If your job involves creating graphical representations like circuit diagrams, business process maps, flowcharts, floor plans, or organizational charts, chances are high that you are familiar with Microsoft’s proprietary diagramming tool Visio.
The software has been around for nearly three decades now. During this length of time, Visio has gone through a load of updates.
They have acquired a reputation as the industry standard for designers, modeling artists, engineers, and other professionals like them. Besides, even for less formal uses, this service-in-software has served a wide and versatile application.
There are several open-source tools similar to Visio. Pencil Project, Google Drawings, and Continuity to name a few. Though the best open-source Visio alternative is Creately because of its great features and an easy to use interface.
Let’s learn more about these diagramming tools now.
Although still relatively unknown compared to many other diagramming solutions in the market, Creately is by far our number one pick on this list of open-source alternatives to Microsoft Visio.
Why does it seem to be so different? Yes, they are endowed with an eye for discovering hidden treasures. Here are the reasons why Creately crowns this list:
First, apart from its cloud-based and desktop versions, Creately also exists as a mobile app across three operating systems – Android, iOS, and Windows.
As the web culture grows ever more mobile by the day, neither Visio nor any other diagramming service or product yet made by humans has cracked the mobile operating systems nut on a triple ground as Creately has done. So, this is not just an edge over Visio but also an industry-wide feat.
Creately uniquely spots a huge and ever-renewing library of templates that are numbered in the thousands. The software equally boasts a repertoire of elements, shapes, and connectors in a fun-looking user interface.
Speed is also another level on which users rate Creately above Visio. This is due to many drawing short-cuts that the software spots. Its learning curve is also among the least steep that we could find.
In terms of popularity and collaborative potential, Creately can connect with G-suite, Chrome as well as to Confluence and JIRA servers as a plug-in. This supersedes Visio and any other diagramming software we could find.
All these and more are available for free on two platforms: the web and OS. Apart from the excellent features available to the free users, there are other features and functionalities that are unlocked by throwing in some dollars.
The plans and pricing start from $5 per month per user just as it is with Visio. But considering the rich features in Creately, you might consider the value for the money to be higher here.
Related: 12 Free Visio Alternatives
Pencil Project is a downloadable diagramming tool that works on both desktop and mobile user interfaces. That’s a major edge that this software has over Visio. Also, Pencil Project’s desktop versions run on Windows and Mac OS, unlike Visio that works only on Windows.
Again, contrary to Microsoft Visio that is priced between $5 a month and $79.99 a year depending on the plan and/or platform, the main features of Pencil Project are available for free and they include the capability for data import/export, data linking, drag-and-drop editing, interactivity, template-based design, template libraries, and more.
The mobile version of Pencil Project has a rich library of iOS and Android stencils, shapes, and status bars to enable users to work on projects on the go.
While free users are largely limited from using the mobile features of this software, they are, no doubt, an interesting twist to the typical diagramming software that has been built over the years – including Visio of course.
Lucidchart is a SaaS platform that can be used to create a wide range of graphic representations. It also allows for easy collaboration among team members. The members can co-author, co-edit, and/or co-view as well as comment on a file depending on the level of access allowed to each of them by a central or subsidiary admin.
This software also has a reputation for being intuitive. You can either create an account from scratch or log in with your Google or Microsoft Office 365 account. Unlike what obtains with Visio, Lucidchart pays extra attention to a user’s unique experience on the platform.
Thus, right from sign-up or first login, a new user is presented with a questionnaire in order to tailor the software’s features and functionalities to the user’s particular needs – for instance, based on his/her position in a company or the uniquely predominant needs of the user’s job position.
You can begin a design from scratch on a blank canvas or you can use a pre-designed template to help you in defining the skeleton of your project. Compared to their Visio counterparts, LucidChart templates are generally deemed to be richer in quality, detail, and variety.
There are distinct libraries for these templates as well as for shapes, objects, and connectors that are executed via a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface.
