OmniGraffle 5 Diagramming Essentials

By Ruben Olsen
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  1. Getting Started with OmniGraffle

About this book

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why settle for anything less? Creating good visualizations to substantiate your ideas is essential in today's corporate environment. Use OmniGraffle's remarkably powerful and flexible features to get your diagrams right. Although fun to use, it can get cumbersome to find out exactly how to get what you want.

This book will teach you how to make stunning diagrams without spending much time and energy. No matter if you have never used OmniGraffle, or if you are using it on a daily basis, this book will teach you how to get the most out of this splendid diagramming tool. It will first teach you the basics of the program and then extend your knowledge to a higher level.

The book will teach you to make eye-popping visuals using a lot of useful, step-by-step examples. It begins with covering concepts that beef up your basics of using OmniGraffle. The earlier chapters will teach you to prepare dazzling diagrams from scratch with the many stencils, shapes, and fonts that are included in OmniGraffle. As your understanding of OmniGraffle broadens, the book will go even deeper to explain the less understood features of the software. It also covers some handy time-saving techniques such as workspaces and keyboard shortcuts.

By the time you reach the end of this book, you will have mastered OmniGraffle to turn your ideas into diagrams.

Publication date:
October 2010


Chapter 1. Getting Started with OmniGraffle

In this chapter, you will learn the very basics of using OmniGraffle. You will need to know this so that you can move on to create your very first diagram from scratch. You will also learn how to save your diagram for other OmniGraffle users to enjoy. However, if your co-workers, friends, or family do not have OmniGraffle, you will learn how to export your diagram to a more common format for them to enjoy.

This chapter will cover the following topics:

  • What OmniGraffle is and is not

  • The naming conventions for shapes

  • The OmniGraffle workspace

  • A step-by-step guide to your very first diagram

  • Basic operation of the software

  • Tips regarding the efficient use of inspectors

  • Tips regarding how to make great visual diagrams


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?

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 book, 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.

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.

You'll learn everything there is to know about the Template Chooser, including making your own templates in Chapter 9, OmniGraffle workspaces of this book.


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 throughout the book.

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. In Chapter 2, Stencils you will learn in great detail about the canvas.

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 will be revealed in Chapter 2.

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

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 as it is covered in great detail in Chapter 3, Shapes, Building Blocks for Diagrams,

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.

To make things less difficult for you, the book 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 chapter, we'll use the style tray to quickly copy the look of one shape onto another shape.

The inspector palettes

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

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. In Chapter 7, Property Inspectors you will learn about the various property inspectors that have no corresponding tools, but still are a important factor of your diagrams.

Selector and keyboard shortcuts


Selector name




Changes the style of a shape. You can change the filling of the shape, the line style, the amount of shadow, and the text style. You can even fill a shape with a picture.



Amends the geometry and the connections of a shape. There are also two advanced functions (action and note) that will be covered later in this book.



You can change the size of the canvas, alter the grid, change the layout and alignment of shapes, and quickly find selected shapes.



There are only two document properties available: Document information and file format options.

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.

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.

As we will see later in the book, 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.

In Chapter 2, you will go into great detail regarding stencils. You will even learn to create your own stencil.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

If your version of the oblong and the text does not exactly look like what you see in the book, 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":

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:

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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:

Now you have an arrow between your shapes:

Step 5: Adding another workflow step: Done editing

We need to add the step where the writer is done editing the article. This is done by adding a new oblong, entering the Done editing article text, and finally connecting the Editing article oblong with the Done editing article oblong.

Instead of repeating Step 3 and Step 4, we will duplicate the last box we created along with the arrow. Then we'll re-connect the new arrow to the Editing article oblong.

Hold down the Shift key and click on the arrow and the Editing article box. Both should now be selected.

Use the ⌘+D keyboard shortcut command to duplicate these shapes:

Move the selected arrow and oblong below the existing diagram. You will now for all practical purposes have two diagrams, which need to be connected to each other.

Double-click inside the newly created oblong and change the text to Done editing article.

To connect the "loose arrow" to the upper diagram, click on the arrow. You will notice the arrow has a small red diamond on the right side, and a small green circle on the left side (where you now have the arrow point). The red ring is an indication of the starting point of the line, and the green ring is an indication of the endpoint of the line.

Click on the red circle and drag it over the Editing article oblong. Notice that the oblong will now glow with the red hue we saw before, giving you an indication that the line can be attached to this shape.

Step 6: Moving a shape

We suddenly notice that we need to move the Done editing article shape to the right.

Before we move the shape, let's make sure that the Smart Alignment Guides, and the Smart Distance Guides are turned on. These are found in the Arrange | Guides menu:

Turning on these two guides will give use some nice visual hints along the way, making sure our diagram will turn out visually great.

