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Understanding the Drawing Canvas

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Understanding the Drawing Canvas.

Word, for quite some time, has allowed you to add graphics to your documents. If you are creating the graphics yourself, the normal way to add the graphics is through the use of the Drawing toolbar. All you need to do is click on the drawing tool you want to use, and then use the tool to create the item in your document.

There is another way you can create drawings, and that is by using what Word calls the "drawing canvas." You create a drawing canvas by displaying the Insert tab of the ribbon, clicking the Shapes tool in the Illustrations group, and then choosing New Drawing Canvas.

The purpose of the drawing canvas is to help you organize your drawing objects. Essentially, it provides a container for the pieces and parts that make up your drawing. The drawing canvas is initially transparent and has no border around it, but you can change those settings using the same techniques that you use to change colors and borders on other drawing objects.

Remember that the drawing canvas is supposed to be an organizational aid. As such, it comes in very handy when you are creating a drawing that contains several individual drawing objects. For instance, you might combine different shapes to create a complex drawing. If those shapes are contained within the drawing canvas, then they are easier to manage as a whole.

If you are simply adding one or two independent drawing objects to your document, then the drawing canvas will be of little value. For instance, you don't need the drawing canvas if you are simply adding an arrow, line, or a circle to your document.

There is one benefit to using the drawing canvas that you should be aware of—it allows you to use connectors between shapes. Connectors are lines that stay "connected" to set points on a shape. If you move the shapes that are connected by a connector line, then the line expands, contracts, or moves as necessary to keep the connection in place. Connector lines are available only within a drawing canvas.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (6077) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Understanding the Drawing Canvas.

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Comments for this tip:

Lily    20 May 2014, 03:51
When I upload Word documents to my university marking system, Google Drive or cloud storage systems sometimes everything within the drawing canvas seems to go missing.
Anyone know what can I do to prevent this?
Lee Batchelor    30 Apr 2014, 07:14
So I'm not alone, Mike. Wow, I wasn't aware of that canvas behavior in Word 2013! That's even worse than my situation. Why do such basic concerns fall on deaf ears at MS? It's not as though we're asking for an entire program rewrite!

To be fair, Word (all versions) is a pretty good program. It's the minor annoyances that drive you crazy and interfere with productivity. I know of a few colleagues who (near retirement) quit writing when Word 2007 was released. One declared, "When it comes to styles, it has a mind of its own. Word 2003 did everything I needed, but then they went and ‘improved’ it." It shouldn't be that way.

I use several software programs produced in Germany and Japan. They are flawless, uncomplicated, and everything works as promised. There are no moronic design features. The reason is because their developers monitor the forums very closely and fix things that are considered broken. Perhaps MS figures they're too big and don't need to worry. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. For proof, I give you modern-day Detroit.

- Lee
Mike Clader    29 Apr 2014, 14:58
I use graphics singly and your statement that the canvas isn't helpful for that fits me. Now in the new and improved 2013 Word, I can't disable it nor can I change any of its defaults. Inserting a text box amid existing text blows everything apart which necessitates taking the time to change it to overlay the text. They I cannot change anything surrounding it unless I then also resize the canvas for THE box I inserted. Not exactly a productivity enhancement. I am using Office 365.
Lee Batchelor    29 Apr 2014, 09:29
Thanks for chiming in, Randy.

The fact that MS made that change for Word 2011 MAC users tells me two things:
- Microsoft takes PC users for granted.
- Microsoft admitted to dropping the ball in Word 2010 and won’t spend the money to fix it.

Perhaps there is a way to have Word 2010 automatically create a canvas, however, I’d bet dollars to donuts, some third party person needs to create a macro for that function. Users are very lucky to have third party people to create extra functionality for Word products, however, I find that most of these macros bail Microsoft out of their customer obligation, which is to fix their buggy program!!

I really wish someone would create a word processing program that works and isn’t riddled with bugs features we don’t want. But there’s another topic!
Randy C.    28 Apr 2014, 12:14
According to an MVP, Word 2011 for the Mac creates a canvas automatically when a drawing object is inserted. It would be worth observing whether this is true for Word for Windows 2010 and later. (I'm mainly a Word 2007 user and use a separate drawing program when possible.) As also a Word for Mac 2011 user, I've seen recommendations to use PowerPoint for creating then pasting drawings (said to have "same graphic engine" but better tools).
Lee Batchelor    26 Apr 2014, 20:56
Good tip.

Please don't forget to mention that in Word 2007, we were able to lasso several shapes outside the canvas. To enjoy the same functionality in Word 2010, you MUST use a canvas.

This backward action by MS has annoyed countless users!! The stock answer from MS is, "Hold the shift key down while you select each shape." Try doing that with 30 shapes in one diagram.!!

I don't deny that the canvas is a great tool, however, as a professional writer, I often import diagrams from source documents where a canvas was not used. I should not have to set up a new canvas in the new document to accommodate the imported shapes. As usual, MS dropped the ball on this. They like to call it, "a design feature of their new graphics engine." Rubbish!!

When is MS going to stop doing stupid things and ask users what they want instead??

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