Creating Custom Stencils and Custom Shapes in Microsoft Visio
Part two of a two-part series of blogs

One of the most time-consuming things in Microsoft Visio is continually formatting shapes in the same way every time you create a new diagram. If only you knew how to create a custom collection of shapes that you could reuse in every diagram you create… Read this article to find out how to do exactly that!

  1. Customising and Formatting Shapes in Microsoft Visio
  2. Creating a Custom Stencil in Microsoft Visio (this blog)

Posted by Andrew Gould on 15 June 2011

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Creating a Custom Stencil in Microsoft Visio

So far in this series of articles we've seen how to customise some of the existing shapes in Visio using some straightforward formatting techniques.  In this part of the series we're going to create a custom stencil and save our shapes into it so that they will be available in each new diagram we create.  If you don't have a set of shapes to use, you can click here to download a Visio diagram containing the shapes we created in part one of this series.

Creating a New Stencil

Creating a new stencil in Visio is incredibly easy!  To do it, from the menu select: File -> Shapes -> New Stencil

A new stencil

Your new stencil will appear in the Shapes window with a red asterisk next to its name to indicate that you can make changes to it.


Adding Shapes to a Custom Stencil

Adding shapes to a stencil is basically the reverse of adding shapes to the drawing page - you simply need to drag a shape from the drawing page onto your custom stencil.  You'll have to do this to each shape individually, otherwise you'll find that Visio will group them all together in the stencil.

Adding shapes to a custom stencil

Simply drag a shape from the drawing page onto the custom stencil.


Anything that appears on the drawing page in Visio can be dragged onto a stencil to become a custom shape.  This includes pictures that have been inserted into the drawing page - a neat way to create a reusable copy of your corporate logo.

Renaming Custom Shapes

Once you've dragged all of the shapes onto the stencil you'll probably want to change the default names that they've been assigned.  To do this, right-click on a shape in the stencil and from the menu choose: Rename Master

Renaming a custom shape

Once you've selected this option, type in the name you want the shape to have and then press Enter.


Saving a Custom Stencil

Once you've renamed all of your shapes it's a good idea to save the stencil.  To do this, you can simply click the blue floppy disc icon which appears in the top right hand corner of the stencil.

Saving a stencil

Any time you make a change to a stencil this icon appears next to its name.


After clicking the icon shown above, you need to choose a name and save location for your stencil.

Saving a custom stencil

The default save location for custom stencils is the My Shapes folder, but you don't have to save your stencils here.

You should see that the title of your stencil has changed and the floppy disc icon has disappeared.  The save icon will reappear whenever you make a change to the stencil.  You can now use your custom stencil as though it was a built-in collection of shapes!

Using a Custom Stencil in Other Diagrams

If you create a new diagram in Visio, you'll probably be disappointed to find that your stencil doesn't appear automatically in the Shapes window.  Don't worry though!  Opening your custom stencil is but a handful of mouse clicks away.  To open your stencil in any diagram you're working on, from the menu select: File -> Shapes -> Open Stencil

Opening a custom stencil

From this dialog box you can browse to the folder you saved your stencil in and double-click on it to open it.

If you saved your stencil in the default My Shapes folder then you have a slightly quicker way to reopen it.  To do this, from the menu select: File -> Shapes -> My Shapes

You can then select your stencil from the list that appears without having to browse through a dialog box.


We've successfully customised a selection of shapes, added the shapes to a custom stencil and seen how to make this stencil available to any diagram that you ever create in Visio.  Congratulations - you've just learnt one of the biggest time-saving techniques in the entire application!

From here you can add as many extra shapes to your custom stencil as you like.  You might even create separate stencils for each of the different types of diagram that you draw.  If you want other people to use the shapes you have created you can even send the custom stencil as an attachment in an email, or upload it to a website so that others can download it and marvel at your Visio skills!

  1. Customising and Formatting Shapes in Microsoft Visio
  2. Creating a Custom Stencil in Microsoft Visio (this blog)
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