Earlier in this chapter you learned that the canvas is WYSIWYG. Simply click on the Done editing article, and drag it to the right of the other two shapes.

You will notice two things as you move the Done editing article shape to the right of the two other shapes:

  • First, is the thin blue line going through all three shapes. This is a visual cue that the three shapes are aligned vertically centered to each other. What you see here, is the Smart Alignment Guides in action. When you align two or more shapes, the Smart Alignment Guide kicks into action and shows you that the shape you are now moving around is aligned with other shapes.

  • Secondly, between the shapes we see some distance indicators. This is a visual cue that the distance between shape number 1 and shape number 2, is equal to the distance between shape number 2 and shape number 3. What you see here, is the Smart Distance Guides in action.

  • While alignment and distance guides may seem minors feature at present, in time, their power (if you elect to use them) will become apparent.

You can temporarily enable or disable guides by holding down the command key (⌥) after you have started to drag your selected shape around.


When moving a shape, correctly connected connection lines will stay connected to their corresponding shapes.

When moving a connection line, the line may lose its connection—the connected shape will not move. The reason for this is that shapes are conceptually more important than lines (this is true for most diagrams).

Step 7: Adding the editor check

The next step in the workflow is adding the logic around the editorial step. This is where the editor decides if the article is worth publishing.

We start by replicating Step 5. Click on the Done editing article and its corresponding arrow, then press the ⌘+D keyboard shortcut combination to duplicate the shape and the arrow. Move the newly created shapes below the current diagram:

Now, click on the new Done editing article shape.

We are now going to change this shape into a "decision" shape. Traditionally, such decision shapes have had the diamond form.

If you take a look in the Style inspector, you'll notice that the bottom half has changed from when we added the arrowhead to our connecting line. This area is called the Shape Collection.

More precisely we are looking at the section with a lot of small shapes—and this is where you select the diamond shape:

Your oblong shape is now a diamond! Pretty neat!

We need to do two things to be done with this step. Firstly, we need to amend the Done editing article text inside the diamond to Publish article. Secondly, we need to connect the arrow to our other diagram.

To change the text, double-click inside the diamond and type in the new the text. You will find the details of how to perform this in Step 3 (found earlier in this chapter).

To connect the arrow to the other diagram, click on the arrow. Then drag the end with the red circle to the Done editing shape. Notice how the shape is glowing red when you put your cursor on the shape.

We now have the decision step in place, but without logical outcomes. There are two logical outcomes of this step. The article is either ready for publication—or if the article is to be published on the front page, we need to add another logical step—the step where the Director of Communication decides if this article is worthy of the front page of our website.

Let's end this step in the workflow by adding the notion that an article will not be published until the content has been reworked.

In practise, we want to connect the Publish article diamond with the Editing article oblong.

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 is an indication that the tool has been selected to perform its task once.

Now place the cursor on the Publish article diamond (it should now become glowing red)—then click. Now move the cursor to the Editing article oblong (this shape will also become glowing red), and click.

We now have a connection between these two shapes:

This does not look very good. We need to add an arrow to the line, and we need to add a corner to the line.

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

As you notice with 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).

What is important for us is the following part of the line and shape inspector:

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

The right selector controls the appearance of line ending.

The middle selector is what kind of line you want to have.

Change the right selector to an arrowhead:

Then change the middle selector to Orthogonal.

Your diagram should now look like this:

We are very close now. What we really want is to have the line between the Editing article oblong and the Publish article diamond, start at the left tip of the diamond.

To achieve this we need to add Magnets to the shapes. A magnet is a fixed point on a shape where the connection lines will attach themselves. The connection lines will automatically take the shortest path between two shapes that have no magnets—magnets will give you full control of where connection lines will attach to shapes. You will learn more about magnets in Chapters 3 and 4.

First select both the Editing article and the Publish article shapes:

Then open up the Connections property inspector.

Click on the drop-down list saying No magnets, and select 4 magnets: N, S, E, W.

Unfortunately, now your drawing looks even worse than before.

To fix this, click on the arrowhead on the right of the Editing article oblong.

Remember earlier when you learned that the start of a line (or an arrow) has a small red circle and the ending point of the line has a small green circle.

All you have to do now is to drag the small red circle (it should be at the top of the Publish article diamond) to the left point of the diamond. Notice how we now have four small pink circles at each point of the diamond—these are the magnets we added earlier.

We need to add a text label to the line between the Publish article diamond, and the Editing article oblong.

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

Notice how the cursor has changed its appearance( ) to indicate that we are now working with the text shape.

Next you move the new cursor over the line—notice how the line will slightly glow to indicate that it is possible to associate the text with the line.

