, Callouts.

  • Charting Shapes stencil Use the Word Balloon, Callout, or Annotation shape to make notes on any diagram. To open this stencil, click the drop-down list arrow for the Open Stencil button on the Standard toolbar, and then choose Charts and Graphs, Charting Shapes.

  • Landmark Shapes stencil Intended for directional maps, this stencil contains a simple callout shape as well as a Direction and North symbol to keep readers oriented when viewing your diagram. To open this stencil, click the drop-down list arrow for the Open Stencil button on the Standard toolbar, and then choose Map, Landmark Shapes.

Visio Professional also includes a legacy stencil from days of yore, the Annotations stencil, which you can open from the Visio Extras folder. It contains callout and reference shapes used in technical drawings. However, if you open one of the building plans or engineering diagram types, the template probably opens a stencil with technical annotation shapes.

In general, to add a callout shape to a diagram, follow these steps:

Drag the callout shape you want to use from the stencil onto the drawing page near the shape you want to annotate.

With the callout shape selected, type the text you want.

If the callout isn’t oriented in the direction you want, select it, and then choose Shape, Rotate Or Flip, Flip Horizontal.

To point the callout at another shape, drag the callout’s endpoint (the selection handle with a +).

To glue the connector to a shape, drag the endpoint to a connection point on the shape.

When the handle turns red, it’s glued to the shape.


You won’t be able to glue a callout to a shape unless glue is enabled in your diagram. To check, choose Tools, Snap & Glue. Under Currently Active, make sure Glue is selected.

You can format callouts as you would any other shape. To change the color of the callout’s line, select the shape, and then click the Line Color button on the Formatting toolbar and choose a color.

For details about gluing shapes together, see “Controlling Connections with Glue,” page 80.

Displaying Values in a Custom Callout

If you’re working in a diagram that stores information with shapes in the form of custom properties, you can use custom callouts to automatically annotate shapes with property information. You might not even be aware that your diagram does include custom properties. Many shapes feature built-in properties. For example, flowchart shapes include custom properties for cost, duration, and resources; network equipment shapes and furniture include custom properties for manufacturer and part number or model name.

When you use a custom callout shape, you can display the value of a custom property field as the text on the callout. If you haven’t been adding data to the custom properties, your fields are empty and there’s nothing to display. But in diagrams that include this data, the custom callout shapes provide a quick and convenient way to display it, as Figure 4-25 shows.

Figure 4-25. When you attach a custom callout shape to another shape that includes custom properties, you can display the properties, such as Department and Asset Number, in the callout.


To see whether your shapes already include property fields, choose View, Custom Properties Window to display the Custom Properties window.

Visio includes a couple of different styles for custom callout shapes, but they all work the same way. The callout shape includes a control handle that you drag to attach to another shape called the target shape. Visio then displays a list of the shape’s properties, and you can choose the ones you want to display. You can specify whether you want both the property name and its value to appear in the callout and the order in which the properties are displayed. Visio draws a line automatically between the callout and the target shape, but you can choose not to display the line. The callout will still be associated with the designated target.

To display custom property information in a custom callout shape, follow these steps:

If the Callouts stencil is not already open, click the drop-down list arrow for the Open Stencil button on the Standard toolbar, and then choose Visio Extras, Callouts.

Visio adds the Callouts stencil to the drawing window.

Scroll down in the Callouts stencil until you see the Custom Callout shapes, and drag the Custom Callout shape you want onto the drawing page.

Drag the yellow control handle on the callout shape to another shape in the diagram that contains custom properties.

When you release the mouse, the Configure Callout dialog box appears.

In the Shape Custom Properties list, select the properties you want to display.

Visio lists only the properties for the target shape. If no properties have been defined for the shape, nothing appears in the Shape Custom Properties list.

To change the order in which the properties appear in the callout, click the Move Up or Move Down buttons.

If you have selected more than one property, choose an option in the Separator box to indicate how you want Visio to separate each property in the callout.

For example, click <Return> to place each property on a separate line.

If you don’t want to include the property name as well as its value in the callout, clear the Show Property Name check box.

If you leave this check box selected, Visio displays the property and its value; for example, Serial Number: 10-320.

