imageAs a SharePoint solution architect, when I’m not creating site columns and configuring SharePoint server databases, I'm meeting and talking to clients about their business requirements for collaboration technology like SharePoint.  On a project basis like assessing a client's desire to upgrade their SharePoint environment, this involves documenting a SharePoint environment or a lot of times just business processes.  There are many tools available for these types of drawings, and one I typically use for drawing SharePoint farms and topologies is Visio.  SharePoint 2013 Visio stencils linkPowerPoint is actually a very powerful drawing tool that doesn’t get as much love but it’s very versatile as well.  If you want to see a couple examples, you can see Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 technical diagrams samples for topologies here on TechNet.  Among the various content that go into our LUCK-based assessments are visual representations of the current state and future state of an environment.  In these drawings its typical for something to exist in current state, but in future state it is replaced by or consolidated into another system (such as SharePoint).  Another example is the need to indicate when certain things will be put in place by a project phase. 

The Problem

This brings us to our current need, the purpose for this blog.  We need to SHOW this replacement or consolidation of a topology, system, or anything else for that matter.  How do we do that for Visio shapes?  There are a couple different ways, so let’s knock this out.  For this demonstration I will using Visio 2013. 

In Visio 2013, Microsoft has re-worked a lot of the property options, and moved most options from the ribbon to a right-side options pane.  I had to play around a bit to get this to work, but it turns out to be surprisingly simple!  The steps will depend on the shape object, but I’ll show you a couple examples.  Let’s take an example from Microsoft we want to modify:

SharePoint 2013 Sample topology

Let’s say we want to gray out or lower the opacity of My Sites since that won’t be in place until a later phase of the project.  The shape objects are not one solid color we can just change.  If they are, you’re in luck and it’s even easier.  There are transparency options available on all shapes.  Just right-click on the shape, and click Format Shape.  This opens the options task pane.  If just try to increase transparency, it tries to do that for a solid color fill (black by default).  That’s not what we want. 


Fix for Simple Shapes

However, if you have a basic shape like those under the stencil Common Icons (More Shapes –> Software and Database –> Software –> Common Icons), you can just swap the color to a light color.  These shapes don’t have different colors or fills, so if we format the shape, under Fill you could just a pick a lighter color version than the dark color that is default.  To go even lighter, you can also drag the transparency slider to the right.  Here’s an example of 3 versions (far left is solid black, middle is just a lighter color, and right is a lighter color + transparency):


Easy right?  If that’s all you need, then cool!  But what about more complex shapes? 

Fix for Complex Shapes

If we do the same thing on a more colorful shape, we get something like this:


If that’s a look you want, go for it.  After all, this is all subjective and is whatever you want it to be.  But I was looking for a way to keep the colors, just be more muted, faded, lighter, more opaque like this:


Turns out it’s super easy to do (once you know the trick, and I have to thank my coworker Paige Cassada for giving me the idea).  If you’ve ever done any graphics design in Photoshop, this is the same concept with layers.  To make a shape (or any area for that matter) more muted like this, what we do is drag a rectangular shape OVER whatever we want muted, add a white fill with transparency and remove the line color.  I told you it was easy!  Let’s walk through it.  In our example, let’s lighten the entire My Sites section of the topology.

  1. Drag a rectangular shape to your drawing on top of the area in need of toning down.  Make the shape slightly larger than the area that contains the shapes.

  2. Right click the shape, and choose Format Shape.
    1. Under Fill, choose the fill color White, and set the transparency to your desired level of lowered brightness.  I like around 30-50% for this purpose.
    2.   Expand the Line options, and choose No line.  This will remove the black line outlining our white box. 

Done!  You should have something like this:


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