Click on the line and notice how OmniGraffle asks you for a Line Label—another visual cue that we are attaching a label to a line.

Enter Not ready in the text box, and your diagram should look like this:

Now the workflow states, that if the article is not ready for publication, it's back to the Editing article workflow step.

Step 8: Workflow step—publish on the front page

This is another logic-based step much like the one in the previous step. We will thus copy the Publish article diamond, and amend the text associated with this shape to Front page worthy.

Highlight the Publish article diamond, and press the ⌘+D keyboard shortcut combination. As always this will duplicate the shape. This is the ideal way to continue, compared to adding a shape from the bottom up. The main reason is that we want to save the time it takes to set up the magnets again.


When duplicating any shape, including lines, every aspect such as magnets, color, size, and fonts of the shape will be duplicated.

After duplicating the Publish article diamond, move the copy below the original. The Smart Alignment Guides and the Smart Distance Guides will aid you in the placement of the shape.

Notice that the thin blue line is going through the center of the Done editing article oblong, the original Publish article diamond, and our copy of said diamond.

Let's change the text in our new diamond to Front page worthy by double-clicking on the Publish article text. You will now have a brand new diamond with the correct text and the valuable magnets intact.

Now you need to connect an arrow between the Publish article diamond and the Front page worthy diamond. You can either copy an existing arrow or you can create the arrow from the ground up like you learned in Step 4.

Let's copy the arrow between the Start new article and the Editing article oblongs. Click on the arrow once to mark it, then hit the ⌘+D keyboard shortcut combination. You will now have a copy of the original arrow—the copy has the usual red and green circles on each end. Drag the green circle (which coincidently is the arrow head) to the top of the Front page worthy diamond—now notice how the pink colored magnets spring to life. Attach the arrowhead to the top of the diamond:

Now attach the end of the arrow (where you see the red circle) to the bottom of the Publish article diamond. The resulting diagram should look like this:

To complete this step in the workflow, we need to add a line label on the arrow connecting the two diamonds.

Click on the Text Tool in the tool-selector on the canvas toolbar. Notice the usual blue circle with the 1 inside indicating that this tool will perform its task once.

Also, notice how the cursor has changed its appearance( ) to indicate that we are now working with the text shape.

Next you move the new cursor over the line between the two diamonds. The line will slightly glow to indicate that it is possible to associate the text with the line.

Click on the line and notice how OmniGraffle asks you for a Line Label—another visual cue that we are attaching a label to a line. If you compare this line label, to the label you added in step 6 you will see that the label is always horizontal—no matter if the line is horizontal, vertical, or even oblique.

Change the label text into Yes. Your diagram should resemble the following one:

Step 9: Workflow step—publish on the front page

This workflow step does in fact consist of three diagram elements. One element will indicate that the Director of Communication needs to be notified, one logical element which will show if the article is to be published on the front page, and one last element that says Published on front page.

Let's start with the notification of the Director. This is an oblong saying Notify DoC. Place this oblong to the left of the Front page worthy diamond.

To save you some time, not only duplicate an existing oblong, but also remember to duplicate an arrow in the same operation. Mark the Start new article along with its associated arrow and press the ⌘+D keyboard shortcut combination to duplicate these two elements. Also move them in line with the Front page worthy diamond.


Copy as much as you can in each step

As you build up your diagram, you will quickly see that a lot of the elements you use can be re-used elsewhere in your diagram. Copy and paste elements until your heart's content – or use the ⌘+D key combination to duplicate elements.

Change the text in the oblong to Notify DoC.

You will now end up with an oblong and an arrow pointing the wrong way.

Do not despair—this is easy to fix!

What you now want is to switch the direction of the arrowhead.

To change the direction of the arrowhead, you need to use the Lines and Shapes property inspector. If the style palette is not shown, use the ⌘+1 keyboard combination.

First you need to click on the line with the arrowhead you want to change the direction of. In your case, it's the arrow pointing away from the Notify DoC oblong.

Now click on the symbol in the Lines and Shapes palette. Presto! The arrow is now pointing the correct way.

Now connect the red circle to the Front page worthy diamond; with the help of the Smart Alignment, and the Smart Distance Guides you can now align the Notify DoC oblong to both the Editing article oblong, and the Front page worthy diamond. These smart guides work in both directions at the same time.

Also, make sure to enter Yes on the line label – after all, the article is deemed to be worthy of publishing to the front page of the company website!

The resulting diagram should now look something like this:

The next part of the workflow is the logical step: The Director of Communication's decision if the article is of the quality for publishing on the front page or not. If the quality is not adequate, the author must amend and change the article some more. What we need is yet another diamond with an arrow pointing back to the Editing article oblong, and of course an arrow from the Notify DoC oblong.

