Visio has the tools to draw circular-arrays of objects, but learning to do it takes time. There are no direct “arrange stuff in circles” functions. You have to cleverly use other functionality to get the job done.
To make things easier for you and me, I invented the Radial Elements Tool solves some of these problems. With this tool, you can create circular arrays of customizable tick marks in seconds!
The easiest way to understand this shape is to watch the video. It has some non-conventional features, which might be confusing at first sight. But if you enjoy reading, a full explanation follows…
A Shape With Design Mode, Cool!
When you first behold the the Radial Elements Tool shape, you’ll notice the useful-looking right side, then you’ll wonder at the left side, which requires some explaining:
That frightening bundle of lines on the left represents the design area. The little yellow control handles let you specify the look of the tick marks. If we pull on the handles, we change the shape of all the marks simultaneously!
The faded gray version in the background shows what the shape would look like if we moved the handles to different locations. The five orthogonal crisscrossing lines serve as guides to show you the maximum size that a tick mark could occupy.
This illustration shows how the design area maps to the actual shape:
More on Tick Mark Design
The easiest way to understand is to download the Visio file and play with the shape. But if you’re enjoying a nice cup of coffee at your favorite locale, and don’t feel like proper computing right now, read on as I try and explain with pictures.
If the design area has a full-sized rectangle, that maps to a perfect wedge in the shape:
If we move the handles up to have a half-height rectangle, we get perfect wedges that form a ring:
If we make a wedge in the design area, then the wedges in the ring become even more…well…wedgey!
Features of the Radial Elements Tool
But wait, there’s more! The sharp eyed reader will have noticed different numbers of wedges in the shapes shown above. That’s because there are four more features that you can control via Shape Data fields.
Just open the dialog via View > Shape Data Window, and you’ll see them, just waiting for you to tweak:
- Items – specify from 2 to 20 tick marks around the circle
- Design Mode – turn the design area on and off
- End Caps – make the ends of each wedge square or arc-shaped
- Starting Angle – offset where the first wedge is drawn. With zero, the first wedge is centered on the right horizontal, at “3 o’clock”
Here are two variations, with all four properties changed in each example. This guy has seven items, Design Mode hidden, rounded end caps, and a starting angle of 25.7 degrees, which centers the gap between the last and first wedge at 3 o’clock:
Here we add more items, turn Design Mode on, make square end caps, and set the starting angle to zero:
Using the Radial Elements Tool to Design Shapes
Once you know how to control the shape, you can use it as part of more complicated shapes. When I create shapes with the tool, I usually don’t include the shape in it’s smartened form. Instead, I use the Boolean operations under the Shape > Operations menu to create something simpler.
To see what I’m talking about, check out the way I create a gear using the tool:
click to view larger image
The final gear shape can’t be configured any more. It has been lobotomized–it’s smarts lost forever. But the resulting shape is neatly and accurately drawn, is compact, and is ready to become an element in a more sophisticated graphic!
Example Shapes Built from the Radial Elements Tool
Here are some shapes that I quickly designed using the tool as a basis:
Get the Radial Elements Tool
Ok, enough talk, here’s the download, so you can get to work!
Note: because this SmartShape uses User-defined ShapeSheet Functions, it can only be used with Visio 2007 or newer!
New! Radial Elements Tool “100”
If you find the free version (with 20 wedges) very useful, but you need more, I’ve just released a for-sale version that supports up to 100 wedges. The tool works just like the free version, with the same, easy-to-use interface.