Taking control of shapes in Word

Many, perhaps most, users wanted their shapes to exist as standalone objects within the text of their documents, just like textboxes or pictures, and objected to having the shapes contained in a separate drawing canvas.

Taking control of shapes in Word

How to do it

Unfortunately, Word can’t flow text around such a complex object as a group of connected shapes, and instead has to contain them within a drawing canvas so that it knows where their outermost boundary lies, enabling it to then wrap the text around that boundary. The upshot was that drawing canvases still exist in Word 2003, 2007 and 2010, but they’re no longer created automatically.

To insert a drawing canvas manually, click Insert | Shapes | New Drawing Canvas, and you should see the pale blue border of the canvas in your document.

If you want to ensure that you get a drawing canvas inserted automatically whenever you insert a shape, click File | Options | Advanced | Editing Options and tick “Automatically create drawing canvas when inserting AutoShapes”.

Now whenever you click Insert | Shape you’ll get a drawing canvas as well. When you add shapes to a drawing canvas, those shapes will grow red connection points when you drag the end of a line over them, and dragging the line end over a connection point will cause it to stick there (see picture below). Now move the shape, and the line will stretch and move to accommodate.

Word Shapes

You’ll also see an extra “Re-route Connectors” command whenever you right-click a line or under Drawing Tools | Edit Shape on the Ribbon – this automatically moves connecting lines to the nearest connection point on a shape to tidy up a drawing, which is useful if you’ve moved several shapes around.

The drawing canvas itself has options if you right-click on its border, including the option to fit the canvas to the shapes it contains, and to scale the drawing whenever you resize the canvas. This saves you having to resize every shape individually if you need to fit your drawing into a smaller or larger space after you’ve created it.

By default the drawing canvas comes with no border or background colour, but you can set them if you want. You can also insert a caption for your drawing or set effects, such as reflection or shadow, for the canvas as a whole.

Alternatively, you can set the text-wrapping option (see picture below) on the canvas to Square or Tight and then edit the wrapping points to wrap text tighter to the enclosed shapes than a rectangular canvas normally allows – this gives you great control over the flow of text around your drawing, however complex it is.

Word Shapes

Not all the drawing tools make sense when you’re working with connected shapes. For instance, if you use a perspective slant, each shape and connecting line is slanted separately, causing the lines to appear detached from the shapes.

However, if you select all the shapes and lines and group them, you can apply the perspective slant to the group, and lines will remain attached. These restrictions seem a little arbitrary, and you have to play with the effects to find out what works and what doesn’t.

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