Sure you can import bitmaps and images for use as Visio shapes. But imports are always rectangular, and they can have unappealing or distracting backgrounds that you’d rather not look at. While Visio doesn’t have a masking capability or an irregular-cropping feature, there is a technique that will allow you to get the same effect!
A recent post to the microsoft.public.visio newsgroup asked about the possibility of irregularly cropping images in Visio. It’s not hard to see why we’d want to do this. Here, we’ve imported an image of Earth into Visio, but are saddled with the black background, which not only clashes with the page color, but makes overlapping shapes look poor. Wouldn’t it be great to snip away the surrounding space?
John Goldsmith, of visualSignals answered the post by proposing a very creative solution that utilizes Visio’s Custom Patterns feature. Now, we’ve done this ourselves many times before, but it never really dawned on us that this was the Irregular Cropping Feature in disguise! Thanks to John for switching on the light bulb!
The solution is quite simple, actually. You create a new Visio custom pattern, and paste your image into it. Then you create any shape on the page — say a circle or a free-form curve, and apply the custom pattern to the shape.
If you are comfortable with custom patterns, then you’ve probably stopped reading already. For those that aren’t, read-on!
The first step is to create a custom fill pattern:
- Show the Drawing Explorer window via View > Drawing Explorer
- Right click the Fill Patterns tree node
- Select New Pattern from the context menu
You’ll be presented with the New Pattern dialog
- Enter a name for your pattern, say “My Image”
- Check the Fill Pattern radio button
- Select the Stretch behavior, which is the right-most button:
Next, we need to edit the custom pattern by placing the image inside the pattern container:
- Double-click the My Image tree-node under the Fill Patterns tree
A window with a blank Visio page will appear
- Paste an image that you have copied from another source into the window, or import an image using Insert > Picture > From File…
- Close the window and accept the changes
To apply the pattern, simply create a shape, then choose Format > Fill from the main menu. Custom patterns will appear at the bottom of the Pattern drop-down list. In this case, we’d scroll down to the bottom and select My Image.
Below are a few examples of some of the neat things you can do, once you’ve got this functionality in your toolbox!
You can create a pie shape, like the one above by drawing a circle, then drawing an L-shape with the Line Tool. Select both shapes, then choose Shape > Operations > Fragment to cut the L out of the circle.
You’ll notice, now, that the pie is not as wide as it is tall, since we’ve removed a chunk. This will mess up how the Earth-image distributes itself inside the outline. We can rectify this by adding a dummy line to the wedge, so that the shape is again as wide as it is tall.
Just draw a line segment to the right, as shown below, then select both shapes and combine them using Shape > Operations > Combine. After we apply the image pattern to the shape, we can apply a No Line line style, so that the line segment doesn’t show.
Now that we don’t have that annoying rectangular shape, we can effectively overlap the image-shapes, as shown here:
For more information about creating Custom Patterns in Visio, see the article: Custom Patterns in the on-line version of Developing Microsoft Visio Solutions on MSDN.
Thanks again to John Goldsmith for inspiring us to publish this article. Check out visualSignals’ web site if you are interested in custom-built, Visio-based visual reporting systems for your business!