The libraries are placed in categories such as flowcharts, ERD, UI flows, Venn diagrams, mind mapping, swimlanes, wireframes, design diagrams, and many more. The software also allows you to create custom libraries.
However, the feature that probably makes Lucidchart stand out the most as a Visio alternative is its ability to let users import/export projects from/to Visio when they log in with their Microsoft Office 365 account. This allows a workflow to proceed seamlessly in case a user is transitioning from Visio, which is often more than likely.
Nevertheless, Lucidchart is not half as popular as Visio yet. So, the chances of a Lucidchart user’s remote collaboration are relatively limited. But, with its ability to integrate with Visio (through file import/export, for instance), the popularity gap may well be getting thinner by the day.
Also, Lucidchart is a bit pricier than Visio if you were to consider just the figures without reference to their corresponding values.
For instance, a Visio web plan for a single user goes for $5 per month while an equivalent plan for Lucidchart goes for $7.95. Click here for more detail on Lucidchart’s pricing.
Check out more : Lucidchart like tools here.
In case you are one of those looking for a Google equivalent to Microsoft Visio, here you are. Google Drawings is only cloud-based, unlike Microsoft Visio that also has its desktop version. But, unlike the Visio cloud version, you can use the Google Drawings cloud version offline as a chrome add-on.
Also, since most web users own Google accounts, Drawings also has the added advantage of saving directly and automatically to the user’s Google account (specifically on Drive). As a result, Drawings benefits ebulliently from the global popularity of Google itself.
The collaborative potential of Drawings, therefore, makes it tough competition for Visio as you can easily share files and co-author a project with any Google user on the web, anywhere on the planet. You can also easily export projects on Drawings to other Google services.
So, as far as you are a Google subscriber, Drawings provides a great choice as a Visio alternative. Besides, Google Drawings has the other advantage of being mainly free, unlike Visio that has plans/pricing that many people may consider cutthroat.
Draw.io is a cloud-based interactive diagramming tool that integrates with a range of third-party platforms. Thus, the software has many versions depending on how it integrates. Each version is provided absolutely free of charge except for the one that runs on the Confluence server. But, the Confluence server version comes with enhanced security features.
Pricing is probably the major selling point of Draw.io as a Visio alternative. Added to this, Draw.io’s design features are considered by many users of it to be enough, especially as a completely free tool.
As for the tool’s popularity and collaborative potential, its ability to integrate with many platforms is an edge that may be second to none in the industry. For instance, it has an online version as well as versions that work with Google Drive, Docs, Dropbox, and Chrome.
Although Draw.io does not have collaborative features of its own, you can share files, co-view, and co-author projects using any of its Google integrations. This is to say that you can collaborate with anyone who has a Google account.
yEd Graph Editor is one of the most versatile open-source alternatives to Microsoft Visio in the market. Like Visio, yEd is a desktop platform that runs on Windows. But unlike Visio, yEd also runs on Mac OS as well as Linux/Unix.
Although freely available, yEd boasts such a rich user interface that makes it both easy and fun to work with. Its rich library of diagramming features and elements makes it possible to execute almost any design you can think of.
With yEd Graph Editor, you can either create a design originally just as it is with Visio. But, unlike what you get with Visio, you can also use yEd to import ready-made graphic content and tweak it or use it for data or process analysis.
The fact that you can also import projects from Visio makes it easy for Visio users when they need to transition to the yEd platform.
Apart from the fact that yEd’s main features are available to users absolutely free, its automation options endow it with yet another edge over Visio. For instance, if a flowchart design gets too unwieldy due to a lot of data that you may have incorporated, you can use yEd to automatically navigate and control the branch directions.
Compared with the Visio user interface, Dia Diagram Editor may appear to be a much more basic diagramming tool. However, as far as a free replacement for Visio goes, Dia is among the best options to consider depending on your needs.
