Even if you’re all thumbs when it comes to drawing, there will come a time when you need to create a diagram or two. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a software developer, web designer, or a technical writer. It all comes down to arranging blocks and images on a canvas to explain something.
There are a number of really solid desktop diagramming applications. For many people, though, that software is overkill. The applications contain more features than you’ll ever use. On top of that, if you move between operating systems a lot, you’ll run into compatibility problems. And what happens if you’re away from your computer and need to whip up a diagram in a hurry?
You turn to the web, of course! Like just about everything else, there’s a web-based app for diagramming. Well, more than one. Let’s take a look at four of the best ones.
Let’s start off with what’s arguably the most powerful and flexible diagramming tool on the web: Gliffy. You can use Gliffy’s templates (and there are quite a few of them) or start off with a blank canvas on which you can build your own diagrams.
So what kinds of diagrams can you create with Gliffy’s templates? Website and software user interfaces, Venn diagrams, organizational charts, flowcharts, network diagrams, UML diagrams, floor plans, and even business processes. There’s pretty much something in there for everyone. On top of that, there are multiple templates for each type of diagram.
The interface is drag and drop, which makes placing objects in your diagrams easy. On top of that, Gliffy comes with a number of very comprehensive object libraries. If you want to use your diagrams in a document or on a web page, you can export them in multiple formats like PNG, JPEG, or SVG.
You get five diagrams for free. After that, you have to pay for a plan.
2. Lovely Charts
If you’re looking for a comprehensive online diagramming solution, you could do worse than Lovely Charts. As the app’s name implies, you can create some very nice looking flowcharts. But you can also build some impressive diagrams.
Like what? How about network diagrams, site maps, wireframes, and even people diagrams. All the work is done in a very spare user interface, one that keeps all the main tools that you need at your fingertips. Or, at least, at your mouse pointer.
Adding elements to a diagram is easy. Just drag and drop it from a library of shapes. If you want to change a shape, right click it and choose an option from the menu that opens. Doing that is definitely faster than deleting and starting over.
Once you’re finished, you can save your diagram as a PNG or JPEG image. Admittedly, Lovely Chart’s export options aren’t as flexible as those of Gliffy but they’re usable.
While you might think Flowchart.com is limited (if only based on its name), it isn’t. In fact, Flowchart.com is very flexible. It’s also free, which is a bonus!
How flexible? You’re not limited to flowcharts. You can also create mindmaps, family trees and albums, and even network diagrams. Much of that flexibility comes from the extensive clip art and symbol libraries that comes with the application. Just select what you want and drag it into the work area. From there, you can add other basic shapes, text, and lines.
Another key feature of Flowchart.com is its collection of templates. You can use them to create several different engineering diagrams, flowcharts (obviously!), mind maps, organizational charts, and project management diagrams.
One unique feature of this application is its ability to record all of the actions and additions that you are performing on a diagram. You can literally walk someone through a thought or planning process.
If there are two words that describe LucidChart, those words are simple and flexible. It’s written in HTML5, so you should be able to use LucidChart with any modern web browser.
Just like any good desktop (or web-based) application, LucidChart allows you to drag and drop elements of a diagram and even images that you upload on the application’s canvas. You can literally begin creating diagrams within seconds. On top of that, once you register – there are free and paid accounts – you get access to a large number of shapes and fonts. And with some paid accounts you can also upload and save your work as a Visio diagram and you even get revision tracking.
The web offers some powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use diagramming applications. They pack most, if not all, of the features that you need and they’re available no matter where you are or what operating system that you use.
Do you have a favorite web-based diagramming tool? If so, share your picks by leaving a comment.