Drawing early stage wireframes can often involve sketching out a series of rectangular areas to create a desired structure. Graph paper can feel a little too structured but dot grid paper is a great alternative. I recently came across a very smart notepad from Behance and of course, as this isn’t a new idea, there’s lots of free pdf downloads such as the ones at McGraw Hill. If you want to create your own, however, then Visio can also help…

**Visio dot grid shape**

You could attack this problem in a number ways [Update - see David Parker's take on Dot Grids], but I’ve chosen to create a single shape that contains 15 rows and 15 columns. I’ll explain about the significance of 15 in a second but the basic operation allows you to set the individual dot size, and the horizontal and vertical gaps between the dots all via the Shape Data window:

The width and height of the shape determines how many rows and columns are visible with the overall size constrained to the maximum of 15 in either dimension. So with that, if you just want to use the shape, you can download it here:

**ShapeSheet details**

If you’re interested in how the shape works under the covers, then here are a few points that its construction raises.

*Geometry section limit* – The reason that the shape is limited to 15 rows and columns is that Visio limits the number of Geometry sections to 230. As each dot is represented by a single geometry section (containing an Ellipse row type) this means that for an equal number of rows and columns (the square root of 230 is 15.something) the maximum you get can use is 15.

*Ellipse row type* – Each dot is positioned (via its XY cells) relative to a previous target – i.e. the Y position remains the same for each dot in the same row. Outer points on the Ellipse are similarly positioned relative to its centre, which allows you to forget about these cells once set.

*Bound function* – The minimum and maximum width and height of the overall shape are enforced using the BOUND() ShapeSheet function.

The formulae in the Width and Height cells calculate the constrained range from the diameter of a single dot to the multiple (15) of the dots plus the gaps. If you want to explore this function in more detail then there’s a good post on it over at the Visio Insights blog – Staying in bounds.