Flowcharting in Excel Series

Creating a Custom Flowchart Toolbar in Microsoft Excel 2000 - 2003

By Nicholas Hebb

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Customize the Drawing Toolbar

The default Microsoft Excel Drawing toolbar is not optimized for flowcharting. To speed up flowcharting, you can customize it to access your favorite drawing functions with a single click.

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First, make sure the Drawing toolbar is visible. This can be done by placing the mouse over any toolbar, and right-clicking on the mouse and selecting the toolbar name from the popup menu. Alternately, you can select View > Toolbars > Drawing from the menu. The default Microsoft Excel Drawing toolbar should look something like the picture below:

Drawing toolbar

To customize the toolbar for flowcharts, right-click anywhere on the toolbar and select "Customize". This should bring up the Customize dialog box:

Customize dialog

The left-side list contains the Categories and the right-side list contains the Commands that you will add. The two categories that we're concerned with are the Drawing and Autoshapes categories. To add a command to the toolbar, simply click on the command with your mouse and drag it onto the toolbar. To remove a button - do the opposite: select the button on the toolbar and drag it back to the dialog box.

Below is a picture of a toolbar that has been customized for flowcharting, followed by a brief description of each toolbar button. Your preferences may vary, of course.

custom drawing toolbar

From left to right, the buttons are as follows:

  • Select Objects: Creates a mouse cursor that allows you to select one or more flowchart symbols or other drawing objects.
  • Select Multiple Objects: Opens up a form that lets you select all or some of the flowchart symbols at once.
  • Group: groups multiple flowchart symbols into one. This is handy for flowchart Decision symbols (diamonds) and the associated text boxes used for branch labels.
  • Ungroup: Separates a grouped object back into its constituent components.
  • Snap to Grid: Makes flowchart shapes align to the edges of cells when you move or size them.
  • Align Center: Aligns flowchart symbols along their vertical centers.
  • Align Middle: Aligns flowchart symbols along their horizontal middle.
  • Distributed Horizontally: Spaces flowchart symbols an equal distance apart horizontally.
  • Distribute Vertically: Spaces flowchart symbols an equal distance apart vertically.
  • Rotate (4 buttons): Rotate left, right, flip horizontal, and flip vertical. One use for these is to point an Off-page Connector flowchart symbol in the direction of the referenced page.
  • Straight Arrow Connector: A flow line that connects one shape to another in a straight line.
  • Elbow Arrow Connector: Adds a elbow arrow connector to the drawing. If 2 flowchart symbols are aligned, this connector will create a straight flow line, so it's more versatile than a straight connector.
  • Reroute Connectors: automatically re-routes connectors (flow line). This is very handy after you move flowchart symbolss, especially when used in conjunction with the Select Multiple Objects function.
  • Line style: Changes line style from solid to dashed. (Tip: dashed lines indicate parallel or alternate processes).
  • Callout: Callouts are used for adding notes or comments to a diagram. There are many different styles of callouts to choose from, but you should just pick one for consistency.
  • Change Autoshape: This command is enabled only when a shape is selected. As expected it lets you change the type of the flowchart symbol (aka, Autoshape).

Other useful flowchart-related commands not shown:

  • Text Box: Adds a Text Box to your drawing. These are useful for adding branch labels to the flow lines coming out of flowchart Decision symbols.
  • Fill Color: Fills the shape with the selected color. This is useful for categorizing different process steps (e.g., by department, person, etc.) or jazzing up a flowchart.

Creating a Flowcharting Shapes Toolbar

flowcharting toolbar

For easy access to flowchart shapes, you can select AutoShapes > Flowchart from the Drawing menu. The Flowchart pop-up will appear as shown in the picture to the right. Click on the top of the Flowchart menu and drag it onto the spreadsheet to be a floating toolbar.

You can do the same trick to add a toolbar for callouts and another for flowchart connectors (flow lines). You can then drag the new toolbars to one of the edges to dock them against the side. I prefer putting them on the left edge, similar to the user interface of high-end flowchart programs.