Update: 7/10/2017: One year later, many of these programs have been updated. We have modified this article to include those changes.
Did you know that you take in 75% of information with your eyes?
In his book Brain Rules, neurologist John Medina explains, “The more visual the input becomes, the more likely it is to be recognized and recalled.”
To put it simply: project managers shouldn’t be blinded to the importance of visual communication. Even with the best project management communication plan, project managers are still prone to making communication mistakes.
Microsoft Visio is often been the project manager’s choice for visual communication. The popular diagramming software syncs with Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Sharepoint.
On Capterra, users generally have a favorable opinion of Microsoft Visio. Out of more than 25 user reviews, Visio earns an overall four stars out of five. Reviewers are most enthusiastic about Visio’s core functionality: its diagramming capabilities. From flowcharts to organizational charts to floor plan layouts, Visio offers the essential templates and tools needed for professional visual communication.
With that said, users report that customer service is less than stellar (earning a 3.5 out of five-star rating), and poor integration options—even with Microsoft tools such as Microsoft Project. It’s also expensive; Microsoft Visio 2016 runs a cool $589.99—and that’s just for one copy.
The tool used to be considerably more user friendly then [sic] it is now. One of the biggest problems I have run into is trying to attach various lines (e.g. sequence flows, message flows) where I want to attach them. This used to be very simple and straightforward. This new version of Visio has ‘fixed’ that by making it almost impossible. My time to create a process model has now doubled. A relatively simple change, that took about 30 minutes, now takes upward of an hour, with half that time trying to get the lines to hook up the way they need to be hooked up… This product does not even rate a full star.
Have you used Microsoft Visio? Leave a review!
Microsoft Visio alternatives
When I looked at Microsoft Visio competitors, I used these three criteria as a starting point:
- It must be affordable. They have to cost less than $200 per license or under $15 per user per month.
- It must sync with at least one project management software platform.
- It must have generally positive reviews (over 80% positive from sites such as Capterra, GetApp, or Software Advice).
With those heuristics in mind, let’s dive into the ten best Microsoft Visio alternatives, sorted alphabetically.
Ardoq is a little-known, Norwegian Microsoft Visio alternative that packs a punch. Made for architects, developers, process owners, project managers, and business owners, this “living documentation” software aims to translate complex information into beautiful charts.
Ardoq aims to “help project managers understand the complete network of systems, requirements, and processes that [their] project may affect.”
The software can work as a portfolio or project management system, calculating dependencies and communicating how far along a project is and how far it needs to go.
The templates for visual modeling are fairly robust.
Ardoq makes it simple to create common charts, such as process flows, sequence diagrams, and relationship diagrams. Should there not be a template that suits your company’s needs, Ardoq offers a plugin editor. Just punch your code in and let the software do the rest of the work!
Compatible with: JavaDoc Doclet plugin for documenting your Java Applications, .NET Assembly Documentation Tool, API Import tool, Excel Import, Jira
Price: Free trial, pricing available upon request
Operating System(s): Cloud, Mac OS X, and Windows
Used Ardoq? Leave a review!
ConceptDraw PRO is made to be used with ConceptDraw PROJECT 8, a project management system that’s great for Mac users and for those concerned about resource allocation. While I wouldn’t recommend PRO as a standalone Microsoft Visio alternative, it works great in conjunction with PROJECT.
All you have to do is go into PROJECT and fill out the data needed to create a report. From there, PRO creates beautiful representations of this integrated information. PRO exports and imports a huge number of file formats and offers live objects that automatically update with this data.
The system is easy to use and has tons of useful templates. If you’re using ConceptDraw PROJECT, upgrade your experience with PRO. You can not only make beautiful charts with it, but also standout presentations, ending your dependence on Microsoft Powerpoint.
Compatible with: ConceptDraw PROJECT 8
Operating System(s): Mac OS X and Windows
(Used ConceptDraw PRO? Leave a review!)
The makers of Creately clearly had one vision in mind: design a competitor that is more intuitive, more expansive, and more cost-effective than Microsoft Visio.
Creately has over 1,000 diagram templates and symbols, runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, and the cloud, offers free online collaboration software, and includes revision history, integrated Google Image search, and shared project libraries. On each and every one of these fronts, Creately wins over Visio in terms of what and how much they provide.
Creately falls a little flat in terms of customer support. The company expects most users to find answers in their help forum and video and written tutorials, but that doesn’t help much if you’re without internet access.
Compatible with: Confluence, Jira
Price: Free for five diagrams; starts at $5 a month for personal use. For companies that have 5+ users, pricing starts at $25 a month (or $239 a year).
