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OmniGraffle 5 Diagramming Essentials

OmniGraffle 5 Diagramming Essentials

Create better diagrams with less effort using OmniGraffle

  • Produce high-quality professional-looking diagrams that communicate information much better than words
  • Makes diagramming fun and simple for Macintosh users
  • Master the art of illustrating your ideas with OmniGraffle
  • Learn to draw engaging charts and graphs to grasp your viewers’ attention to your presentations
  • A hands-on guide filled with visual step-by-step examples that cover both the basics and the advanced features of OmniGraffle


What OmniGraffle is—and what it is not

OmniGraffle is perhaps the easiest diagramming program available for the Macintosh. As with a lot of productivity tools, the program can be used for more than its intended purposes. You can use OmniGraffle to write a letter to your aunt, or a business report to your boss—as you could use Microsoft Word to create diagrams.

There is a good reason why you should let OmniGraffle do your diagramming (and consequently let your word processor do your reporting), and the simple reason is that OmniGraffle specializes in diagrams! OmniGraffle is exceptionally good when it comes to good-looking diagrams. Not only do the diagrams look good, they are easy to make, manipulate, and reuse.

Hopefully, you have other productivity tools on your computer such as iWorks Pages™ and Microsoft Word™ which are excellent for writing reports, books, and other texts, so you do not need to use OmniGraffle for writing your texts.

There are a few important reasons why you should try to avoid creating diagrams with Microsoft Word, or to a lesser degree, OpenOffice Writer:

  • It’s cumbersome to lay out shapes—there’s a lot of clicking involved
  • You are limited to the size of your page, and you need to carefully plan your diagram as changing it afterwards can become very work intensive
  • You cannot connect shapes to each other—thus remodelling your diagram involves moving everything around by hand
  • You do not have automatic layout settings—every alignment, every adjustment must be done by hand (and measurement must be done by eye)
  • You have only a limited number of shapes at your disposal
  • It’s very cumbersome to adjust shape settings like shadow, line stroke, filling, geometry, and so on, to more than one shape at a time
  • You have limited export options for your diagram

If you indeed have created diagrams with a text processor, you’ll soon realize that in comparison using OmniGraffle is a walk in the park on a hot summer day with a handsome person by your side. You’ll love it so much that you’re going to beg anyone to let you create their diagrams for.

What’s in a name?

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

In the previous diagram we have an oblong, an ellipse, a diamond, and a line connecting the oblong to the diamond.

There are several names for the various parts of this diagram. Some people will call these diagram objects, others will call them diagram elements or shapes. In this article, we will primarily use shapes, but you will encounter all three words.

Setting up OmniGraffle before you start

When you start OmniGraffle, or if you issue the File | New command and get prompted with the Template Chooser as seen next, you should select the Blank template and then click the Set as Default button.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

By doing this, you’ll always get a new blank canvas ready for use instead of having to go through the Template Chooser.

If you feel more comfortable always being prompted by the Template Chooser, then you do not have to do anything except click on the New Diagram button.

The OmniGraffle workspace

Before you continue your quest to become the best OmniGraffler around, we’ll have to take a look at the OmniGraffle workspace. The reason for this, is that you need to learn a few OmniGraffle terms that will be used.

When working in OmniGraffle your workspace will normally consist of three parts: The canvas, the inspectors, and the stencils.

The canvas

If your canvas does not look exactly like the one you see next, don’t panic as this is just for illustrative purposes.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

The canvas consists of four parts: The Canvas Toolbar, the Inspector Bar, the Canvas View, and the Style Tray.

Even if the canvas consists of several parts, for simplicity’s sake this area is also known as the area where you do your diagram drawings.

The toolbar

The toolbar contains not only access to drawing tools, but also quick access to commonly used functions such as ordering drawing objects. This is how your toolbar may look—if it does not look exactly like this, do not panic—the details are out of scope of this article.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

In the toolbar, you should for now, concentrate on the tools-selector:

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

From left to right we have the Selection Tool (arrow), the Shape Tool (square), the Line Tool (line), and the Text Tool (A). Depending on the current configuration of the shape, line and text tools, the symbols may differ from what you see in the picture.

The inspector bar

We’ll only show you what the inspector bar looks like. We mention this inspector bar here without getting into details about this tool.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

The drawing area

The drawing area is the actual canvas where you will draw your diagrams. It may be confusing to have the same name for what may seem like two parts of the program—but this is how the Omni Group, the makers of OmniGraffle, have decided to name things.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

To make things less difficult for you, the article will use the term canvas for the actual drawing area. This is also consistent with what the majority of users will call the area where they are drawing stuff.

The drawing area is 100% WYSIWYG—What You See, Is What You Get. If you draw a circle, and print your diagram, a circle will appear on your printed paper. If you want to move your circle around the canvas, just point to the circle and drag it to its new location.

The style tray

The style tray, found in the lower left of the OmniGraffle window, shows you the current style of a drawing shape such as a circle, square, oblong, and so on. Later in this article, we’ll use the style tray to quickly copy the look of one shape onto another shape.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

The inspector palettes

You have four selectors available in the Inspector Palettes. Each selector will have several tools belonging to the selector.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

The property inspectors will aid you when you need to change the appearance and properties of your shapes. There are also inspectors for changing the properties of the canvas, and the document you are working on. Shown here is the Style inspector.

There are several ways to open up the style inspector. You can use the Inspectors | Style menu command, or simply issue the +1 keyboard combination.

Most of the inspectors are explained as you learn to use the various tools and techniques. There are various property inspectors that have no corresponding tools, but still are a important factor of your diagrams.