Place this diamond to the left of the Notify DoC oblong.

You should now have come so far into your OmniGraffle education that you do not need the step-by-step handholding. If you are unsure about how to proceed, you could always take a peek at Step 6.


A hot tip is to copy both the Publish article diamond and its corresponding line going back to the Editing article oblong.

This does not look very pretty as it now stands.

There are two things you can do to fix this and make a "better look". First you can click on the little blue box next to the newly created line going from the newly created Publish article diamond. Now drag this upwards to align with the line from the other Publish article diamond:

The second operation that you can do, is to move the Not ready line labels as close to their respective diamonds as possible.


How close should a line label be to a shape?

There are really no fixed rules on this. However, the whole point about creating a diagram is to ease the understanding of the reader. It is quite important to place the labels accordingly.

A best practise regarding labels corresponding to diamonds in the kind of diagrams you are working with in this chapter is to have the label text as close as possible to the diamond – but always leave just enough line between the diamond and the line label so a reader can see the connection between the label and the diamond.

The resulting diagram is now only two steps until completion—so let's continue.

Step 10: Publishing!

The workflow states that an article can either be published on the front page after the approval of the Director of Communication—or it can be published elsewhere on the web page.

So you'll need two oblongs—one under the Director of Communication's Publish article diamond, and one under the Front page worthy diamond.

Given the "magic" of the Smart guides, it will make sense to start with the non-front page publication part of the workflow. Duplicate any of the existing oblongs with the ⌘+D keyboard shortcut combination; change its content to read Published on the company web.

Now move it under the Front page worthy diamond, and see how the Smart Guides will not only help you align it correctly, but also space it out evenly!

Now add an arrow from the Front page worthy diamond to the Published on the company web oblong. Add a line label saying No. Don't forget that the question is if the article was worth publishing on the front page or not. It still is published even if it's not front page material.

Now repeat the step from the diamond associated with the Notify DoC oblong. The only difference is that the text in the published oblong is Published on the front page, and the line label between the diamond and the oblong is Yes.

While performing this operation notice how the Smart Alignment Guides springs into life, assisting you in the optimal placement of this shape:

Congratulations! You have now finished your first OmniGraffle diagram. Good work. If you have followed all the steps, you'll now have a diagram resembling this:

Step 11: The icing on the cake—making your diagram spring into color

Seen from a design perspective, the lines are on the thin side. Also, only the boxes and the diamonds have shadows.

We can also enhance the diagram with color.

Why use color to enhance a diagram? One reason is to clearly extrude which parts of the workflow belong to the author, the editor, and finally the Director of Communication.

Let's first make all the lines a bit thicker. In the diagram portrayed in the book all lines are 1 point thick. This is a bit flimsy for the kind of diagram we have made here. Let's make all lines 2 points thick.

The easiest way to have all shapes 2 points thick is to select all the shapes, lines, and text. You can either do this with your mouse or simply use the ⌘+A keyboard combination. This keyboard shortcut command will select all shapes in your diagram.

After you have selected all the shapes, go to the Lines and Shapes property inspector and then change Thickness to 2 pt. All your lines and shapes should now be a tad thicker than before.

Now you will add shadows to the lines.

You do not want to simply mark the whole diagram again and add shadows. Let's do it using the very handy Selection property inspector. If the inspector is not visible, just use the ⌘+3 keyboard shortcut combination, or use the Inspectors program menu.

This inspector shows you all the various shapes that are present in the current canvas. The numbers under each shape tells you the total number of a given shape, and the number of currently selected shapes of the same type.

Hold down your Shift key while selecting the two arrow-lines present.

Now use the Shadow property inspector and enable the checkbox.

All your lines now have a shadow.


A word of caution

Not every shape in a diagram will look good with a shadow. If you believe that your diagram is best without shadows altogether, then remove all shadows. One important point about diagrams is to make information and ideas easier to understand for the reader. If shadows add to the understanding, then everything is good. The exception is of course if you just want to make a nice looking diagram with all the bells and whistles on.

Let's move on to putting some color into the diagram. We'll need three colors, one for each stakeholder in the process. The colors will indicate which part of the workflow belongs to which stakeholder.

Start with selecting the Start new article oblong. Next, use the Fill property inspector. This is the inspector that governs how shapes are to be filled. On the right hand side of the inspector there are two squares. Click on the topmost square and the color-picker will appear.

If you have used other programs on the Macintosh where you could select colors, you'll notice that this may look and behave much like what you are used to from other Macintosh software titles.

There are several ways to choose a color, and what you see here is the Crayons color selection. Compared to the other modes of choosing colors, the crayons are quite limited with regard to the actual number of colors available.