Operating System(s): Cloud, Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux
Used Creately? Leave a review!
When you click to Draw.io, you’ll notice that it doesn’t ask you for a login, just where you want to save your images. It’s an app that gets right to point: draw your diagram, save it, exit the program. If you’re looking for a Microsoft Visio competitor because of Visio’s pricing or more-than-necessary functionality for your needs, check out Draw.io.
Draw.io is a completely free, basic diagramming service that integrates with common cloud tools, including Google Drive, Dropbox, and Jira. There is a paid version—which, functionality wise, isn’t meaningfully different from the free offerings. Users buy the paid version to make their diagrams accessible through the Confluence server.
It supports real-time collaboration between multiple users. While its library is small compared to the other programs on this list, Draw.io still offers essential templates, such as flowcharts, Venn diagrams, and a few marketing charts. That said, their entire template library offers just 70 options—less than 30% of what LucidChart offers.
Draw.io can export HTML, JPEG, PDF, PNG, PNG with transparent background, SVG, SVG with transparent background, and XML. It can also import diagrams from Visio, LucidChart, and Gliffy.
Compatible With: Confluence, JIRA
Price: Free for everything but Confluence Server, with pricing starting at $10 and going up depending on team size.
Operating System(s): Cloud, Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows
Gliffy is far cheaper than Microsoft Visio, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete. Major companies such as Electronic Arts, IBM, Twitter, and Verizon use this diagramming software regularly. As Silvana Bacigalupo-Wold from Pandora Radio says, “Gliffy has been extremely useful for Pandora. Our team has pioneered the use of Gliffy at Pandora and as a result of the value derived from our diagrams, many other teams are now using it to represent their ideas.”
Like the other options listed above, Gliffy is a WYSIWYG editor with plenty of icons to choose from. The simple drag-and-drop system is easy for anyone to pick up — beginners and pros alike.
Gliffy doesn’t have as many template options as the other products listed here, yet the program is customizable enough that you may want to forgo a template anyway.
Compatible with: Confluence, Jira
Price: Free version for immediate basic drawings available. Upgrades start at $7.99 a month for one user, unlimited diagrams, and the complete shapes library. Team pricing starts at $4.99 per user and includes added features such as a Google Drive plugin, live diagrams, and a commenting tool. Enterprise pricing is available by request; users tend to upgrade if they’re interested in upgraded security and accessing a centralized workspace.
Students can receive a single, full account for free. Nonprofit and educational institutions receive a 50% discount on accounts with two users or more.
Operating System(s): Cloud
Used Gliffy? Leave a review!
Out of all the companies listed here, Lucidchart has really standout clients. They includeAccenture, Ernst & Young, Harvard University, and USA Today, along with 8 million individual users.
Given Lucidchart’s popularity, one has to wonder whether the software lives up to the hype.
In short: It looks like these major businesses, universities, and newspapers made a great choice. On Capterra, Lucidchart receives a 4.5/5 rating overall, including “ease of use” and “customer service.”
If you’re looking for a free, single-user product, Lucidchart is so-so, though still a better option for this application than Microsoft Visio. The free version allows users to make three documents, and limits each document to 60 objects—and every line and every symbol counts as an object.
That said, Lucidchart wasn’t really designed with the single user in mind, and that’s immediately apparent with its exceptional collaboration features. Want to know what your team was working on? Check out your project’s revision history, the group chat, and documents embedded right into your work station.
Plus, Lucidchart is ridiculously easy to use—just drag and drop—so there’s next to no onboarding time for new team members. And that’s pretty impressive, seeing as Lucidchart is easily the most functionality-rich Microsoft Visio alternative that I’ve encountered to date—its extra features, such as presentation mode and layering options, don’t detract from its ease of use.
Compatible with: JIRA, Confluence
Price: Free version available for three documents. Single users can upgrade to Basic ($4.95 a month) or Pro ($8.95 a month) accounts for unlimited shapes and diagrams, and added storage—the Pro version tacks on data linking, Visio import and export, and added shapes and features. Team accounts, which include third-party integrations and collaboration tools, scale with the number of team members; three team members costs $20 a month ($6.67 per person). From there, groups of added team members cost $6 per team member per month.
Operating System(s): Cloud, Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows
Used LucidChart? Leave a review!
If you like Microsoft Visio because of its similarity to other Microsoft products, you’ll feel right at home with MyDraw. The Visio alternative borrows from Microsoft Office’s ribbon, so you won’t be scrambling to find text alignment, review features, or arrangement options.
