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Custom Diagram Styles

Enterprise Architect provides a diagram drawing style that helps you to create new diagrams or cast existing diagrams as simple, colorful and direct illustrations of modeling and project management concepts, similar to the style of drawings created in Visio or Powerpoint. Elements are rendered with a border color, fill color, no gradients and a simplified appearance. They can also be rendered in a range of different shapes.

This minimalist drawing style is much used by architects, business users, CEOs and many others as a preferred means of conveying ad-hoc information concerning a business capability, architecture, system interaction or any of several other scenarios. In providing this capability, Enterprise Architect dramatically increases the reach and audience for its range of diagrams. Coupled with WebEA and Prolaborate, the facility offers end users instant access to attractive and familiar diagrams that avoid the formal, technical appearance and complexity of UML and technology diagrams.

The custom drawing style can be applied to any UML diagram, so that a user can still use the correct modeling element types (and can toggle back to the formal rendering of these elements) but they can give them a completely novel rendering style and appearance.

Custom Diagram Style is available in the Corporate, Unified and Ultimate Editions of Enterprise Architect from release 15.0 onwards.


Working from a template or Pattern

Display the Model Wizard (right-click on a Package and select the 'Add a Model using Wizard' option) and in the 'Model Patterns' tab click on the 'Perspective' drop-down arrow and select 'Analysis > Custom Diagram Style'.

Select one of the three templates or six examples, and work on those to develop your own diagrams. Note that these templates are intended to illustrate the feature rather than provide a framework for modeling - customizing is, after all, doing things your way! We recommend generating a model from the Custom Drawing Styles template (the diagram is shown in the Examples of Style Rendering section of this topic) and experimenting with the shapes and features to help you develop your own rendering of elements.

Apply the style to an existing diagram

Open the Properties window (Ctrl+2) and the required diagram, and click on the diagram background. On the 'Diagram' tab of the Properties window, expand the 'Appearance' segment and select the 'Custom Style' checkbox. Alternatively, double-click on the diagram background to display the 'Properties' dialog, select the 'Elements' tab and select the 'Custom Draw' checkbox.

All elements on the diagram are rendered as white rectangles with the element name and stereotype in the center. However, structural elements (such as a Ports) are not rendered differently in Custom Style.

If the element has Notes, these are also displayed in parentheses. No other element properties or characteristics are shown.

Connectors on the diagram are simplified to a solid line and basic arrowhead, except for stereotyped connectors which are also not rendered differently in Custom Style.

You now click on each element in turn and click on the icon to define the rendering as described in the rest of this topic. You can equally apply each feature to a selection of multiple elements.

Enable the style for an individual element

If the 'Custom Style' option on the diagram is not selected, you can apply the style to an individual element on the diagram. Right-click on the element and select the 'Appearance | Enable Custom Draw Style' context menu option. The element - alone on the diagram - is shown as a white rectangle as shown in the earlier example.

When either of the 'Enable Custom Draw Style' or diagram 'Custom Style' options are selected, when you click on the element and on the this Format toolbar displays next to the element:

Examples of Style Rendering

In the descriptions provided in this topic, refer to this diagram as an illustration of the options and their effects.

Apply Styles



See also

Set the Shape

On the Format toolbar click on the icon at the right-hand end of the row of icons. In the drop-down menu, click on the appropriate shape option to render the element as a:

  • Rectangle (the default)
  • Rounded-corner rectangle
  • Ellipse (which you can drag into the shape of a circle)
  • Diamond
  • Polygon, with a submenu to define the shape as having 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 sides, or
  • Triangle

See the 'Shape' panel of the example diagram. The 'None' option here turns custom styles off for the element and returns it to 'normal' model notation rendering.

Regardless of its visible shape, each element has a rectangular operation boundary and the positioning options described in this table work within that rectangle.  You might find, therefore, that some of the position options on non-rectangular shapes can place the element text and icons outside the visible shape.

Note that the icon in the toolbar updates to reflect the current shape of the element.

Set the Opacity of the Element Fill

You can set the element shape to be transparent (so that the diagram background and any overlapped elements show through) or various degrees of opacity that overshadow the overlapped elements. If you set 100% opacity, the element fill is solid and totally hides the background and any overlapped elements.

To set the opacity, on the Format toolbar click on the icon and select from:

  • 0%
  • 25%
  • 50%
  • 75% and
  • 100%

See the 'Opacity' panel of the example diagram.

Note that the element boundary, text and icon (if set) are not affected when setting the Opacity.

System Boundary Properties

Set the Text Position

On the element, display of the name, stereotype and notes defaults to the center of the element. You can reposition the text to eight other points in the element shape, or place the text in a custom position.

To position the text, on the Format toolbar click on the icon and select from these options:

  • Top Left
  • Top Center
  • Top Right
  • Left Center
  • Center
  • Right Center
  • Bottom Left
  • Bottom Center
  • Bottom Right
  • Custom

If you select the 'Custom' option, the element text is displayed as a label just beneath the element, and you can drag it to whatever position inside or outside the element you prefer. You can also use any of the standard label formatting facilities.