However, for a lot of diagrams, like the one you now are working on, only a few colors are needed. As a general rule less is more when coming to use colors in diagrams. Try not to fall into the trap of using too many colors.

Now, choose the lightest green color you can find on the palette. It's crayon number 2 from the left on the bottom row.

Your oblong will now be in a lime green color.

Let's color the rest of the author's task with the same color.

You can of course repeat the process two more times for the Editing article and the Done editing article oblongs. However, OmniGraffle has a more efficient way to copy the whole look and feel of a shape onto another shape. The shapes do not even need to be of the same type.

The Canvas Style Tray

Select the green Start new article shape and look at the bottom left of the canvas. You will notice a set of small icons. This is called the Canvas Style Tray.

The Style tray contains style properties or attributes for a selected object. You'll see a collection of small squares. In OmniGraffle "speak", each of these small squares is called a style chit. The left-most chit is a collection of all style properties for the currently selected object – this chit is the Complete Style Chit.

The other chits are, in succession, the fill style, the line stroke style, the image style, the shadow style, the actual shape, the font for the same, and finally the text placement.

Now you can drag the complete style chit over the Editing article and then the Done editing article oblongs to replicate all styling aspects of the Start new article oblong. Notice how the shape starts to glow when you hover over the oblongs while dragging the chit. This is a visual cue that you can drop the complete style chit onto the shape.

It is also possible to drag any of the chits onto the Selection property inspector.

Let's say you want to have the various labels using the same font type, size and color as our oblongs – then you just drag the font chit (number two from the right) onto the line labels. If you really want to save some headaches just drag the font chit onto the Canvas: Selection Aa object.


Use of fonts—do not get carried away

When people first got access to graphical computer user interfaces in the early 90s and a word processor that was able to display more than one font—people went on a "font rampage". This syndrome was known as Desktop Publishing Sickness.

Even if your diagramming software can "do anything" – do not become either fontblind or colorblind.

General rule of thumb: If you use more than two different kinds of fonts—rethink your design.

Now you need to color the tasks belonging to the editor. These are the two decision diamonds along with the oblong on the right-hand side of the diagram. For this task, you should really use the color style chit, and not the complete style chit. The reason is that if you use the complete style chit, and drop this over the Published on the company web oblong, the oblong will become a diamond—and this is not what you want.

We suggest that you use the mauve color, this is the fourth crayon from the right, on the bottom row.

Finally, the last step: Color the resulting two oblongs and diamond, which belong to the Director of Communication. The color we would love to use here a light orange one – you will find this as the first crayon on the bottom row.

You may notice that when the diagram is done in flying colors, the shadow under the arrows does not add clarity to the diagram. In fact, the shadows under the arrows make the diagram look murky. If you remove these shadows, you should have a diagram that looks like the one below.

If you want to see the finished diagram in full color—please open the file named your first diagram.png found in the Chapter 1 folder in the download bundle.


More on moving shapes around the canvas

So far, you have used your mouse to move a shape by selecting the shape, holding down the mouse key and then dragging the shape to its new location.

You can also select more than one shape and move all shapes at the same time.

When you move a shape, any correctly connected connection lines will be glued to the shape so you do not have to reattach these.

If you hold down the Shift key while you try to move a selected shape you are restricted to movement in the horizontal or vertical plane. This is great if you need to move your shape either horizontally or vertically. Holding down the shift key will also prevent the shape skewing out in the other direction.

If you quickly need to rotate a shape, you can hold down the command key (⌘) while the mouse pointer is placed on top of a shapes selection handle. You can now click and drag the shape into its new angle.

Start by creating a new canvas and place a rectangle on the canvas.

Hold down the command key and watch the mouse pointer change from an arrow to semi-circled double arrow( )

You can now rotate the shape into its new angle. To add more control, you can also hold down the Shift key to limit the rotation to incremental steps of 15°.

A more controlled, very precise rotation is achieved by using the Geometry property inspector, which you'll learn about in Chapter 3.

Even if you are going to use your mouse to move shapes most of the time, there are a few other more precise ways to move a shape (or a collection of shapes). Just use your arrow keys to move a selected shape one pixel at a time. Holding down the Shift or option key will increase the number of pixels moved to 9.


Saving diagrams

You save a diagram by either using the File | Save or File | Save As menu commands, or you can use the ⌘+S or ⌘+⇧+S keyboard shortcut combinations. The save or save as dialog is the standard Macintosh one, thus you should feel quite at home.

Confusingly, on the Macintosh a file might really be a folder. A good example of this behavior is the Application folder. The "applications" (like OmniGraffle) are really a folder on their own with a special file structure. In these folders you will find a lot of supporting files and directories.

