Visual Effects — Color Schemes

Visio is a great application that gets used at about 15% capacity by most users. (It’s a testament to the functionality in Visio that the 15% still makes Visio interesting for millions of users.) I’ve seen a lot of information-packed diagrams that convey complex concepts. What I’d like to see more of is truly beautiful information-packed drawings – drawings that take advantage of the rest of Visio to add impact to what you are trying to communicate. To that end, I’m dedicating this blog and the next to some tips on how to make Visio drawings look good. Let’s take the easiest way first.


Heard of color schemes? Lots of Visio users haven’t discovered this library of color palettes because the feature is a little buried in the user interface. This feature has been in the product since Visio 5.0c (many moons ago). Open up your latest Visio diagram in Visio 2003 (if it’s not using a technical template like Software or Process Engineering) and right-click on the document itself. The first entry in the right-click menu for the document is called “Color Schemes”, which change the text, line, fill, and shadow for ALL the shapes in your diagram. The Color Scheme dialog gives you eighteen different pre-established schemes that you can apply to your document, ranging from “Sunset” (my favorite) to “Rose” (no comment). Once you apply a Color Scheme to your drawing, by default any new shape you add to the page opts into that color palette.


You can also create a new color scheme or edit an existing one – check the Help file if you’re interested in the details. Color schemes are the fastest, easiest way to apply a different look to your timeline, org chart, or process diagram. Keep in mind that color schemes don’t work on every diagram. For example, if you’re working with a diagram created from the Software category of diagram types, you won’t see the Color Scheme option on the right-click menu for the document. But if you’re using a more business-oriented diagram, go ahead and right-click on the document to see if you can make an instant visual upgrade to your drawing. I'll talk more about other visual effects you can add with a little more work.




This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights.

Comments (3)
  1. "Lots of Visio users haven’t discovered this library of color palettes because the feature is so buried in the user interface"

    Sounds like a good candidate for an Inductive User Interface, ya? See:

    Are there any plans to perhaps rework the Visio interface in such a way that it will become easier for users to find more of its rich features?

  2. Mai-lan says:

    In a word, "yes". With each release, we try to improve the user experience, and sometimes that means "streamlining" the interface. The trick is to do it in a way that doesn’t tick off your users. We have to balance out the needs of the new Visio user with the experienced Visio user who actually wants all that functionality available. That can be really hard. So before we build out our features, we spend a lot of time on real-world scenarios for new and experienced users first to make sure we can balance out their needs without having a schizoid UI.

    Thanks for your feedback,


  3. Mai-lan,

    It’s great to see someone at MS blogging about Visio! I have a love-hate relationship with the product. It seems to me that is often way too hard to do what should be something simple (the hate part) and really easy to do something that should be hard (the love part). My #1 frustration is probably due to my ignorance, so maybe you can share a tip.

    I have two objects in my drawing, and I simply want to draw a straight line between them. Although I drag my mouse as carefully as I can, the line invariably ends up with "jags" in it. Visio either "grabs" my line end and pulls it to an "auto-binding point" (whatever you really call those things), or I might later end up moving my objects just a smidgen as I refine my drawing. Either way, my line ends up with "jags".

    Is there some simple way to straighten my lines? I envision being able to point at the line, right-click, and selecting "Straighten". Visio would do whatever is necessary to straighten my line, such as moving one or the other object as necessary to make it happen, or sliding one end or the other of my line right/left as necessary to remove the jag. I really don’t care where on either object my line terminates, I just want it to be straight.

    Surely I must be missing something. If my danged lines would straighten, I’d spend way more time using the product, and spend way less time cursing the product and asking my wife (a graphics artist) to recreate my drawing with STRAIGHT lines in her non-Microsoft design tools!


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