Selector and keyboard shortcuts

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

You may also use the inspector symbol () on the toolbar to show and hide the inspector palette. If you decide you have a favorite location in the OmniGraffle window where you like to have your palette show/hide, this acts as a quick toggle.

The stencils

Stencils are collections of ready-made shapes. These shapes can be simple or they can be complex. They are great time savers when working on diagrams with more complex shapes than squares and circles.

If you cannot see the stencil palette shown on the right, you can use the +0 keyboard shortcut, or click on the stencil symbol () on the canvas toolbar. Note that this can function as a palette show/hide, similar to the inspector, previously.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

A stencil often has a name denoting its theme. OmniGraffle comes with a few of these themes like a stencil with ready-made furniture you can use for planning your living room—or if you need to create a really good looking organizational chart, there are stencils for this also.

When you install OmniGraffle, you will have a nice starter set of stencils available. These are very suitable for getting you going, and even the most seasoned OmniGraffle users, will often create their diagrams using only these basic stencils.

There is a huge library of ready-made stencils that you can import directly into OmniGraffle, making your diagramming even more efficient, and specific to your personal and work needs.

Using a stencil is very easy: Just find the right stencil from the Stencil library, select the shape you want to use—and then drag it onto the canvas.

Your first diagram

The saying goes: a picture is worth a thousand words. When dealing with diagrams, the same point is true: a good diagram saves a thousand words.

In this section, you will draw your first diagram. We’ll build the diagram from scratch to a finished product, and along the way explain what you need to do. If you follow each step without deviation, you will get a good background on a lot of the possibilities that are present in the OmniGraffle program. It is thus better to experiment after the diagram is done, rather then when you are working your way through the various steps.

Our first diagram is going to describe the workflow for publishing information on an imaginary company’s web page.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

To set the stage we need to introduce some actors and publishing rules. First out is the writer. This person is actually writing content to be published. However, a writer is not allowed to publish information on the web without being checked by the editor. Unless the article being published is to be put on the front page, the editor does not need any permission to publish. If the article is to be published on the front page, then the Director of Communication needs to give her consent.

What we have here is a common workflow for publishing information on a company website. However, often these workflows are described in many more words and in language confusing to the reader. Using a diagram will help the reader to understand how the workflow is really going.

We are now going to make a diagram that clearly shows the workflow described in the previous section.

Step 1: Start with a blank canvas

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

If OmniGraffle is already running, you can use the File | New command.

If you need to start OmniGraffle you may either have a new blank document at your disposal, or you may be presented with the Template Chooser.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

The template chooser contains a few ready-made templates for various tasks.

For this task, choose the Blank template and hit the New Diagram button.

Step 2: Add the first task

The first task for a website author is of course to start a new article. We’ll use an oblong to denote this.

In the tool-selector, you click on the Shape Tool. You will notice a blue circle with the number 1 inside. This indicates that this tool has been selected to perform once.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

This means that after you have used the tool once, OmniGraffle will revert back to the selection tool. If you want to draw more than one particular shape, double-click on the corresponding icon, and it will not change until you select another tool to use.

Now, draw an oblong shape on the canvas. Notice that the blue circle over the shape tool is gone—and the selection tool has been automatically selected.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

Double-click inside the oblong shape. You will now have the ability to put text inside the shape. Type in Start new article.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

If your version of the oblong and the text does not exactly look like what you see in the article, this is not important right now. We are going to fix this later. Do not spend time trying to get your oblong looking 100% like what you see here.

When you are done press the Esc key (or click anywhere on the canvas, outside of the shape). You will now notice that the shape is selected since the shape has got eight “handles”:

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

Just leave it like this.

The handles you see on the shape are what you use when you want to resize the shape using your mouse.

Step 3: Add task—writing article

The next task is of course to write the actual article.

With the Start new article box selected, press the +D keyboard shortcut combination to duplicate the shape. You should now have one box on top of the other:

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

Move the selected (copied) oblong to the right of the one underneath. Try to leave a good amount of space between the boxes. You will now have two rectangles with the same content next to each other.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

Double-click inside the box on the right side to edit the text, and enter Editing article.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

Step 4: Connecting shapes

Since you are in fact documenting a process, using an arrow from one point in the workflow to the next point makes sense. What we want is an arrow going from the Start new article box to the Editing article rectangle.

To achieve this, click on the Line Tool in the tool-selector on the canvas toolbar. You will notice a blue circle with the number 1 inside. This indicates that this tool has been selected to perform once.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

Next, place the cursor over the Start new article oblong. You will notice that the shape is now glowing with a colored hue.

The glow is to indicate that you can start (or end) a line on a shape. The color of the glow depends on which version of OmniGraffle you are using. If you are reading the PDF version of this book, you will notice that the glowing color is red. Usage of the red color is also reflected elsewhere in the text.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

Click once, and move the cursor over to the Editing article oblong. You will notice two things: The Editing article oblong is now glowing; and there is a straight line between the two shapes.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

When you click on the Editing article oblong, the line becomes permanent. The line is also selected, which is a good thing, as you now will put on an arrow to indicate the direction of the workflow.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

To add an arrow to a line, you need to use the Lines and Shapes inspector. If the style palette is not shown, press the +1 keyboard combination. The style palette is now visible. Click on the line style and you have access to line properties.

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

As you notice in this inspector, there are several properties you can use to alter the appearance of a line. In fact, you can alter certain properties on all drawn shapes (lines, circles, oblongs, and so on).

The important widget for you right now is the following part of the inspector:

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

The left selector controls the appearance of the start of the line.

The right selector controls the appearance of the line ending.

The middle selector is what kind of line you want to have. Between the two shapes we are now working on, you can leave this selector as it is.

Change the right selector to an arrow head:

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5

Now you have an arrow between your shapes:

Getting Started with OmniGraffle 5


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