Mind maps in Spacemacs

This post is the second in the series of posts called PlantUML in Spacemacs. In this post we are going to see how we can create awesome Mind maps in Spacemacs using PlantUML. Mind map diagrams is the new feature recently rolled out in PlantUML and they are still in the beta* stage.

And you will find only minimal documentation in the official site related to mind map diagrams. This post gives you some additional bonus information such as adding colors to your mind map, creating high resolution mind maps and so on. You can find all these details in the Advanced Usage section in the bottom of the post.

If you want to know how to setup PlantUML in Spacemacs, please visit our previous post in this series.


Spacemacs is a community-driven Emacs distribution. It is a new way to experience Emacs with a sophisticated and polished set-up focused on ergonomics, mnemonics and consistency.

Mind maps

A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. A mind map is hierarchical and shows relationships among pieces of the whole. It is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those major ideas.


Although the term “mind map” was first popularized by British popular psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan, the use of diagrams that visually “map” information using branching and radial maps traces back centuries.

OrgMode syntax

Mind maps in PlantUML support the org-mode syntax also, which means you can easily create mind maps if you know understand the standard org-mode conventions for outlining. This will be an added advantage for people who are already familiar with Emacs and org-mode syntax.

Removing box

You can remove the box drawing using an underscore.

Arithmetic notation

You can use the following notation to choose diagram side.

Markdown syntax

This syntax is compatible with Markdown.

Changing diagram direction

It is possible to use both sides of the diagram.

Complete Example

Here is the complete example of a mind map with all the options which can be provided for your mind maps like caption, title, header, footer and legends.

Advanced Usage

So far we have only seen the examples provided by the official docs for Mind maps in PlantUML. Now we move into more advanced usage like colors, style and other stuff which will be very helpful for people instead of boring monotonously colored mind maps.

First we will jump into the colors section which is my favorite one, because I want my mind maps to be more colorful because that was the original idea proposed by Tony Buzan in his book called The Speed Reading Book.


With PlantUML, you can use specify a color using any one of the below methods:

  • with its standard name
  • using HEX value #AABBCC
  • using short HEX value #ABC

You can visit the official colors page in PlantUML for the list of color names you can use.

Changing background color

You can also change the entire background color of your mind maps other than the default white color using skinparam. skinparam is a command to change colors and fonts for the drawing.

You can use this command:

  • In the diagram definition, like any other commands,
  • In an included file,
  • In a configuration file, provided in the command line or the ANT task

Changing color of each node

If you want to change the color of each of the nodes in your mind map tree, you can do so by giving the color option within each node like below. Again you can use any of the three options such as color names, short and long HEX values.

Using color names:

Using HEX values:

Shorthand hex notation abbreviates 6-character RRGGBB CSS colors into 3-character RGB shorthand. So the color value ##FF6600 becomes #F60 in the shorthand notation.

Using short version HEX values:

Creating Monochrome Mind Map

If you are a person who cares about the environment, who don’t want to waste the color inks in your printer, you can choose to generate your mind maps in monochrome version like black/white with the monochrome skinparam command.

Handwritten style

If you want your mind maps to look realistic or you are not comfortable with computer-generated mind maps, or you want a natural feel to your mind maps so that they will look like they are hand drawn, then you need to configure your mind map generation with the handwritten skinparam.

By default this property will be false and if you want handwritten style mind maps you can set it to true.

Disabling Shadows

You can disable shadows from your mind map items with the option called shadowing. Again it is a skinparam command with a Boolean value. To disable shadows you need to explicitly set them to false.

Creating Print resolution Mind Map

By default, the default resolution for the image generated using PlantUML will be 72 which is the default resolution for digital media and the size of your mind maps will be determined by the content it has such as how big the tree is or how many number of nodes or leafs you have in it.

This option called dpi will come in handy if you want to take a print out of your mind maps and hang it in your favorite place so that you can take a look at them at your convenience.

DPI or Dots per inch is a measure of spatial printing or video or image scanner dot density, in particular the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of 1 inch.

For print material, the ideal resolution needed is 300 which you can set it via the dpi skinparam command.

Hope you enjoyed the post and it will help you to create awesome Mind maps from within your favorite editor. Please let me know your feedback or queries in the comments. Stay tuned for more in this series on other cool stuff you can do with PlantUML.



PlantUML in Spacemacs

This article is the first in the series of articles about including and using PlantUML in Spacemacs to do some amazing things. In this article we will see how to setup PlantUML in Spacemacs and use it. In the upcoming posts we will see some advanced usage of PlantUML and some awesome stuff you can do with it.


Spacemacs is a community-driven Emacs distribution. It is a new way to experience Emacs with a sophisticated and polished set-up focused on ergonomics, mnemonics and consistency.


PlantUML is an open-source tool allowing users to create UML diagrams from a plain text language. The language of PlantUML is an example of a Domain-specific language. It uses Graphviz software to lay out its diagrams. It has been used to allow people with visual disabilities to work with UML.

It has got hundreds of ways to integrate with your text editors, code editors, command-line, browsers and so on.


plantuml-mode is a major mode for editing PlantUML sources in Emacs developed by Carlo Sciolla from Amsterdam. It has got features like syntax highlighting, auto-completion and preview of buffer or region.

Installing in Emacs

Enable the major mode

You can automatically enable plantuml-mode for files with extension .plantuml by adding the following to your .emacsrc:

Of course, you can always enable manually the major mode by typing M-x plantuml-mode once in the desired PlantUML file buffer.

Spacemacs plantuml layer

This layer enables support for plantuml-mode in Spacemacs. To use this you have to add the plantuml layer to your dotspacemacs-configuration-layer in .spacemacs. You can open your .spacemacs file by pressing Spc-fed, and update it like below:


Recently, plantuml-mode have rolled out a new update for an experimental feature called Execution modes. Like you can choose any of the two existing mode to render the preview of your PlantUML code. Spacemacs still hasn’t updated to this change I guess. So if you are using the layer option to enable PlantUML you need to set the default execution mode to jar, so that you can use your local jar file to render the preview rather than using the server.

You can add this below snippet to your dotspacemacs/user-config

Also, to enable preview you need to tell plantuml-mode where to locate the PlantUML JAR file. By default it will look for it in ~/plantuml.jar, but you can specify any location with:

This is all you need to set up PlantUML in Spacemacs.


Once you enabled the plantuml layer, you can start using it by creating files with .pum extension. Spacemacs will automatically enable the plantuml-mode for you.

To render the PlantUML diagram within Emacs, you can hit M-x plantuml-preview.

Now open a new file/buffer and type the below code and save it with any name with .pumextension.

Now if you render the preview using Spc-mcc, you can see the below rendered image. This will run PlantUML and display the result in the PLANTUML-Preview buffer.

You can save the image buffer as a PNG file using Spc-fs with a .png extension.

That’s it. We will how you can draw more different type of diagrams with PlantUML from your favorite editor itself. Stay Tuned!

Please let me know your feedback/queries in the comments.