Highlight Your Visio Diagrams with Clipart

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Sample from the free People stencilAt Visimation we often receive requests to produce compelling diagrams for work or information flows.  Of course we could simply use the stencils included with Visio, but we can do much better by adding other eye-catching graphics to provide more information in an attractive way. 

So today we’re going to discuss how to spruce up your Visio diagrams with various kinds of graphics that are easily obtainable.  We’ve also created a free Visio stencil download containing clipart icons that represent people in business and occupations such as the adjacent photographer. All of these clips are avalable from the Microsoft Clipart Library but we’ve assembled them in a stencil to make it easy for you to use them.

We also offer thousands of shapes at www.shapesource.com for free and for sale but we’re going to focus on free stuff in this article.   Here’s an example of what you can do with a combination of Visio stencils and MS Office Clipart: 

Visio diagram enhanced with clipart icons

Visio call flow diagram enhanced with MS Office clipart

Vector vs. bitmap graphic images

First, we’ll briefly review the main types of clipart you can use.  Then, we’ll explain how  to create a custom stencll like the People stencil that contains graphics you’ve collected so you can easily access and drag them into your drawings.

Vector graphics are created with an illustration or CAD program.  They consist of lines, polygons, and text with formatting for colors and fonts.  The graphic elements are defined mathematically inside the program.  For example, a line will consist of a start point and end point in x-y coordinates.  The program draws the line between those points at the specified thickness, color, and style.  A vector line will remain sharp as you zoom in and out… no “fuzziness”.

Bitmap images are created with a camera, scanner, or image edting program.  They consist of tiny pixels that look clear when the image is small or zoomed out.  However, the image will become fuzzy or “pixelated” as you enlarge it or zoom in.  The higher the resolution of the image, the less fuzzy it will be but the down side is that the file becomes quite large at higher resolution. 

The free People stencil contains bitmap shapes because that is their format in the Clipart library.  This is fine for most diagrams where you might use them since they don’t need to be expanded in size.  The Clipart library also contains many vector images in .emf format… it’s a mixed bag.

Finding Clipart

At ShapeSource, we offer both Visio vector and clipart vector versions of many of our products.  The clipart is not meant for use in Visio because we already provide those Visio stencils.  Our clipart can be inserted into other programs such as PowerPoint so that you can use the images without needing Visio.

Visio process step with icon from MS Clipart

Visio process step with icon from MS Clipart

You also have access to a huge collection of free clipart from the Microsoft Office libraries.  The easiest way to access them is to use the Insert > Picture > Clipart menu in Visio 2007.  In Visio 2010, it’s in the Insert tab, Clip Art button.  Use the search feature to find what you need either on your local system or online.  Then, click on the preview image to insert it into your drawing.

You can tell if the art is vector or bitmap simply by zooming way in close.  If it’s completely sharp, then it’s vector and you can resize at will.  If it’s fuzzy at all, be careful not to enlarge it beyond its original size.

In the adjacent example, we’ve used a standard decision shape from the Visio flow chart stencil and added two pieces of clipart from the Office library.  These are bitmap clipart but since they are small, they look fine.

When you search the Clipart library, if you don’t find what you want at first, select “clip art on Office Online”.  This will bring you to the Microsoft online library where you will find a greater selection.  For example, below is an assortment of symbols we found there that are great for flow diagrams.  We used this link to find them as well as many similar ones by searching for “button symbol” at Office Online:

Icons from MS Office Online

Sample set of clipart for use in Visio diagrams

Creating a Visio stencil with clipart

You can easily save these symbols in a Visio stencil that you can open with new drawings.  In Visio 2007, select File > Shapes > New Stencil to open a blank new stencil.  In Visio 2010, if you plan to create new stencils regularly, we suggest you run in Developer mode.  This is not at all as intimidating as it sounds!  It’s a checkbox in the Option dialog.  Once that’s enabled, a Developer tab appears in your user interface and there is a New Stencil button in the Stencils section of that tab.

Drag the clipart to the stencil to create icons.  Name them by highlighting an icon then clicking again to put the icon name onto edit mode so you can modify the text.  Finally, save the stencil into you’re My Shapes folder in My Documents (or any other location you choose) with an appropriate file name. 

Check www.shapesource.com periodically since we will continue to add free stencils from clipart


© 2011, Visimation. All rights reserved.

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