9 of the Best Free Alternatives to Microsoft Visio

Microsoft Visio is a powerful piece of software, allowing IT professionals, business people, engineers, and others working in highly technical fields to map out and display complex information in the form of flowcharts, site plans, floor plans, diagrams and more.

Useful though all this is, the price point is well beyond what the average home user is willing to spend at $300 for the “Standard” version and $590 for the Pro version. (If you’re dead-set on using Visio, there is a potentially cheaper option where you can get Visio Pro for Office 365 for $13/month if you get an annual subscription or $15/month for a monthly commitment.)

But why pay at all when there are perfectly free and viable Visio alternatives available to you? Here are our top picks.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

LucidChart

If you are looking for a web-based alternative to Microsoft Visio, LucidChart is the perfect choice. It provides a drag-and-drop web interface to draw any kind of diagram. LucidChart gives you an option to build your diagrams in collaboration with your team. Multiple people will be able to work with the same diagram, making it the perfect choice for small teams.

One of the great features of LucidChart is that it can export or import Microsoft Visio vdx files very easily. One thing that is missing in LucidChart is the built-in categorization of different shapes for different areas like networking, engineering, etc. You don’t need to sign up for an account with LucidChart; just open the site and start drawing.

Platforms: Browser

free-visio-alternative-asciiflow

Starting with the simple stuff, if you’re looking for a quick, easy and instantly accessible diagramming tool with no bells and whistles attached, ASCIIFlow is a good option.

You can forget about having a vast range of shapes at your disposal or using this to map out a complex engineering project, but for quickly conveying ideas in diagram form, this is about as efficient as you can get. The ASCII format is clear, and you can use familiar Windows shortcuts (Ctrl + C, Ctrl + Z and so on) to quickly chop and change your diagrams.

You can change the format of the boxes from ASCII to Lines to make things a little clearer, and sync it all with Google Drive, too (though currently the level of access it requests to your Google Drive may put more security-conscious users off – hopefully that’s something they can fix).

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Browser

free-visio-alternative-gliffy

Coming in both free and paid flavors, Gliffy is a robust diagramming app that fully embraces the cloud. It integrates with services like Google Drive, Confluence and JIRA to allow you to collaborate on your UMLs, flowcharts and other diagramming projects seamlessly. Gliffy is free for students, while others get access to the ‘Basic’ version of the software (after a 14-day trial with the paid version), which has less templates, images and so on than the paid version.

With its simple drag-and-drop interface, large variety of exportable formats and a perfectly usable browser version which is completely free, Gliffy is an excellent choice for those comfortable with diagramming and flowchart software. More advanced users, however, may find the free version a little wanting in features and opt for one of the other, more feature-packed options in this list.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

free-visio-alternatives-yed

Quite possibly the most user-friendly diagramming software out there, yED has you covered for everything from flowcharts, to family trees, to more technical diagrams like network infrastructures and process models.

You can set your chart to automatically lay itself out to suit whatever kind of data you’re entering. It has a decent repository of images for various types of charts and also gives you the option to import images from elsewhere. When you’re done, you can save your chart as a JPEG, XML or HTML, among other formats, making it easy to upload to websites or send to clients.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

free-visio-alternatives-graphviz

For something a little alternative, you can try Graphviz, the near thirty-year-old tool in which you create graphs, hierarchies and so on using a command line utility and the robust DOT language. It takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that it could save you time in the long run.

It has a good amount of formats you can export your graph to and a number of layouts such as hierarchical, radial, multiscale and more. It’s particularly useful if you aren’t too fussy about pretty colors but are more concerned about entering huge amounts of data that can get instantly organized and generated. (That colossal graph at the top of this article was made using Graphviz.)

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

LibreOffice Draw

LibreOffice Draw is the closest and biggest open-source competitor of Microsoft Visio. Draw is an all-purpose drawing, diagramming and charting tool. The feature that I love in Draw is the grouping feature.

You can easily group different objects together and then do different actions on the group like moving the group, connecting with other groups, etc. In addition to other formats (XML format is the default), you can also export your diagrams as SWF Flash files. As an extra treat, here’s a package of shapes for Draw that are similar to those you find in Visio.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

Dia

Dia is an open-source program very similar to Microsoft Visio, with largely the same feature set. You can create UML diagrams, flowcharts, network processes and architectures, entity relationship diagrams, etc., easily with Dia. The default file format for any file created with Dia is .dia, but there are plenty of file formats you can export your diagram to, including Microsoft Visio’s .vdx format.