If you want the callout to stay anchored when you move the target shape, clear the Move Callout With Shape check box.

If you move the target shape, the callout line stretches, but the text box stays anchored. If you select this check box, Visio moves the entire callout shape when you drag the target shape.

Click OK to add the properties to the callout shape.

To change the appearance of the callout after you’ve configured it, you can do the following:

  • To change any of the callout settings, right-click the callout shape, and then click Configure Callout.

  • If you don’t want a line connecting the callout text to the target shape to appear, right-click the callout, and then clear the Show Leader option.

Adding a Title Block to a Diagram

Visio includes a number of shapes for adding titles and file information to a diagram. Title blocks are the area traditionally used to specify important information on technical drawings, including blueprints, schematics, and mechanical drawings. The Borders And Titles stencil includes fun and informal title block shapes for identifying a diagram, its author, creation date, and so on. In addition, Visio 2003 Professional includes several styles of formal title block shapes that conform to appropriate standards for different paper sizes. Figure 4-26 shows title block shapes and both informal and technical title blocks created with Visio shapes.

Figure 4-26. Visio includes an assortment of title blocks that you can use to provide identifying information in a diagram or technical drawing.

Many Visio templates open a stencil that contains appropriate text and title shapes. However, when you start a drawing from scratch, you need to open the stencils you want. Here are some places to look for preformatted title blocks:

  • Borders And Titles stencil This stencil contains more than 30 styles of border and title shapes, some of which display today’s date automatically. To open this stencil, click the Shapes button on the Standard toolbar, and then choose Visio Extras, Borders And Titles.

  • Title Blocks stencil (Visio Professional only) This stencil includes standard-sized title blocks as well as shapes that represent individual blocks (date, drawn by, description, and more). To open this stencil in Visio Professional, click the Shapes button on the Standard toolbar, and then choose Visio Extras, Title Blocks.

The ready-made title block shapes are actually groups. When you click a title block, the entire group is selected; then, you can click an individual shape to subselect it. To add your information, subselect a shape in the title block, and then type.

Most of the title blocks from the Borders And Titles stencil are designed so that if you just click and type, the text Title is replaced by your typing. However, when you use the title blocks from the Title Blocks stencil, it’s better to subselect the individual block you want to type in.

Some title blocks include fields as placeholders for time, date, or file information, as Figure 4-27 shows. If you drag a title block onto the page and it displays today’s date, then you know the shape includes a field. You want to take care not to overwrite the field when you add text, unless you intend to remove it. You can insert another field if you like or edit the field’s format so that it displays the information differently.

Figure 4-27. The Title Block Elegant shape on the Borders And Titles stencil includes a field that displays the date in long form.

For details, see “Creating Text Fields to Display Information,” page 141.


On the Borders And Titles stencil, some title blocks are smarter than others. For example, when you type a long title in the Title Block Contemp. shape, the shape is resized to accommodate all of your text. If you type a long title in the Title Block Jagged shape, the text can extend beyond the shape’s borders. You have to stretch the shape manually to fit your title (or choose a smaller font size).

Tips for Formatting Title Blocks

This section applies primarily to the shapes on the Borders And Titles stencil, which are designed to add winsome flair to routine office diagrams. But perhaps you’d like that Title Block Retro shape a little better if the swooshes were green, or maybe Title Block Jagged would be perfect if only it didn’t have the stripes. Or maybe you resized the title block and got strange results. It’s easier to format the title block shapes than to resize them. Because the title blocks are groups, they consist of multiple shapes, some of which can be typed in, formatted, sized, and deleted, and some of which cannot.

To format a shape that’s part of a group, you must subselect the shape. If you use the Pointer tool, you click once to select the group and then click a second time to subselect a shape in the group. Then you can use any of the formatting tools to change line, fill, and font color and other attributes.

Sometimes it’s easiest to work with groups in the group window. This is a separate window that displays the shapes as if they were not grouped, as Figure 4-28 shows. When you click a shape in the group window, the shape is selected; you don’t have to subselect it (unless the group includes a group, which sometimes happens). To open a group in the group window, select the group, and then choose Edit, Open <group> where <group> is the shape’s name (at the bottom of the Edit menu). For example, the command name for the title block shown in Figure 4-28 is Open Title Block Small.

