How to add reflection, glow, rotation and other effects to your Visio shapes

Visio shape effectsOne of the many tools you’ll find in the new Visio to help you make your diagrams look modern and professionally designed is the addition of shape effects.

If you’ve used effects like shadow or reflection in PowerPoint you’re already familiar with how effects can add visual impact to a shape. In the new Visio we have added those same shape effects to allow you to make engaging and professional diagrams simply.

You can find more information about new features for improving the look of your diagrams in earlier posts, New themes, variants and styles in Visio, Modern shapes and templates in the new Visio, and Create professional diagrams quickly with the new Visio.

Applying effects quickly

The simplest way to use effects to make a diagram pop is to simply choose a theme that includes effects. For instance, the first example below includes a subtle shadow to emphasize shapes and make them look more modern while the second example uses a 3D shadow to add dimension to a very simple theme. 

shapes with shadow


Visio shapes with reflection

But these themes merely hint at the power that effects give you to customize the look of any shape in your diagram. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, you can use quick styles to customize colors and formatting of shapes. You can also quickly add an effect to any selected shape.

Select a shape and click on Effects in the Shape Styles section of the Home tab. The menu that comes up has an entry for each type of effect you can add and hovering over an effect will bring up a gallery of choices that allow you to add one of the preset effects.

Visio shape effects menu

These galleries contain several variants of each effect that is designed to add some visual emphasis to your diagram. You can also format multiple shapes by using the gallery when more than one shape is selected. To enhance the look even more, mix and match effects by choosing from more than one effect type to add to your shape. The shapes below have a reflection, a bevel, and a 3D rotation.

Visio shapes with reflection, bevel and 3D rotation

Customizing effects

If you want to fine tune things and control every aspect of effects, you can click on Options at the bottom of any of the galleries, right-click on a shape and choose “Format Shape” from the context menu, or click the Format Shape launcher on the Shape Styles section of the Home tab.

 Format shape

This will bring up the Format Shape task pane. It normally stays docked on the right of your workspace, but if you click and drag on the title of the pane you can undock the pane and put it wherever you want, even on a different monitor. There are two tabs on this pane, the Fill & Line as well as the Effects options. For now let’s look at the Effects options.

Format shape, Effects option

You can see that the same set of effects that were available on the galleries are also on the Format Shape pane. When you expand one of the choices, you’ll see that you have detailed control over each of the settings for that effect. Click on any shape and you can see the settings that apply to that shape.

I’ve opened the pane to show the various individual settings that control the reflection for the example I used above. Let’s increase the distance a bit to make the reflection further away than the one on the triangle in order to make the square look as if it is further above the reflective surface. The effects on the shape are updated as I move the distance from 0 to 22 so we can see our changes in real time.

Applying effects to a shape

Each of the effects has its own set of controls that let you fine tune every aspect of the effect. This allows you to make highly customized effects to give a diagram a unique appearance. Like the preset choices in the gallery, you can apply these settings to a single shape or multi-select a group of shapes and format them at the same time.

The Format Painter can help you replicate an effect to multiple shapes quickly. Select the shape that has the look you want and then double-click on the Format Painter icon on the left side of the Home tab. Then you can click on each of the shapes you want to format and apply the same look to them.

New gradient controls

You’ll recall I mentioned the the Fill & Line options tab is also on the Format Shape dialog. For the most part they are simply the same options you’ve seen in Visio before, but one item has had a big update: Gradients. If you choose a gradient fill you will see that the interface for setting gradients gives you a full range of gradient controls. You can add or remove stops and set the color value of each separately to make the gradient as simple or complex as you want. You can also change the type and direction of the gradient. If you’re not sure where to start, use the Preset gradients dropdown to start with one of the presets as a starting place for your customizations.


Effects and themes

When you manually set effects or Quick Styles they override theme settings. For example, if you add a custom shadow to one shape in a flowchart and apply a theme with a default shadow, the shape with the custom shadow will not match the one that the theme applies to all of the other shapes. You can use this to your advantage to add effects that accent a specific shape and it won’t go away when you switch to another theme, such as adding a glow to a step that you want to call out in a flowchart. Then, no matter what theme changes you make the glow will remain, and the color will adapt to match the theme.

Flowchart with effects

Effects in a nutshell

Effects are a great way to make your diagrams look more professionally crafted and draw more attention. They can be as easy to use as choosing from a gallery or you can customize them to be exactly what you want for a highly personalized appearance. If you take the time to get to know effects you’ll have the power to make your diagrams really stand out and get noticed.

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