Unlike Visio that is available either to Microsoft Office 365 members only (membership starts from $59.99 per year) or online starting from $5 per month, Dia Diagram Editor is offered absolutely free.
As unattractive as the Dia UI may appear, many of its users appreciate a wide array of its applications as being adequate for a free tool. Its libraries include AADL, Assorted, BPMN, Chemical Engineering, Chronogram, Circuit diagram, Cisco computer, network, switch, telephony diagrams, Civil Engineering, Cybernetics, ER, Gane and Sarson, Flowchart, FS, etc.
All these are available for absolutely free. However, this is not without its opportunity costs. For instance, there is no support for Dia users, unlike Visio users who can reach out using many options such as email, phone, and chat and are supported with FAQs, a rich knowledge base, and many video tutorials.
Continuity is a downloadable desktop diagramming app. Of all the diagramming tools we sampled, none gives attention to model building as Continuity does.
At the same time, none is able to produce the same quality output both on screen and on paper as this app does.
Perhaps, the most visible advantage of Continuity over Visio is pricing. While Visio is priced from $5 per user per month and could go as high as $79.99 per year, Continuity is available to users absolutely free for both personal and commercial use.
That’s good news for startups that are working on lean budgets. However, it must be acknowledged that the richness of Continuity’s libraries is nothing to compare with that of Visio.
Another advantage of this software over Visio is that, while Visio runs only on Windows, Continuity runs on Windows as well as on Mac OS and Linux. So far, however, the collaborative outlook of Continuity is still limited compared to Visio.
A member of the Zoho Office Suite, LibreOffice Draw is a downloadable diagram app. Unlike MS Visio, LibreOffice Draw is freely available and is backed by a community of developers that ensure it is regularly updated. This is the sense in which it is categorized as open-source.
However, LibreOffice Draw is not built for real-time collaboration between remote teams or team members. But an upside to this is that this software runs completely offline, which is an advantage in case your internet connection is poor or if you are in an offshore location without internet coverage.
Another edge that LibreOffice Draw has over Visio is its versatility of deployment. It runs on Windows as well as on Mac and Linux, unlike Visio that runs only on Windows.
ASCIIFlow is a freely available browser-based diagramming tool that puts a premium on simplicity. While we do not recommend this software for sophisticated or highly professional use cases, it is among the best available options for beginners and those whose jobs only require simple diagrams from time to time.
So, such people can save themselves the high cost and the much steeper learning curve of Microsoft Visio by taking advantage of ASCIIFlow.
Upon a visit to the ASCIIFlow platform, you are immediately presented with a simple interface that spots selection functionality, free form elements, shapes, arrows, lines, texts, and more that are readily available for your design needs.
The beauty of tech is an improvement. Then, competition tops the list of the factors that fuel that improvement. After so many years of Microsoft Visio serving a host of design needs in countless industries, it’s worth celebrating that it has come under such heavy competition that has seen diagramming tools springing up again and again… and again.
As a result, we had a really tough time trying to decide which of these diagramming options could be a worthy open-source replacement for age-old Visio to help those who are looking to spend less and still get design values that are enough to meet their needs or those who are looking to share ideas.
We had a long long list to rummage through and have finally come up with the 10 items above.
Quite honestly, even I never expected some of the items that made this list eventually. But, I couldn’t deny them after they scaled through our impartial judgment parameters. Creately, for example, may seem to have emerged out of the blue to top this list. Yet, the software has not gotten this far on pure luck.
Instead, as already highlighted, Creately has thrown up some of the most futuristic diagramming features we have seen – such as going mobile across three operating systems.
In this mobile era of the internet age, an era when working on the go keeps gaining traction with each dying second, that is an absolutely irresistible aspect that Creately spots. This is in addition to the software’s ability to integrate with some of the most popular platforms in their numbers, its ease of use, and more.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing.
Tom has been a full-time internet marketer for two decades now, earning millions of dollars while living life on his own terms. Along the way, he’s also coached thousands of other people to success.