Figure 4-28. When you select a group and then choose Edit, Open, the group appears in a new window so that you can more easily work with individual shapes in the group.


You may name a group. Select the group, and then click Format, Special. Type in the name of the group and click OK.

Many of the individual shapes that make up a title block are locked. When you subselect the shape, padlock handles appear. Usually the shape has been locked to prevent you from resizing it, because the group contains SmartShape formulas that automatically control the size of the title block, and stretching a shape would interfere with the formulas. However, some shapes are also locked against deletion, but if you really want to delete a shape from a title block, you should be able to—but be aware that the group behavior might change as a result. If that happens, and you are unhappy with the consequences, you can simply drag a fresh title block from the stencil.

To see what kind of protection locks a shape has, subselect the shape, and then choose Format, Protection. The selected check boxes in the Protection dialog box indicate what is protected, as shown in Figure 4-29. If you clear a check box, you remove that lock. For example, you can clear the Deletion box so that you can delete a shape (such as the striped background on Title Block Jagged). If the shape has other locks, you’ll still see the padlock handles even after you clear one of the locks.

Figure 4-29. Padlock handles appear around a subselected shape in a group when a protection has been set for the shape. Here, the shape is protected against changing its width and height and protected from deletion.

Troubleshooting: A title block shape resizes unevenly when stretched

If you try to resize a title block and encounter obstacles—part of the title block resizes and part does not, or it doesn’t all resize the same amount—you have encountered a side effect of width-height protection locks. Some of the title block shapes are rather inflexible and work best only at their original size with text no longer than the word Title. That seems like bad behavior for a SmartShape symbol, but you can work around it if you really want to use a particular shape. You can try unlocking all the shapes in the group so that they resize the way you want. Or you can ungroup the title block (Shape, Grouping, Ungroup) and reassemble it as you want. Visio warns you that the action will sever the object’s link to its master. Click OK anyway. You can always drag another master shape onto the page if you want to start over with the original.

Creating a Custom Title Block for a Technical Drawing

You can assemble a customized title block for technical drawings using the shapes on the Title Blocks stencil, which is included only with Visio Professional. Title blocks usually appear in the same form in a variety of drawings. If you need a title block to conform to a particular standard, you can piece together a suitable title block from the shapes on this stencil.

A variety of block shapes include fields that display file and system information, such as file name, date, and page number. Visio uses the file and page properties to display this information in the field. You can use the frame shape to set up the border of the title block and then insert the block and other shapes as required. When you’re done, you can group the shape (Shape, Grouping, Group) to make it easier to move and work with the title block.

In a technical drawing, or any diagram where you want the same title to appear on every page, you can drag a title block shape onto a background page. As long as your foreground pages are assigned to display the background, the title block will appear on every page. Another advantage of using a background page is that it frees you to change page settings, such as drawing scale, on the foreground page.

Saving a Customized Title Block

You can save a customized title block as a new master shape on a stencil, so that you can reuse it in other drawings.

Follow these steps to save a customized title block:

Open the stencil in which you want to save the title block. Do one of the following:

  • To open an existing stencil, click the Shapes button on the Standard toolbar, and then locate and select the stencil you want.

  • To create a new stencil, choose File, Shapes, New Stencil or click the Shapes button on the Standard toolbar and select New Stencil.

Drag the title block (or a copy) from the drawing page into the stencil’s window.

If you’re dragging into an existing stencil open as read-only, Visio asks whether you want to edit the stencil to complete the operation. Click Yes.

Visio creates a new master shape and an icon with a default name for the title block.

Right-click the new master shape, and then select Master Properties to enter a name and other options for the master. Click OK.

For details about editing masters, see “Editing Masters,” page 621.


Add a title block to a template

You can also create a template that includes the title block in the correct position, so that every time you start a drawing, the information you want is already there. For example, in a technical drawing, or any diagram where you want the same title to appear on every page, you can place the title block on a background page. Then use the Save As command to save the drawing as a template (.vst) file.

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