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Sparx Systems Enterprise Architect is a great tool to produce and organise your models using UML, SysML, BPMN or other modelling languages or notations.

In some cases, the default rendering of elements on certain types of diagrams lacks a suitable colour scheme and font.

This article deals with two topics :

  • Highlight the strengths of Enterprise Architect as a modelling tool versus that of a drawing tool,
  • Applying visual styles to improve the look and feel of your diagrams.

A vital switch from a drawing tool to a comprehensive modelling tool

Initial context : A colleague and I discovered a set of BPMN diagrams maintained by a team using a BPM modelling tool, Bizagi BPMN Business Process Modeler. Being a freeware must have helped to quickly try and adopt this tool for the project. I have to say that the rendering of the diagrams looked rather attractive and modern. As a UML and BPMN expert, my colleague was the first one to get involved in this task. He started to model new business processes, and update existing ones as requested. He noticed a number of mistakes (e.g. broken sequence flow, missing end event) that he promptly fixed.

As things went on, we had a chat and I asked what he thought about this tool compared with Sparx Enterprise Architect. His feedback was interesting ; Bizagi was more or less a drawing tool like Ms Visio, that can be used to create a couple of UML diagrams. A project browser was  missing from Bizagi i.e. when you create a BPMN node like an activity or gateway, you have no access to this element so that it can be reused into several diagrams. Not to mention all the other powerful advantages from Enterprise Architect including traceability with other model elements from the same project, e.g. to link an activity with a requirement it fulfils, or with a use case to establish links between the business and system analysis models.

The need for a real modelling project quickly lead to a move from Bizagi modelling tool to Enterprise Architect, as agreed by the client.

Applying visual styles to improve BPMN diagrams rendering

As I started to create and maintain BPMN diagrams in Enterprise Architect, I looked at simple ways to reproduce a similar look and feel from the original tool (Bizagi).  The aim was to improve the default rendering of Elements in Enterprise Architect.  Below,  I managed to reproduce a similar visual style using the following colour schemes:

  • BPMN2 start event : light green background + dark green line

 Sparx EA diagram visual start on BPMN start event

  • BPMN2 end event : light red background + dark red line

 Sparx EA diagram visual start on BPMN end event

  • BPMN2 activities and gateways : light blue background + dark blue line


The procedure to create those visual styles is quite easy:

  • 1- I first defined the visual settings on a selected element using the diagram toolbar by setting the background colour, line colour and width, and the font.
  • 2- Then I clicked on Save as New Style icon from the toolbar, and entered the style name as prompted by Enterprise Architect, e.g. start event.
  • Alternatively, having an element with its visual settings already done, a new style can be created using the Get Style icon from the toolbar, followed by Save as New Style.
  • 3- Having repeated this process for each new visual style, I ended up with a list styles ready to apply onto my diagram's elements.

Note : Visual styles are stored within your Enterprise Architect project (e.g. the EAP file) but I haven't found them yet from the Reference Data to export them and share with others.

Once all visual styles have been defined, the following list can be opened from the diagram toolbar :


Here is an illustration of what I came up with, having applied the new styles :


Published in Tutorials