Adding Structure to Your Diagrams in Microsoft Visio 2013

  • 5/15/2013

Annotating shapes with callouts

In previous versions of Visio, you could drag a callout from the Callouts stencil onto the drawing page. The Callouts stencil still exists: in the Shapes window, click More Shapes, click Visio Extras, and then click Callouts to reveal more than three dozen callout types. The following graphic shows four examples.

Old-style callouts are useful for their intended purpose: you can type text into the text box and glue the tail onto another shape. Some even have attractive or clever designs.

The underlying problem with the older callouts, however, is that most of them are just shapes. Although you can attach them to other shapes, they aren’t associated with those shapes in any useful way. For example, start with the printer and callout on the left in the following graphic.

  • Moving the printer to the right (center image), doesn’t change the location of the callout.

  • Deleting the printer shape (rightmost graphic) doesn’t affect the callout.

It’s also easy to accidentally detach the callout from the printer by dragging the text box portion of the callout while trying to relocate it.

In this exercise, you will discover that Visio 2013 callouts are associated with the shapes to which they are attached in ways that make sense; the callout and its attached shape act in tandem.

  1. Click once on the Printer shape to select it.

  2. On the Insert tab, in the Diagram Parts group, click the Callout button. The Callout gallery opens.

  3. Point to various callout images in the gallery and notice that Live Preview shows what each callout will look like when attached to the printer shape.

  4. Click Orthogonal (as shown in the previous graphic). The callout is added to the page and attached to the printer.

  5. With the callout still selected, type Located in Accounting Department, and then press Esc to exit text edit mode.

  6. Select and drag the printer to the right (shown on the left in the following graphic), and then release the mouse button (graphic on right). The callout moves with the printer.

  7. Select and drag the callout to the left side of the printer.

    As you drag the callout, it looks like it’s been detached from the printer (left graphic). However, as soon as you release the mouse button, it is still attached to the printer (right graphic).


Unlike containers and lists, callouts do not have a context tab on the Visio ribbon. However, you can take advantage of the new change shape feature in Visio 2013 to switch any callout to a different style. Click the Change Shape button, either in the Editing group on the Home tab, or on the Mini Toolbar that appears when you right-click a callout. The following graphic takes advantage of Live Preview and the Mini Toolbar to illustrate changing the callout from the preceding graphics to the Zoom style.


There are a few other useful things to know about callouts:

  • If you delete a callout, it doesn’t affect the shape to which it was attached. However, if you delete the shape, the callout is also deleted.

  • If you copy a shape that has a callout attached, both the shape and the callout are copied.

  • You can attach more than one callout to a shape.

  • If you do not have any shapes selected when you insert a callout, Visio inserts the callout in the center of the drawing window.

  • If you select more than one shape before inserting a callout, Visio will attach a callout to each selected shape.

  • Callouts respond to Themes and Variants so their appearance on the page will remain consistent with the rest of your diagram.