Microsoft Visio 2010 : Connecting Shapes – Changing the Appearance of Connectors

Different diagrams require different styles of connectors. Line style properties add clarity, feeling, and meaning to diagrams. For example, flowcharts use arrowheads to show direction, but network diagrams depict directionless connections and don’t need arrowheads. A dashed line can indicate a temporary relationship, a proposed modification, or a wireless connection.

The routing style of connectors is also important. Flowcharts look more orderly when connectors bend at right angles. Network diagrams have a more sprawling web feel when connectors are radial and straight. Mind maps (brainstorming diagrams) seem more free-thinking and flowing when connectors have curved bends. Figure 1 contrasts routing styles and formatting for three different types of diagrams.

Figure 1. A network diagram, flowchart, and brainstorming diagram have different routing styles and formatting that give each its own meaning and feeling.

Whether you are changing the formatting for a connector or the structural style of a connector, consider that there are ways to do it both for individual connectors and for the whole page.

Formatting Connectors

You can change the line color, line weight, line pattern, arrowhead style, and text characteristics of an individual connector just as you would for any other Visio shape. On the Home tab, the Font and Shape groups have plenty of controls for changing the look of a connector. You can also right-click any connector to access line, fill, and text formatting controls.

To make changes to the entire page or document, consider using themes. Themes can change the look of line patterns, corner rounding, line weight, color and more. Browse the theme gallery on the Design tab to see whether one fits your needs.

You can also select all the connectors on a page and make formatting changes to them in one fell swoop. Go to Home, Editing, Select, Select by Type. In the dialog, check the Shape Role radio button and then check only Connectors. Click OK and all the connectors on the page are selected.

Changing Routing Style for Connectors

The routing style governs the geometrical path that a connector takes from beginning to end. You can quickly change the routing style for a connector by right-clicking. Near the bottom of the menu are three choices: Straight line, Right-angled, and Curved.

Figure 2 shows a horrid example of a flowchart that has mixed all three routing styles.


Figure 2. Connectors with different routing styles—a poor expression of individuality.


A similar set of items is available from the Connectors button in the Layout group on the Design tab. However, this button is more powerful: It applies to all selected shapes, and if none are selected, it changes all connectors on the page.

Changing the Routing Style of Connectors


Start a new drawing from the Basic Flowchart template.



Drop several shapes on the page and connect them together using your favorite connection methods.



Move the shapes so that they are not perfectly aligned and the connectors have bends.



Right-click a connector and choose “Straight Connector.” The connector loses its bends and becomes a straight line.



Right-click another connector and choose “Curved Connector.” The connector’s bends become gently curved instead of sharply angled.



Deselect any shapes, then go to the Design tab. In the Layout group, click the Connectors drop-down and choose Right Angle. All of the connectors on the page revert to their original, right-angled style.



Select a connector, and choose “Curved Connector” from the Connectors drop-down list. Notice that only the selected shape is changed. The Connectors drop-down affects all connectors if none are selected. Otherwise, it affects only selected connectors.

For even finer control of routing settings for a page, go to the Page Setup dialog (right-click a page tab or click the dialog box launcher for the Layout group). On the Layout and Routing tab you find the Routing section, which has more settings for tuning the routing style.


Figure 3 shows the dialog with a Center to Center routing style. Note the Preview section on the right, which hints at how the changes affect your diagram.


Figure 3. The Layout and Routing tab for Page Setup.


Style and Appearance are the most interesting settings to play with. Separate and Overlap settings seem like opposite sides of the same coin, and still aren’t clear to me after many years of using Visio. They are intended to prevent the overlapping of connectors heading in similar directions so that separate paths remain distinct and clear.

Controlling Line Jumps for Connectors

Some drawings have lots of crisscrossing connectors or ambiguous intersections. Consider the left half of Figure 4. The intersection could be where connectors crossi or where corners coincide.


Figure 4. Overlapping lines can have unclear meaning. Line jumps make intersections easier to understand.


The right half of Figure 4 shows a gap-style line jump that clears up the ambiguity. The connectors are indeed crossing over each other, not bending at the same point in space.

You might have noticed the Line Jumps section of the Layout and Routing tab, shown in Figure 3. The two drop-down lists in this section enable you to specify where to apply line jumps to and which style of jump to use.

Some of the line jump styles have funny names; Figure 5 shows six of the nine options.


Figure 5. Visio has nine line jump styles, here are six of them.


I personally like the Gap style. It keeps things neat and clean, is easy on the eyes, and is less distracting than the Round bumps. However, in diagrams with relatively few intersections, it could be important for jumps to stand out. In this case, the Round style might be a good choice.

Note that there isn’t a “no jump” style. To suppress line jumps, choose None from the Add Line Jumps To drop-down.

Manually Editing Connector Paths

With point-to-point glue and routing styles, you can get a running start at how your connectors appear and where they go. Sometimes, though, you just need more!

Fortunately, Visio’s Dynamic connector has special handles at the midpoints and vertices of each leg. With these handles, you can move legs around and even add new ones.

Figure 6 shows connector-editing handles in action but requires further explanation.


Figure 6. You can alter the path of a connector by pulling on the blue handles.


You can edit a connector’s path in one of five ways as shown in Figure 4.14. Better yet, try it yourself!

Adding and Removing and Editing Connector Legs


Start a new blank drawing.



Select the Connector Tool from the Ribbon and draw a connector on the page.



Switch back to the Pointer Tool and make sure the connector is still selected.



Pull on the midpoint handles of each leg of the connector and note how the connector legs adjust horizontally and vertically.



Now hold the Shift key and pull on a midpoint handle. This adds a new set of bends to the leg, as shown in #2 of Figure 6.



Hold the Ctrl key and pull on one of the corner vertexes. This allows you to adjust the legs nonorthogonally, as shown in #3 of Figure 6.



Holding the Ctrl key while pulling a midpoint adds a nonorthogonal angle to the connector, as #4 of Figure 6 shows.



Draw a new connector somewhere on the page, right-click it and choose “Curved Connector.” Notice that the handles look a bit different than for the right-angled connectors.



For curved connectors, Shift and Ctrl have no effect, but you can change the position of the bend by dragging the midpoint handle, and change the angle and extremity of the curve by manipulating the “tangent” handles at either end. #5 of Figure 6 shows a curved connector being modified.



If you’ve modified a connector to the point that it is unrecognizable, you can restore it to a manageable state. Right-click one of your mangled connectors and choose “Reset Connector.” It returns to its original form, where you can start modifying it again, but this time more judiciously!




Figure 7. The result of manipulations to Figure 6.