I am conTENT. My work is CONtent.

vector diagram editing tools compared

Posted by contentgrrl on December 11, 2007

Oh, do I love diagrams.

Especially cross-functional diagrams, where you know exactly who does what at what stage in a process, what decisions are made in order to hand it off to another department. I like a vector diagram editor that makes it easy to drag-and-drop decision diamonds with smart arrow connections. And style the shapes with Web 2.0 goodness. (I know. What a geek!)

When I was at Creative Education Institute, I’d use Visio (now owned by Microsoft) to illustrate the stages of learning, practice, and testing with Mathematical Learning Systems. When I was doing network training at SBC (now AT&T), I’d import network diagrams into PowerPoint to layer and animate the pieces. At ECI², I’ve done a host of cross-functional diagrams to communicate standard operating procedures among departments.

Oh, sure, you can get Visio Professional for about $200 now, and Visio Technical for about $300. And you can get SmartDraw for about $200 too. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s a biased comparison.

But if your diagramming needs are more modest, Smashing Magazine site has a List of Nifty Tools and Diagrams, which introduced me to the free Gliffy.

A diagram is often worth a thousand words. is a free web-based diagram editor with some of the same functionality as Visio. You drag-and-drop shapes to create clean yet modern-looking flowcharts, network diagrams, floorplans, user interface designs and other drawings online.You can even upload your own images (logos, icons, specialized shapes etc.) but use the intuitive connection, resizing & rotation tools. You can collaborate via email, or export to:

  • SVG for use in Visio, Illustrator, and Freehand
  • PNG for use with Fireworks or Photoshop
  • JPG for publishing on a Web page or HTML email.

Gliffy Flowchart

In addition to flow charts and entity-relationship diagrams, Gliffy even does Unified Modeling Language (UML) diagrams (object, class, node, aggregation, message, dependency, actor, use case). If you want watermark-free, ad-free, private, unlimited diagrams beyond the basic 2MB limit with tech support, it’s available with a Premium account for about $30 a year.

6 Responses to “vector diagram editing tools compared”

  1. Our comparison *is* a bit biased… =). Seriously though, $30 a year seems a bit steep for just the diagramming capabilities of Gliffy. Is it the online part that’s appealing? The cool factor? Or you don’t want all the other stuff that comes in the honking Visio and SmartDraw suites?

    I’m just curious

  2. contentgrrl said

    I’d say the “honking suites” are pretty steep.

    As a technical writer, instructional designer, and Web content developer, I have never used the full capabilities of Visio, just the diagram objects and templates. So until my budget can afford more, I’m happy with a little SVG.

  3. heed said is a free diagramming tool that you might enjoy.

  4. billr said

    Gliffy is slow and crashes

  5. Debi K said

    Thanks for the review about Gliffy. We appreciate your compliments. We are happy that you found our SVG to meet your needs. Let us know if you notice anything you’d like to see tweaked or changed through your use of Gliffy. Feedback about when individuals have experienced crashes or speed is especially appreciated so we can help resolve those issues. Just drop us a note. Thanks!
    debik at gliffy dot com

  6. Ben Dilts said

    Check out It’s Gliffy done right. It doesn’t require Flash, the user interface is much more streamlined, and the collaboration and publishing features actually work well.

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