See the 'Alignment' panel of the example diagram. Note that the icon in the toolbar reflects the current position of the text in the selected element.

Manage Object Labels

Set the Text Orientation

The text in the element defaults to horizontal, reading left to right. If you prefer, you can set the element name to a vertical orientation with characters in the same plane, reading either top to bottom or bottom to top.  Stereotype and Notes text are hidden in these vertical settings.

To set the orientation, on the Format toolbar click on the icon and select from these options:

  • None (leave horizontal)
  • Vertical (clockwise)
  • Vertical (anticlockwise)

See the 'Rotation' panel of the example diagram. Note that the icon in the toolbar reflects the current orientation of the name of the selected element.

Add an Icon to an Element

While the diagram has Custom Style enabled, you can add icons to either the existing elements or to new elements generated as part of the process. The default position of the icon is in the top right corner of the element boundary, but you can move the icon to other points.

To set the icon on an element in the diagram, select an Image Asset in the Browser window and drag it onto the diagram, either onto the existing element or into a space in which to create a new element. A short menu displays:

  • If you are adding the image to an existing element, select the 'Set as Icon' option
  • If you are creating an element that contains the icon, select the 'Add as element with icon' option

After adding the icon, click on the element and on the , then in the Format toolbar click on the icon and on 'Position', and select from these options:

  • Top Left
  • Top Center
  • Top Right
  • Bottom Left
  • Bottom Center
  • Bottom Right

Note that the toolbar icon reflects the current position of the icon in the selected element.

Any size of image can be set into the Image Asset when it is used as an icon, but you can control its display size in the element. Click again on the icon and on 'Size', and select from these options:

  • 16x16 pixels
  • 24x24 pixels
  • 32x32 pixels (the default)
  • Image Size (the size of the image in the Image Asset; do not select this option unless the image is already small enough to act as an icon)
Image Assets

Apply Border Style

To change the border line style, on the Format toolbar click on the icon (second from the right) and select a line style of:

  • Solid
  • Dashed
  • Dotted
  • Dashed-and-Dotted
  • None

See the 'Border Style' panel of the example diagram.

Apply Stacked Image

On the diagram or element with Custom Style enabled, you can make an element represent several iterations of its object by adding a set of between 1 and 4 'stacked' element edges off one of the corners of the element.

To add 'stacking', click on the icon and select 'Stacks' and the number of edges to add.

Click on the icon again (notice that it now represents the number of 'stacks' you set) and select 'Direction' and one of these options:

  • NW (top left corner)
  • NE (top right corner; the default)
  • SW (bottom left corner)
  • SE (bottom right corner)

See the 'Stack' and 'Stack Direction' panels of the example diagram. Note that the icon in the toolbar also reflects the direction of stacking in the selected element.

Set the Font, Border Width and Colors

These are standard options on the Diagram and Element floating toolbars, and apply to the Custom Styles as well as to normally rendered elements.

Click on the element and on the icon to the right of the element to display the Element toolbar, then:

  • To show the element text in a different font, click on the icon; the 'Font' dialog displays, on which you can set the font type, style, size, color, effects and script type from the lists in each field
  • To apply different colors, click on one or more of the icons to set the color of the text, element fill and/or element border respectively; select the appropriate color from the color palette in each case or, if necessary, click on the More Colors button to define a custom color to use
  • To change the width of the element borders, click on the 'spinner' arrows to set the border width to a value between 1 (the thinnest, default width) and 5 (the thickest width)
Create Custom Colors

Subordinate Text

In Custom Diagram Style, if the element name does not provide a sufficiently specific visual reference, you can use the 'Description' Tagged Value to display a secondary text string on the element. Apply these simple steps:

  1. Click on the element and, if necessary, press Ctrl+2 to display the Properties window for the element.
  2. Click on the 'Tags' tab in the Properties window, and click on the New tag button. icon in the toolbar to create a new Tagged Value.
  3. In the 'Tagged Value' dialog, in the 'Tag' field type Description, and in the 'Value' field type <memo>. Click on the OK button.
  4. On the 'Tags' tab, click on the Browse. icon at the right-hand end of the 'Description' field, and in the 'Tagged Value Note' dialog type the text string to display. Click on the OK button.
  5. The element on the diagram now has a line across it underneath the name (depending on the other Custom Styles you have applied) with the text string below it.


  • Having applied custom styles to a diagram, you can toggle between the custom format and the formal notation simply by enabling and disabling the 'Custom Style' option.
  • Be aware that manual changes to colors, border width and element position and size are reflected in both formats, but the system can automatically resize elements to accommodate text and compartment content, and that will then be reflected in the custom appearance of the diagram when you switch to it; therefore diagram layout might be altered as you toggle between the formats
  • Similarly, if you reduce an element to the minimum size in Custom Style, when you deselect the 'Custom Style' option to turn it off, the element returns to its original size to display all of its visible content
  • Custom Style and Info View Style are mutually exclusive; you do not apply both styles to the same element