February 12, 2016

Customizing Shapes & Connectors in Gliffy

Diagrams for Businesses
Customizing Shapes 1

One of the most effective ways to make your diagrams look more professional is to customize the properties of your shapes and connectors. Doing this can make the difference between a diagram that's presentation ready and one that's less compelling.

A quick primer is all you need to get started, and then you'll be ready to connect and customize all the shapes in your own Gliffy diagrams.


Customizing Shapes

Start by selecting a shape—any shape—and clicking on the 'edit shape properties' icon. This will open a shape properties window for the shape (or shapes) you're working with.

Pro tip: to edit multiple shapes at once, hold down the shift key, click each of the desired shapes, and then open shape properties.

The edit shape properties window provides extensive opportunity to personalize—and professionalize—your diagram. From left to right across the top row of icons, you've got drop down menus for:

Customizing Shapes 2
  • Shape color: This selects the color of the fill inside your shape.
  • Border color: This selects the color of the shape's border (if it has a border).
  • Border weight: Adjustable from 0 to 7 pixels, with 0 being no border.
  • Border style: Here, you can set your border to be a solid line or one of four varieties of dashed line.
  • Gradient: This on/off button creates a color gradient between white at the top and your selected shape color at the bottom.
  • Drop shadow: This on/off button toggles a drop shadow to the lower right of your shape.
  • Shape opacity: This slider lets you adjust the opacity of your shape from a full 100% opaque down to a ghostly 5%.

Beneath these buttons you've got a series of entry fields to set your shape's location, its size, and its orientation. (These elements can also be adjusted by selecting a shape and dragging or rotating either the shape or the square adjusters on its bounding box—as seen in the top image in this post.)

  • X & Y: These entry fields determine where on the X (horizontal) and Y (vertical) axis your shape is positioned, with 0 and 0 being the top left corner of the canvas. Please note that the values entered here will determine where the top left corner of the bounding box that contains your shape will fall. So if you're adjusting an oval shape, and you enter 0 for X and 0 for Y, the top left corner of the rectangle that encloses that oval will be in the very top left corner of the canvas.
  • W & H: These entry fields determine how many pixels wide and high your shape will be. As with X & Y, these fields describe the bounding box that wraps your shape.
  • Orientation: This entry field allows you to rotate your shape from anywhere between 0 to 359°.

Finally, you can tick the boxes on the right to lock either the shape's aspect ratio—so its width and height remains constant relative to each other—or to lock the shape altogether—so all of its properties including its position are protected against change.

If you've selecting multiple shapes, you'll also have icons that let you align the selected shapes in one of six ways or to distribute them evenly vertically or horizontally.

Customizing Connectors

Customizing Connectors

Customizing connectors works in almost exactly the same way—just select a connector and click on the 'edit line properties' icon that appears.

Customizing Connectors 2
  • Arrow begin / end: The first two options here allow you to choose what style of arrow, if any, you want your line to have on either end. You can select between four different styles of arrow or none.
  • Line color: This selects the color of the line.
  • Line weight: Adjustable from 1 to 7 pixels.
  • Line style: Here, you can set your line to be a solid line or one of four varieties of dashed line.
  • Line type: From super straight to super curvy, select the type of connector that suits your diagram. Options are: direct from end-to-end with no angles; only right angles; rounded right angles; or a more sinuous line with gradual curves.

You can adjust the length, layout, or position of a connector simply by selecting it and manipulating the entire connector or the circular adjusters that control its endpoints and each leg—as seen in the image at the top of this section.

Working with Customized Shapes and Connectors

Once you get a shape or connector customized to your liking, Gliffy makes duplicating that look easy via a number of built-in tools.

First, if you set the properties of a shape or a connector, then create a new shape or connector, the new object will automatically have the same properties as the shape you just customized. If you're working with a number of different customized shapes—say blue ovals and violet rectangles—there are two shortcuts to recreating identical looking shapes.

Customized Shapes and Connectors


Our Copy Style tool—found in the icon bar—copies design elements from one shape to another with just a few clicks. Select the customized shape you want to mimic, click the Copy Style icon, and then click the shape you want to transfer the design to.

Elements copied include:

  • Border width
  • Border pattern
  • Shape color
  • Shape gradient
  • Shape opacity
  • Font type
  • Font color
  • Font size

The Copy Style tool only works with supported shapes. Another easy way to duplicate style elements is by using Command+D, which instantly creates a duplicate of the currently selected shape or connector. (You can find this and other similar commands in the Edit Menu).


Customized Shapes and Connectors 2

Using Themes

If you're looking for some professional-quality design inspiration, try applying one of Gliffy's pre-made diagram themes.

You can open the Theme window by clicking the four-color theme icon found towards the right end of the icon bar. Then, just hover your mouse over one of the 12 professionally-designed themes to see it temporarily applied to your diagram.

When you find a theme you like, just click on it to apply it to your diagram.

Creating a Key

Frequently, we build diagrams using a range of different shape colors and styles to add levels of meaning. For example, in traditional flowcharts a diamond shape signifies a decision and a rectangle stands for a process step.

Before you share your diagram in a presentation, on a wiki, or in any other way, consider adding an explanatory key. This adds an additional level of professionalism to the finished product.

To create a key:

Diagram Key
  1. Find an open corner of your diagram and drag in a rectangle shape. Expand this shape until it's large enough to hold one of every type of shape your diagram uses.
  2. Click the Text Tool icon in the top icon bar and click at the top of your rectangle to create a header. "Key" or "Diagram Key" is all that's needed.
  3. Duplicate one of each shape type your document contains (Command+D) and drag the duplicates into your key.
  4. Caption the shapes using the Text Tool or by selecting the shape and typing directly into it.

Use these simple tools and the built-in functionality of Gliffy to create high-quality, professional-level diagrams appropriate for any type of business or personal presentation.

Happy diagramming!