This collection of files is called a bundle. For applications we have Application bundles—and data saved by an application is called a file bundle.

OmniGraffle might store your diagram in a file bundle. If you let OmniGraffle store your diagram in a file bundle, you cannot send this as an attachment as it is really a directory.

If you want to send your OmniGraffle diagram in an email, you have two choices: You can either create an archive of the file, or you can force OmniGraffle to save your diagram as a single file.

If you want to choose to save the diagram as a single file, or a file bundle, you will have to use the Document: Document property inspector. If the inspector is not visible, just use the ⌘+4 keyboard combination, or use the Inspectors program menu.

In this property inspector you have a drop-down menu called File format options. In in this drop-down menu, choose Save as flat file if you need to e-mail your diagram.

You might ask if there is a drawback to saving diagrams as flat files, compared to creating an archive of the file bundle. Without going into too many details, the answer is that saving your diagram might take up more space when being sent by email, compared to creating an archive of the file bundle.

An alternative is to check the Compress on disk option in the Document property inspector.

Without compression, the diagram you created in this chapter will take up approximately 128 kilobytes of space. With compression, the document will only take 52 kilobytes. If your diagram becomes a bit elaborate, the size can become quite big. It is not unknown for diagrams to become several megabytes in size. Sending documents of such size can be cumbersome.


Exporting diagrams

If your co-workers, friends or family have not installed OmniGraffle or perhaps even don't use a Macintosh (such a shame!) you can still share your diagrams by exporting your diagram. To access the export dialog, use the File | Export command, or by using the ⌥+⌘+E keyboard shortcut combination.

There are several unique OmniGraffle options in this dialog that you should familiarize yourself with (however, it's a bit out of the scope for us to go into the details of the common options like navigating your files, creating new folders, and so on).

The first thing you must decide is the Format of your export file. OmniGraffle supports several well-known formats—but for common, inter-office use you should either use PNG bitmap image or JPEG bitmap image. If your exported diagram is to be used in another Macintosh application, it might be more suitable to use PDF or EPS vector image.

If you decide to use JPEG bitmap, a tailored dialog box for JPEGs will be shown instructing you to choose the amount of compression. Always choose the best quality possible unless your drawing is really enormous.

In fact, most of the various formats will add their own tailored dialog box.

The Export area is a drop-down menu where you can export either just selected shapes, a specific region, the current canvas, or the whole document. If you just want to export your diagram without any white space around your diagram select all the shapes (that is, select the whole diagram by using the mouse or the ⌘+S keyboard combination), then choose the Current selection from the dropdown.

The Scaling should be set as appropriate. The value in this dialog really depends on what you are going to use your exported drawing for. If it's only for showing a draft of the drawing to a co-worker, then 100% is more than good enough. If you want to use your drawing in printed matter like a brochure, then 150% or even 300% is needed, depending on the size of your printed matter. You will have to ask your printer about this.

The Bitmap resolution is also dependent on where your exported image is going to be used. For printed matter, 150 or 300 dots per inch is adequate. If your diagram is going to be used in a Powerpoint or Keynote presentation, 92 dots per inch is enough.


Handy tips regarding inspectors

So far you've have only selected an inspector palette by clicking on the corresponding icon.

More than once you had to switch between the various palettes within the same selector.

If you want to have an inspector palette always activated, you can double-click on the corresponding icon.

As you can see in the screenshot there are small padlock icons on top of the Fill property inspector, the Lines and Shapes property inspector, and the Shadow property inspector.

This is a visual indication that these inspectors are always visible when using the Style selector.

To achieve this, just double-click on one of the property inspector icons to toggle the sticky activation on or off.

Those inspectors which contain input fields, can do simple arithmetic operations such as add, subtract, mutiply and divide. Some of the fields even take on the % sign, so entering 25% will effectively divide the current number by four.

Just enter the numbers you want to add, delete, and so on, exit the input field, and the new value appears. This is suitable if you want to halve or extend the length of a line or the size of a shape.

Let's say the current corner radius is set to 36 points.

Entering / 2 behind the 36 and hitting the Enter key (↩), or just exiting the input field, will not only change the content of the field to 18, but it will of course also amend the shape.

Even if your OmniGraffle document is set up in one particular measurement unit (that is, cm, inches, and so on), entering another unit in the input box will make OmniGraffle automatically calculate what you entered into the chosen measurement unit for the document.


Tips and pitfalls—tips on how to make great visual diagrams

As information is becoming more and more complex, people like to have some visual help with understanding the information provided. This is where diagramming comes to the rescue. However, if your diagrams are not visually appealing and easily digestible, your carefully crafted diagram won't communicate your information in the way you like.