MyDraw is all about clean design and ease of use. Along with hosting a library of over 100 shapes and diagrams, it also offers several templated UI themes, including Windows 8 and Mac OS X. Users can also create reusable custom shapes and symbols—a perfect feature for designers creating marketing collateral.
MyDraw also has a number of drawing tools for anyone who wishes to really have a hand in the creation of their diagrams. You can free draw a shape (you’d probably want a Wacom, iPad with Apple pencil, or other stylus-enabled tablet to do so), add onto a basic shape, or combine objects to create something entirely new. MyDraw can also import most vector files.
There are a few features that makes MyDraw stand out. For example, users can create custom barcodes right in their account and create maps after importing ESRI geographical map data. It’s also available in Bulgarian, Chinese, English, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Note that MyDraw is a downloaded desktop tool, and is not available on the cloud.
Compatible With: Visio
Price: One-time $69 fee; discounts available for multiple licenses. For three or four licenses, users get a 10% discount; five to nine, 20%; 10-19, 30%; and 20+, 40%.
Operating System(s): Windows, Mac OS X
If you’re an Apple lover, you’ve probably heard of Omni Group (its project management product, OmniPlan, made our list of “The Top 4 Project Management Software for Mac”). It was created to be the Mac version of Visio, and it can import and export Visio XML.
There is a bit of a Photoshop feel to OmniGraffle. Project managers can use and manipulate their own images with masks, allowing the users to get rid of the common save, import, crop, repeat process common with diagramming.
The templates are smooth and Apple-chic, meaning they’re clutter-free and stripped of any excess that may detract from the chart. The Pro version includes shared layers, multiple editing windows, shape combinations, and Visio support.
Compatible with: OmniPresence
Price: $99 for basic; $199 for Pro.
Operating System(s): Mac OS X
Used OmniGraffle Pro? Leave a review!
While SmartDraw, by function of its name, is closer to the bottom of the list, it is by no means one of the weaker alternatives mentioned. I’m particular to how they describe their own product:
SmartDraw is the world’s first visual processor. In the same way that a word processor automatically formats documents, SmartDraw automatically formats your visuals as you create them, making it possible for anyone to create professional-quality visuals of all kinds in minutes.
In short, SmartDraw is easy enough that even the least aesthetically-abled businessperson can use it. SmartDraw does not allow custom diagrams; rather, it provides a whole host of templates across sectors (business, education, and even architecture and manufacturing) so businesses can get down to designing their charts quickly.
SmartDraw still relies on Sharepoint to communicate, so users aren’t completely unleashed from Microsoft’s hold. It also integrates with Microsoft Project, the most popular project management software. Fow Windows users who aren’t ready to completely release themselves from Microsoft, SmartDraw is the obvious upgrade from Visio.
Compatible with: SharePoint, Microsoft Project
Price: $9.95 per month per user, and scales with number of users (bulk discounts of 60% per user and more start after five users).
Operating System(s): Cloud and Windows
(Used SmartDraw? Leave a review!)
If you’re a self-described “minimalist,” maybe you haven’t found anything on this article that’s Mac-like enough for your tastes.
Not yet, at least.
Textografo is possibly the simplest, cleanest, and yes, most “minimalistic” program on here.
It’s a text-to-diagram system, where you just type in what you want, where you want it, and it appears on your screen. It also supports real-time collaboration and 24-hour support.
For some, it’s the ultimate multitask tool.
The biggest complaint about Textgrafo is that its updates, sometimes desperately needed, aren’t coming as quickly as consumers would like.
One Capterra reviewer loves it, saying, “I can capture process descriptions in a rather intuitive structured text-based form, while simultaneously generating visual representations of the process and getting real-time feedback from stakeholders.”
For those interested in quick progress over process, this agile Visio alternative may be your best bet.
Compatible With: API, Confluence, and Google Drive
Price: The Essentials Pack is $8 a month and the Premium is $12, but you can save on both if you agree to be billed for the year as a whole.
Operating System(s): Cloud
Used Textografo? Leave a review!
Disagree with who I’ve listed? Have you used any of these and want to share your experience? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!
Can’t get enough information about visual software? Check out these articles:
- 5 Awesome Free and Open-Source Wireframe Tools
- The Top 5 Project Management Software for Mac
- The Ultimate Guide to Project Management Mind Mapping
- The Top 5 Free Tools for Designing Event Graphics
- 7 Exceptional Floor Plan Software Options for Estate Agents
Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.