by Richard Brinkerhoff

As a User Experience designer I spend a lot of my days in Omnigraffle. Over the while I’ve picked up some timesaving techniques and have put together a few of my faves to share:

Optimize Canvases For Screen and Printing

I like to set up my Omnigraffle document keeping two things in mind: how it looks on screen and how it will appear printed on paper. Being that wireframes should appear true to size on your monitor, my wireframe working area will accommodate a 960 pixel width surrounded by space for annotations and document footers and headings. This brings the total canvas size to 1600×1240, which bears in mind a 1.29 aspect ratio for 8.5×11 printing. With this setup I can use option + command + 0 to view my wireframes at an accurate to screen pixel size, or save as a PDF that will scale down to a sheet of 8.5×11 paper. I’ve also setup my major grid spacing at 80px, creating a 12-column grid within the wireframe working area.

This same logic can be applied to various grid structures and paper sizes.

Try it out by downloading Wireframe Optimized Template (archived .graffle)


A little known feature of Omnigraffle is the ability to reuse objects throughout multiple canvases without having to use shared layers. Shared layers come in handy when the objects stay in the same location, but what if I want to place a footer at different heights across canvases? Instead of making updates to each instance I can edit a single linkback to globally make updates in the doc.

To create a linkback:

  1. Select a group of objects
  2. Right click > Copy As > PDF
  3. Now paste your newly created linkback across multiple canvases using command + v. Double clicking your linkback initiates a new graffle window to edit your reusable objects. Saving will update objects across your documents.

Some caveats:

  • Linkbacks do not support actions, so you’ll want to use shared layers to create clickthroughs.
  • Changing the dimensions within the linkback edit window can have some undesired effects in terms of it’s placement on the parent canvas.

Link to External Files

Bringing images into a Graffle document is fine until you have to make updates, often requiring tedious re-importing and placing each and every time. An overlooked option in in the ‘Place Image’ dialogue (File > Place Image) allows you to link to the image file instead. This means overwriting the external file automatically updates its appearance within your doc. Note you’ll have to close and re-open your doc to see the changes take place.

Tables can stand to be improved within Omnigraffle, so I’ll often opt to use Numbers to create a nice looking table, then link to the corresponding PDF within my Graffle file using the ‘Place Image’ dialogue. Now I can just update the PDF and Omnigraffle will auto-update the table in my doc. Awesome.

More Omnigraffle geekery to come so make sure to subscribe to the Springboard RSS or follow us on Twitter.