Diagramming is really communication. There is a substantial field of study out there, which only deals with the psychology of communication. It is outside the scope of this book to go into the theoretical background on the best way of visually presenting an idea (consider, as an example, some of the works of Edward Tufte). What you will learn in this section are a few handy tips that you may or may not follow. If you decide to follow these tips, your visual diagramming will not go wrong.

However, do not follow these tips as "rules". Obey them if they make sense and disobey them when they get in your way. Most importantly, don't lose sight of, or forget what you want to communicate with your diagram.

If you are well versed in graphical design—you can skip these steps.

Tip 1: Do some planning before you start

OmniGraffle may be the best diagramming tool on the Macintosh. Complex diagrams are still a lot of (hard) work to get right, even with the aid of a computer. OmniGraffle is still just a diagramming tool—it will not do your thinking processes for you.

For small and simple diagrams where you have full knowledge of what you want to communicate, you can start working directly in OmniGraffle. However, for bigger and more complex diagrams, it may be easier to start your thought process using a white board, or some paper and a pencil.

If you still insist on using a computer for organizing your thought processes, you should take a look at OmniOutliner from the same people that make OmniGraffle. The cool thing about using OmniOutliner is that you can import your outliner documents into OmniGraffle and then OmniGraffle will create a diagram for you.

If outlining is too simple, and you are more used to mind mapping—there are some simple mind mapping stencils at Graffletopia. However, you may be better off using a specialty tool like MindManager from MindJet Corporation (


A very good example of planning ahead is traffic signs. Designing traffic signs takes into account the driver's needs and requirements (that is, easy to understand pictograms going by in 120 km/h on the highway). These signs may seem simple to create – but a lot of work has been put into them to make them this simple. Even if you have not seen a given sign before, there is a good chance that you will understand it's meaning without further explanation.

A good diagram should be like a well designed traffic sign.

Tip 2: Colorize gently

The old adage that "less is more" really applies to diagramming at large.

Use light colors whenever possible when filling shapes. Try not to mix strong and light colors on the same diagram.

If want to use text in colored shapes – take into account the contrast of the background color and the text. Light colors should have black text, and strong colors should have white text. Stick to either black or white text.

Use as few colors as possible – never use yet-another-color just because you can.

If you need ideas on which colors may match each other you should investigate the software tools found on the ColorJack website ( The ColorSphere and the swatches are a good starting point.

Another interesting website to get some ideas on good color combinations is the Kuler community. In this community users are both sharing their own color swatches, and can vote on the best-looking color swatches in the community. You find Kuler community at

If you need to use colored text on a colored background and really care about the readability (contrast) of your message (which you should), then you should try the Colour Contrast Check tool from—go to and experiment with foreground and background colors.

Tip 3: Use few fonts

The rule of thumb to use on any publication with regards to font use: Never use more than two fonts.

Unless for the title of your diagram, avoid using serif fonts. Serif fonts have small details on the end of each stroke making up a letter. A very good example of a serif font is Times Roman.

The text you are reading right now is set in a serif font. The various headings found throughout this book are without serifs. These fonts without serifs are also known as sans serif fonts.

Good diagramming fonts are Helvetica, Futura, Optima, and Lucida Grande. All these fonts are sans serif fonts, and readily available from the Fonts stencil found in the Common stencil directory. This said, if your main document is not using any of these fonts—try to match your diagram fonts with your main document.

Though one of the "rules of thumb" regarding fonts and types is not to use ALL CAPS, there may be times when it is appropriate for your diagram. The same also is true regarding starting a word with an upper case letter. It may look better to start a word using lower case.

Tip 4: Consider your output media

If your diagram is going to appear in a printed report, thin lines may be better than thicker lines.

If your diagram is going to appear on a wall poster—thicker lines will probably be better than thinner lines as the reader is reading the poster from a distance.

If your diagram is going to appear only on screen, thicker lines may be better than thinner lines, but try not to go beyond 2 points thickness.

A thin line is a 1 point thick line—a thicker line is 2 points or more.

Tip 5: Symmetry is better than asymmetry

By nature, our brains tend to seek symmetry. Symmetry helps your diagram look balanced. Balance makes your diagram look more professional.

There is a caveat regarding visual symmetry: Visual symmetry does not equal mathematical symmetry. A good example of mathematical symmetry is the income diagram you will create in the next chapter. The cylinders below the blue arrows are mathematically correct but if you study the diagram you might get a nagging feeling that there is something not quite right. However, you cannot really put your finger on what the problem is. This is probably due to the lack of visual symmetry.

Any educated graphics designer (architect, photographer, illustrator, and so on) will tell you that you should favor visual symmetry rather than mathematical. If you are unsure about how to do this—just create diagrams that "feel and look right". If this fails, go down the mathematical symmetry route.

