Save time by using your Document Stencil

 Oct 15, 2015

Save time, update and reuse Visio Shapes with Your Document Stencil.

The Document Stencil is a special stencil that is automatically created in each Visio drawing file. The master shapes, inside your document stencil, control much of the formatting, data and other properties of the stencil shapes you add to your Visio Drawing. (e.g. If you change the formatting of a flowchart master shape in your document stencil, it will update the formatting all of that shape’s instances in your Visio drawing) The document stencil can also be saved as a separate Visio stencil file to be used as a regular stencil in other files.

Quick terminology review: Stencil, Master, Instance


  • Stencil: A set of master shapes that can be added to your Visio layout.
    • You can create your own custom stencils as explored in my previous Visio blog post
    • Microsoft provides many for you to use (e.g. Flowchart shapes)
    • You can find many stencils available from other Visio users online and sometimes from Equipment, IT and other vendors
  • Master: A shape stored in any stencil.
  • Instance: A copy of a master that is created when you drag it from the stencil to your layout.
  • Document Stencil Master: Masters stored in a document stencil. These masters can be created manually or automatically, are editable and can be deleted.

Opening your Document Stencil


  • Shapes pane > More Shapes > Open Document Stencil

Creating Document Stencil Masters


Choose the method that suits your purpose
  • Add an instance of an existing stencil’s master to your layout.
    • A copy of this master shape is now added to the Document Stencil.
    • The formatting of the instance, in your layout, is linked to the new document stencil master.
  • Create a Document Stencil Master by dragging your custom shape, imported graphic or multi-shape selection into the Document Stencil Pane.
  • Right click on your document stencil masters to rename them as needed.
  • How to duplicate masters in your document stencil to cover different formatting and usage needs:
    • Hold down CTRL and press your left mouse button as you drag a copy of an existing master to a blank space in your Document Stencil.
    • Drag as many copies as you need to your Document Stencil.
    • See below how to edit Document Stencil Masters
  • Dealing with unwanted duplicate shape masters in your document stencil
    • Once the initial shape has been added to your layout, use the master shape from the document stencil when adding more to your drawing.
    • You can delete unwanted masters from your document stencil, by selecting them in the document stencil, and then tapping delete on your keyboard.
    • If actively linked to shapes in your layout, you will get a warning “Master(s) to be deleted are linked to objects…”
    • If you proceed, the objects in your drawing will remain, but you will need to format them in the drawing window.

Editing a master in a document stencil


  • You can edit the formatting and other aspects of a master by double-clicking on it in the stencil pane.
  • In the master window that opens, edit your shape as you normally would in a Visio drawing window.
  • When you are done editing, close the edit window via its top right corner close button. Avoid the very top right “x” as it closes Visio.
  • When a dialogue box appears, choose to update the master. The instances in your layout, as well as, the document master are now updated.
  • In the case of complex programmed masters (e.g. organisation chart shapes), you will find a limitation on how much you can edit the shapes without pursuing further development and coding. Additionally, minor edits to these shapes typically only effect newly created instances that are dragged from your document stencil after the update.

Saving a Document Stencil as a Regular Stencil


To save the document stencil, first update the save of the Visio drawing you are in, and then choose to save the file as a stencil.
  • File > Save As
  • Navigate to the “My Shapes” folder Visio adds to your PC's document areas, or to wherever you would like to save your stencil. Make sure to change the file type to a Visio Stencil (.vssx)
  • After you save the stencil, the file that is open in Visio is the stencil. Before doing more work on your drawing, close the file and reopen the drawing.

To Use a New Stencil


  • In the Shapes panel choose More Shape > My Shapes for stencils saved in the My Shapes folder. Visio usually creates a "My Shapes" folder in your computers documents area when it is installed.
  • Alternately choose > More Shapes > Open Stencil to open a Visio stencil file saved anywhere on your computer or network locations.

Until next time, enjoy creating amazing diagrams and layouts in Visio.
Cheers Katherine Davis

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About the Author:

Katherine Davis  

With over 15 years of experience, Kate is one of New Horizons most knowledgeable and skilled Desktop Applications and Graphic Design trainers. She approaches each training event with an understanding of the student’s perspective and with their learning goals in mind. Her extensive knowledge and dynamic training style enables her to engage users of all varying skills levels and ensure that each student’s learning goals are achieved. Kate is especially well known around the New Horizons office for her creative flair and talent in using the Adobe suite. She takes a genuine satisfaction from helping students solve issues and always makes an extra effort to ensure that students have an enjoyable learning experience.

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