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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:

jacob muchemwa    05 Jul 2016, 03:48
how do i draw a container like the one maersk or msc?
Roshi    17 May 2016, 10:48
My question is how to re-size
a combination of different shapes in canvas? Or If those shapes are contained within the drawing canvas, then how we can manage them as a whole?
Sarah    21 Apr 2016, 18:47
Oh! Thanks to Tim from 29 Sep 2014 - I found the solution!
Sarah    21 Apr 2016, 18:44
The question I have is how to AVOID the drawing canvas when all I want to do is add an arrow on a picture I've pasted into my document. I haven't figured out how to keep the drawing canvas from popping up, nor how to add my picture to the drawing canvas and then add an arrow.
Celeste Williams    01 Feb 2016, 12:43
You cannot select New drawing Canvas under Shapes in the New Office 365. How can I do that?
Lee Batchelor    19 Jun 2015, 07:30
Hi Ken,

I know the Group function is still available. The selection of multiple shapes at once is the royal pain. Your macro is most helpful...thanks :)!

- Lee
Ken Endacott    18 Jun 2015, 06:23
Grouped shapes is still supported in Word 2010 but the rubber band method of grouping is not available. Instead, shapes must be added to the group one by one.

The following macro will group selected shapes. Simply drag the cursor down to select paragraphs that anchor the shapes and run the macro. Don't worry if there is text in the selection, it will be ignored.

Sub GroupShapes()
Dim aRange As Range
  Set aRange = Selection.Range
  If aRange.ShapeRange.Count < 2 Then
    MsgBox "ERROR: Need 2 or more shapes non inline shapes in order to group"
    Exit Sub
  End If
  On Error GoTo Gerr2
  If MsgBox("Confirm the grouping of these shapes?" & vbCr & vbCr & _
             "Note: inline shapes cannot be included", vbYesNo) = vbNo Then
  End If
  Exit Sub
  MsgBox "Cannot group this selection"
End Sub
Lee Batchelor    17 Jun 2015, 08:14
Hi Geraldine,

Thanks for contributing. One of the "sales hypes" for Word 2010 was its new and improved graphics design engine. Like many of my colleagues, I was sucked in by this feature. After installing Word 2010, I designed a graphic containing 65 shapes and lines, I tried to select all the shapes so I could move them over as a group. No go. I then found out I had to use the New Canvas feature. Sadly, that information would have come in handy because I didn't need to do that in Word 2007. As you can see, using the Selection Pain (no, that's not a spelling error!) doesn't work. Your suggestion is excellent for graphics where only a few shapes are used. As for your Step 3, you can't select more than one shape at a time.

When Microsoft does something right, they do it extremely well. I wish they would devote some of their obscene profits to building the Word program from the starting gate, only this time, ask the professionals what they need and how things must be done. As Word sits right now, it is not designed for professionals, but rather typists (no offence to anyone--but that's the truth). They have the know-how to write a stellar program. Problem is, most of their clients don't need a bug-free, professional publishing program--however, that is changing. The demand for quality documentation is on the rise and Microsoft is already way behind. A program that only replaces the typewriter and checks spelling is no longer enough!! The 80s are over.
Maryland, USA    16 Jun 2015, 09:18
Geraldine Barnes-Hampton,
Try using the Selection Pane; it's not as convenient as lassoing, but it might be a bit easier than selecting each image directly on the page:

1. Under Customize the Quick Access Toolbar > All Commands, add "Select (SelectMenu)"; click OK.
On your QAT, a new button displays a white selection arrow and a dropdown menu.
2. In the button's dropdown menu, select SelectionPane...
The Selection Pane opens, listing "Shapes on this Page."
3. OK, I can't figure out a way to select several at a time. Can anyone?
Lee Batchelor    16 Jun 2015, 08:18
Good observation, Darkflux.

I'm afraid Word has miles to go before it becomes a "supertool;" if ever.

I love these forums, however, in a forum about good software, people discover how to do things the engineers never dreamed possible. In forums about Word (and there are hundreds), people discover how to work around the multitude of bugs and poor design features.
darkflux    15 Jun 2015, 12:39
i think that MS could completely eliminate Publisher if they would simply provide a switch in Word that would allow you to move between Layered Mode and Text Mode. that seems to be the only real difference anymore, and i am one to avoid using more programs than are needed. this functionality would make Word a "supertool" again, unlike any other before...
Geraldine Barnes-Hampton    11 Mar 2015, 21:57
In my case I want to LASSOO ONLY SOME but not all, of the 50+ images on my page. (They are pasted from my website so they are not in a "canvas") I certainly don't want to select each one individually, or even Select All then deselect 20% of them.

My work around is awful and involves Excel or Publisher.

Any suggestions for a Word solution?
Lee Batchelor    07 Oct 2014, 08:44
Hi Barb,

Thanks for chiming in. Your technique does not work in Word 2010 unless the objects are created inside a canvas. It does work in Word 2007.

I just tried your technique. I opened a blank document, and then drew a square, circle, triangle, and star. Using your technique, I can't lasso all four shapes-even when I set the shapes to "In front of." I can select each one by holding down the Control key, but that sucks when you have dozens of shapes.

Is it possible I have some function turned off? I doubt it because hundreds of others have complained to no avail.

Please tell me how you do it in Word 2010. Hundreds would like to know! Many thanks.

- Lee
Barb    06 Oct 2014, 08:34
Lee Batchelor: Not True! You don't have to hold the shift key down to select so many multiple objects. Go to Home menu-"select"(at the far right)choose "select objects". Then draw your lasso. The techniques are still there, just have to find them! <gg> Personally, I never use the canvas. I teach my students to just bring objects "in front of" when creating the drawings. Then when they group the object as a whole, they can drop it in anywhere they want on the page. If they want word wrap to wrap around their final drawing, they'll have to change it to "in line with" or something like that.
Tim    29 Sep 2014, 23:50
You can turn on "Automatically create drawing canvas when inserting autoshapes" under File, Options, Advanced, Editing options in Word 2010. Wasted so much time trying to connect shapes without the canvas!!!! Ahhh
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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