We’ve worked on a lot of documents in Word containing diagrams, but it was until recently that we discovered a little known feature called the “drawing canvas”. If you’ve ever struggled to create a diagram in a Word document that maintained its layout, then checking out the drawing canvas feature should be a high priority on your bucket list. In this short article we’ll introduce the drawing canvas and briefly discuss what it allows you to do.
The drawing canvas can be accessed by navigating to the Insert tab and selecting New Drawing Canvas from the bottom of the Shapes dropdown. This will plunk down a blank rectangle in which you can compose a diagram of shapes and images. This canvas, like other shapes, can also be formatted to have a border, background, etc.
The first benefit of the canvas is that it acts like a container to hold all of your diagram’s shapes, allowing you to easily move the diagram around and even cut and paste it as a whole. In fact it can even be copied and pasted to Paint which will paste it as an image — a very useful feature for taking snapshots of really large diagrams without having to resort to a screenshot.
The other benefit is that it allows for connections to be made between the visual elements within the canvas using the connector shape tool. This makes the diagram behave more like Visio, whereby shapes can be connected and will maintain their connections as they’re moved around. Since this isn’t possible without the drawing canvas in Word without resorting to a Visio diagram, it’s a significant feature for those who need to create diagrams in Word with many inter‑connected components.
The drawing canvas is of course not the be‑all, end‑all solution for diagrams. For instance, text wrapping is not available for the drawing canvas which limits text layout to the top and bottom of the canvas. Also, for more complex diagrams, an embedded Visio illustration is a better way to go since Visio offers a richer set of shapes and functionality that Word ever will.
However, if you’re designing diagrams directly in Word, and don’t want to resort to an embedded Visio drawing, be sure to check out the drawing canvas. It’s a great way to contain your illustrations and to create connections between their components.