A Few Beginner Tips for OmniGraffle Users

I'm getting started today using OmniGraffle Pro for another project. I've poked around in it before but not to this extent. The goal is to get a double-benefit: learn OmniGraffle, and produce some nice looking wireframes.

So the goal of this post is to document a few of the things that tripped me up first, having come in with a lot of Photoshop habits and expectations. I will assume that you are creating a new blank document for each of these items.

How to change the canvas size

  1. From the menu bar click Inspectors > Canvas > Size
  2. This should highlight the Canvas menu (Figure 1-1).

    OmniGraffle Canvas Menu - Figure 1-1

    OmniGraffle Canvas Menu - Figure 1-1

  3. Uncheck "Size is multiple of printer sheets"
  4. Enter whatever size you want into the Canvas Size boxes

How to draw a straight line

I'm talking about drawing a straight line unattached to other objects. Just like a simple line shape in photoshop. I haven't even figured this out yet. In fact, the best solution I have come up with is to create an invisible square shape and use the edges of that to bind my line edges to. This is really awful so if anyone has some advice, please post it and I'll update this part.

Solution: hold alt + first click (keep holding alt) + last click.

This will allow you to create a freeform line anywhere in the document without having to attach it to the edges of another shape.

Keyboard shortcut for Zoom > Fit in Window

I'm talking about a keyboard shortcut to the same function as you would find in the menu bar under

View > Zoom > Fit in window

Unfortunately I haven't found it yet so please let me know if you know it.

How to create a master page

If you're familiar with Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Visio you're surely aware of master pages (or backgrounds in Visio). It allows you to create a base design that underlies other pages and allows you to design on top of them independently. Also, most importantly master pages allow you to change the base (master) page and see those changes reflected in every page that links to it.

So, in OmniGraffle 5 Pro there's a concept of a Canvas, Layers, and Shared Layers.

Canvases are like pages in InDesign and Visio. When they are selected, they're the only thing you you see in the workspace. They're also kind of like slides in PowerPoint in that you can open a presentation which will run in order. You can drag and reorder them.

Layers are like layers in Photoshop. You can hide them and place shapes and whatnot in different layers. You can drag and reorder them. You cannot (as far as I know) group layers as in Photoshop.

Shared Layers are like master pages. The way they work is this, anything you place on a shared layer will show up on any other canvas which has a copy of that layer. The way this is different from master pages in InDesign or backgrounds in Visio is that you can make a change to any one of the copies of layers, and the change is reflected on all other layers. Though I'm not exactly sure, it seems like this could provide some pretty interesting opportunities for more complex documents (Think multiple background inheritance.)

Figure 1-2 shows an example of 4 canvases with a single shared layer (Shared 1).

OmniGraffle Shared Layers - Figure 1-2

OmniGraffle Shared Layers - Figure 1-2

How to change the opacity of a pasted image

Open the Style Inspector > click the Images tab > drag the opacity slider at the bottom of the inspector.

How to create a mask

For example, say I have a large background image but I only want a portion of it to show through (see image below). This is what I'm working on solving right now. If you have any tips please let me know. (See solution below.)

OK, that didn't take too long. I have a solution though it's not technically a mask. However in my case of wanting to crop a background image, this works.

Basically, the solution is to set the background image of a shape to your image.

Just click your shape > click the Image tab in the Style Inspector > set the Size (1) to Natural Size & drag the Scale slider (2) appropriately. That's it!

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  1. Ralf Papenkordt says:

    How to draw a straight line?

    Toolbar > Tool > Straight, Stroke:Obsidian

  2. I have a love/hate relationship with OmniGraffle. We use it for creating visual sitemaps for our clients. It does exactly what we need it to do, but man it’s painful getting there!

  3. Julien says:

    Hey, for the “Fit in Window” shortcut, you can create a new Application Shortcut using the “System Preferences > Keyboard” preference pane. Just add a new shortcut, in “Menu Title” put “Fit in Window”, and assign something like SHIFT+CMD+0 as a shortcut, it works fine for me on v5.3.4.

  4. Gustavo says:

    Check out this printable keyboard shortcuts cheat sheat. It also gives an answer to the “Keyboard shortcut for Zoom” problem.


  5. Bruce says:

    Thanks for the Shared Layer help… 2 more related tips:
    * You can drag a shared layer to an other canvas to share it
    * You can change the layer order so it parers on top, bottom or middle of your canvas

  6. Gary says:

    great tip. Ive been using OG for over one year and just learned how to mask.

  7. Tony says:

    Best tip for Omnigraffle if you use it to present information: by pressing NUMBER followerd by ENTER you can navigate quickly to the numbered slide/canvas. Omniraffle is excellent if you want to be able to update information displayed dynamically.

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