Tip 6: Have one, and only one, focus point

The focus point is the most important part of your diagram.

Creating diagrams means that you will have several elements in your diagram. If you are not careful, your readers will not "get" your diagram without spending a lot of time studying the details. It is really important to have as few focus points as possible. If you can get away with only one focus point – this is excellent. If your number of focus points increases beyond five, your diagram runs the risk of becoming everything and the kitchen sink– as such, you should really go back to your planning stage!

If your diagram is conveying more than one message, try to make more than one diagram. Even if your audience is versed in the subject it will often pay to either divide the diagram – or create separate ones.

Tip 7: Apply the Golden Ratio to stand alone diagrams

If your diagram is not part of an accompanying and explanatory text, you should apply the so-called Golden Ratio. Another name for the Golden Ratio, is the Rule of Thirds. In practise you divide your page into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. You will now have a grid of nine boxes. However, it's where the horizontal and vertical lines cross each other that you should concentrate. This is the part of your diagram where you should place the most important elements.

Tip 8: Use titles, figure captions, and legends

Stand-alone diagrams must always have a title telling the reader what the diagram is about.

If your diagram is part of a book or a report, you may want to include figure captions – at least if you reference your diagram at more than one place in the text. Instead of addressing the diagrams as "In the second diagram from the bottom on page 34, we see that ..."– put a figure caption below the diagram, and you can now address the diagram in the text as "In fig. 12, we see that ...".

If your diagram contains elements that may not be intuitive for the reader, then add a legend to your drawing. If the lines between elements have different colors—then you absolutely need a legend to explain the difference between the red and the green lines.

It may be an excellent idea to place the legend inside a box a bit away from the diagram with a readable heading stating: Diagram legend.

Tip 9: Be liberal with white space

Use space around your elements. Do not cramp them together, as this will make your diagram look messy and dirty.

It's better to use a whole extra page in landscape mode in a report for an important diagram, rather to compress the diagram to fit within the text.

In the planning stage of your diagram, take white space into account – and you may end up with a different layout that is more fitting for your report than your original plan.

A lot of times your diagram will end up in a report or on a web page. Most of these places adhere to portrait-based layouts. It may be a good thing trying to make your diagram fit a portrait-based layout – rather than sticking to using landscape out of habit.

Tip 10: Be consistent

Never use two different shapes for the same kind of element.

Never use two different colors on shapes or lines to convey the same meaning.

Never use different fonts, and font sizes, within the same types of shapes.

Let's say you need to have a diagram involving animals in the general sense. If you can't find a drawing or a picture of a group of animals – use the same animal concisely. Also, use a shape/picture/drawing (animal) that people recognize.



This first chapter has given you the means to understanding the basics of creating diagrams in OmniGraffle and then exporting your diagram for other users.

You have also learned to:

  • Create various shapes like oblongs and diamonds

  • Connect two or more shapes with lines

  • Add arrow-heads to lines

  • Add text both to shapes and labels to lines

  • Create basic styles for shapes

  • Copy partial or complete styles from one shape to another

In the next chapter, you will learn everything there is about stencils. A stencil is a collection of ready-made shapes. OmniGraffle has very good support for stencils and using these will save you a heap of time and frustration.

About the Author

  • Ruben Olsen

    Ruben Olsen has been making "visual stuff" since he touched his first computer, a Commodore PET 20, back in the late 70s. Since then he has played, worked,
    loved, and cursed almost any computer system commercially available. He is no stranger to either the old IBM VM/SP or to the latest edition of the Apple Macintosh operating system.

    Ruben received his M.Sc. in Information Technology from the University of Liverpool. He is currently the co-founder and CTO of Azurlis AS – company providing advanced telecommunication solutions.

    The first time he created a diagram to illustrate an important fact was when taking his first university courses back in the early 90s. He hand-coded a simple diagram in Adobe PostScript and fed it directly to a laser printer, whereupon as the printer crashed horribly. Back then he learned the importance of having excellent diagrams to substantiate any argument.

    For nearly two decades he has used diagrams and diagramming tools to illustrate important points and facts.

    A few years ago he was working as a "technical hit-man" at a VoIP service provider – and this was the first time he came in contact with OmniGraffle. He fell deeply in love with the program – and this is a love that never has deminished even as the years have passed by.

    When not spending time behind the computer designing and programming telecommunication solutions, he spend his time with his three cats, reading a good book, listening to some extraordinary good music, cooking tasty food, and watching a nice movie time with his lovely fiancée (by the time you are reading this – they are newly wed).

    Browse publications by this author
OmniGraffle 5 Diagramming Essentials
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