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Flexible Stencils with Tables in OmniGraffle

by on August 10, 2015

Once you get the hang of them, tables will become the hammer to almost every nail you encounter in OmniGraffle. Recently, I have begun using complex tables to create very flexible stencils that adapt to almost every situation I use them in. If you are new to the topic, check out my post about using tables in OmniGraffle for prototyping.

This post will teach you how to use tables to create

  1. flexible toolbars, and
  2. resizable text areas with scroll bars.

Here is an OmniGraffle file that contains every step below.


Toolbars or button groups can be easy and flexible if you know how to bend tables to your will. Here is what I do:

A rectangle

Start out with a rectangle.

A table

Make a table out of the rectangle by pressing ⌘+Shift+T.

A table with five cells

Create some cells, one for each button.

A table, one cell is an arrow

Here is a neat trick to create toolbars or button groups with rounded corners. I learned it from the awesome bootstrap stencils for OmniGraffle. Select the leftmost cell and turn its shape into an Adjustable Arrow.

A table, one of the cells is an arrow with rounded corners

Set a border radius for this cell. In this case, five.

A detailed look at how to create rounded corners for a table using an arrow

Move the little handle all the way to the edge of the arrow. And there you have it! The corners are rounded.

A table, the lefthand side has rounded corners

The half-finished product.

A table with rounded corners on the left and an arrow on the right

Do the same for the rightmost cell.

Except you have to flip it. Don’t use rotation but the little “Flip Left/Right” button right next to the rotation control.

A table with rounded corners

Set the border radius and move the little handle to the edge. The table now has rounded corners.

A table with rounded corners and a background color

I set a background color for the whole table and turned off the strokes.

An icon next to the table

Let’s fill the toolbar with icons. This icon came from my stencil library. Select it and then cut it.

The table filled with icons

Double click on a single table cell and paste the icon. I repeated this step for some other icons. Pasted icons behave similar to text.

The table now looks like a toolbar

The divider line is just that: a grey line.

The toolbar has some more buttons now

You want to add some more functions in the middle of the toolbar after the fact? This is where using a table pays off. Select a single cell and use the hotkey ⌘+⌥+↵ (Command + Alt + Return). There is also a menu entry that does the same: Edit → Tables → Insert Columns.

The toolbar is almost finished now

I added some more icons and another divider line.

The finished toolbar

Sometimes, individual buttons have to be a little wider. In this case, one of the entries opens a menu so I added a little arrow and made the individual cell wider. I created a new star-icon with less opacity and replaced the old star-icon with it.

Text Areas with Scroll Bars

For high fidelity prototypes, some realism is needed. Scroll bars in text areas can make the difference. Now, you could just paint scroll bars onto a rectangle and be done with it. That has some disadvantages though, mainly that you can’t easily resize the text area now without also having to move the scroll bar. Tables offer a solution. Here is how I made a text area stencil for our stencil library at CoreMedia:


Start with a simple rectangle. It doesn’t have to have a border but I left it because otherwise it would be invisible.


Make a table out of the rectangle by pressing ⌘+Shift+T.


Create nine cells, eight for the borders and the middle one as the text field proper.


Fill the border cells with your border color and remove all strokes.


Select the individual border cells and resize them to your desired border width using the object inspector.


Create the background for the scroll bar by adding a new table cell next to the inner cell. To do this, select the inner cell and use the hotkey ⌘+⌥+↵ (Command + Alt + Return). There is also a menu entry that does the same: Edit → Tables → Insert Columns. The new cell will already be selected so you can go ahead and give it a background color and a width that suits your needs.


The scroll handler you see here is just a rectangle with rounded corners. Create one and cut it using ⌘ + C.


Double click the scroll bar cell to enter its edit mode. Paste the scroll bar using ⌘ + V. You will probably see nothing – let’s fix that: select the scroll bar cell again (i. e., leave the edit mode) and decrease its paddings to 0 on the type inspector. Justify the text and top-align it.


Rich text areas in CoreMedia are resizable in height. To indicate this, they have a handler at the bottom. You might not need this, but for my stencils, I added the handler by appending four more rows, giving each a height of one and making two of them white.


Add some text!


I placed the rich text area in a group and added a toolbar. As you can see, the text area is way too small! Let’s resize it by selecting and resizing the inner text area cell (not the whole table!). The scrollbar and bottom handler will adapt automatically.


text-area-15 Tables might be a little bit more work but that effort pays off when used in stencils that you use every day.

I hope these suggestions are useful for your stencil library. I have created an OmniGraffle file that contains every step. If you have more tips and tricks for OmniGraffle stencils, be sure to comment below.

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