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Visio and Expression


June 10th 2004
February 25th 2009

Step 1 - Export From Visio
Step 2 - Opening the Diagram in Expression
Step 3 - Apply Organic Strokes in Expression
Step 4 - Export to Bitmap
More Info


Both Microsoft Office Visio and Microsoft Expression are drawing tools - but they look at the whole drawing metaphor with entirely different eyes. While Visio targets the technical aspect, Expression is more of an artistic drawing medium. Luckily, one can achieve great results by combining both of them.

In this tutorial, we'll start with a simple Visio diagram. We'll take it to Expression and use that program's natural media strokes to give an organic look to the Visio diagrams. Such organic diagrams look different that your usual perfectly angled Visio output - and can add impact within your next PowerPoint presentation or Word document.


Step 1 - Export From Visio

Since Expression cannot open the Visio file format natively, you'll need to export from within Visio to a format that Expression can understand. We'll export from Visio to the WMF format.

This technique will work with Visio 2000, 2002 and 2003.

  1. Create a new diagram or open an existing one in Visio.

  2. Simplify the content - try not to include too much detail since that will not look very nice after the organic strokes have been applied in Expression.

  3. Select all the elements in Visio - choose Edit | Select All (Ctrl + A).

  4. Group the content in Visio - choose Shape | Grouping | Group (Shift + Ctrl + G).

  5. Save your drawing under a new name - choose File | Save As...

  6. Save now to a WMF file - choose File | Save As...
    Choose Windows Metafile (*.wmf) in the Save as type dropdown box (see screenshot).

  7. Close Visio - if you are prompted to save your diagram again, click OK.


Step 2 - Opening the Diagram in Expression

We'll now bring the WMF graphic into Expression:

  1. Launch Expression and choose File | Open (Ctrl + O). Select the WMF graphic and click Open.

  2. In Expression, your imported WMF may actually be larger than the page size itself. Select the entire drawing - choose Edit | Select All (Ctrl + A) (see screenshot below left) . Choose one of the corner handles and drag to reduce the graphic size until it's similar to the page size. Then, choose View | View All (see screenshot below right).


  3. In Expression itself, choose File | Save As... and save it as an Expression XPR drawing.


Step 3 - Apply Organic Strokes in Expression

Now that our Visio diagram has metamorphosed into an Expression drawing, let's start giving it the organic look:

  1. If all elements are not selected, select them again - chose Edit | Select All (Ctrl + A).

  2. In the Strokes palette within Expression, I chose the 'Bitmap Airbrush' stroke style and set the stroke thickness to 90 points in the Paint Style palette (see screenshot).

  3. Here's how the end result looks like:

  4. Experiment with different stroke styles and thicknesses - you can also change the stroke color within the Paint Style palette. Save your drawing.


Step 4 - Export to Bitmap

As you can see, the organic look gives an almost artistic, painted effect to a conventional Visio diagram. If you want to take this graphic to Word or PowerPoint, you might want to export the Expression drawing to a bitmap.

You can then insert this bitmap inside Word or PowerPoint using the Insert | Picture | From File... option.

  1. In Expression, choose File | Save as Bitmap... (Ctrl | Alt | B). Choose PNG in the Save as Type drop down box and save your drawing to a PNG bitmap.

  2. Expression will then prompt you with the Bitmap Setting dialog box - remember to check the option for 'Save Alpha Channel'.

  3. You'll next see the PNG Options dialog box - accept the default settings and click OK.

  4. Save your drawing and exit Expression.


More Info

  • The Microsoft Visio homepage is chock-a-block of tips, techniques and support info. While you are there, you can order a 30-day trial version of Visio on CD-ROM, which also contains excellent tutorial movies and case studies.

  • The Microsoft Visio Viewer is a free download which allows you to distribute your Visio drawings to those who are not equipped with the application.
  • Search posts in the Visio newsgroups archive for all sorts of Visio-related information.


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