Platforms: Browser

free-visio-alternatives-draw-io

Draw.io has a very responsive and accessible interface, with the tools in the column on the left and the drawing in the column on the right. You don’t need to sign up for an account to use Draw.io, and from the moment you’re on the site you’re given the option to save your work to cloud services like Google Drive and OneDrive or your hard drive.

If you connect Draw.io to your Google account, it has very functional real-time collaboration, letting you work on projects simultaneously with others. It’s not a complex tool, so while it’s accessible, it doesn’t offer the depth of features of some other diagramming software.

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

free-visio-alternatives-pencil-project

Pencil Project is an open-source alternative to Microsoft Visio which is actively maintained by the development community. Their goal for Pencil Project is to make diagramming as easy as possible and usable for everyone from a newbie to an expert. You can also install it as a Firefox extension so that you can easily create your diagrams while browsing the Internet. (Note that when we last checked, this extension wasn’t compatible with Firefox Quantum – here’s hoping that they update it.)

It’s regularly updated with new stencils, templates and other features, lets you export your work to multiple formats, and has integration with OpenClipart.org, letting you instantly search the Web for images to make your projects pop.

Hopefully you will find these free alternatives to Microsoft Visio useful. Or after testing these do you still believe that the paid tools offer something these don’t? Let us know in the comments!

This article was first published in January 2012 and was updated in May 2018. 

24 comments

  1. I’m a big fan of LucidChart — made the switch from Visio easy.  I’ve tried most of these others and let’s be honest, they are terrible.

    By the way, LucidChart does have more libraries of shapes.  Just click the ‘More Shapes’ button in the bottom left and they have categories like you described. 

    • Yeah, that’s until the day when you go to save the deeply-nested, highly intricate chart that you’ve just worked on a day, only to discover — uh-oh! — it seems that they charge for saving things now! — and if you don’t like it, bubba, read it and weep!

      • also good luck trying to get their customer service. it’s been over a week and still no response. paid for the service, was locked out of the document i spent a few hours on and no support in sight..

        disappointing

  2. Creately is another great option for Visio. I like the fact that they have a desktop version and online version. All the ones mentioned above are web applications. This is really helpful if you are drawing charts and diagrams on the road. Diagrams drawn offline automatically sync with your online account so you will never lose your diagrams.
    Plus they put on some awesome blog posts, As a budding entrepreneur myself I really liked there blog post about how they decided their pricing model.

  3. Thanks a lot everyone for useful comments and suggesting other Visio alternatives.

    yEd seems very good while didn’t find creately as attractive due to the restrictive licensing. LucidChart is certainly a better choice and I’m using it for myself too.

  4. I’d say that LucidChart and yEd are the two alternative I’ve tried (downloading Pencil Project right now, the rest has been tried and turned down) that even come somewhat close to Visio.

    Of those two, yEd is my favorite. Now, I mostly do flowcharts and illustrations of communication (inter-app and between server roles) topologies and very rarely use org-charts and UML stuff.

    Going to try Pencil Project now. :)

  5. You can checkout FreelyDraw. It is a wonderful diagramming tool, light weight and easy to use. It comes with many features that can speed up your job, smart drag & drop, powerful symbol customization, handy presentation tools, etc. You can draw beautiful & professional diagrams in minutes, worth a try.

    • I think LibreOffice Draw will do industrial processes. I used to produce process & instrumentation diagrams of oil refinery and chemical plant processes, and a couple of the examples in their gallery look very close to what I was doing.

  6. All the software is free ? I am a tacher and I want to use this software for my students (child about 10 year ago). What’s the best software, money free ?

  7. I have tried all of these except Libra and Graphviz but so far, draw.io is the best, especially in terms of visuals.

  8. Thanks for this thorough review! I wonder: how did you determine that each of these were the best free options?

    I recently drew up a review of top alternatives myself, but I used a series of heuristics to help me determine what was best. I wasn’t necessarily looking for free competitors (I wanted to find the overall best), but I did limit pricing to under $200 per license or under $15 per user per month. I also required that the alternative had to sync with at least one project management tool, and had to get generally good reviews.

    (You can see the whole article here: http://blog.capterra.com/7-of-the-top-microsoft-visio-alternatives-for-project-managers/)

    When filtering for “free” tools, I got similar, but not the same results:

    – Creately
    – Draw.io
    – Gliffy
    – Lucidchart (though their paid version is really what makes it stand out)

    • That is the problem with all “best” lists. The contents tends to change depending on what parameters you use and how you weight those parameters. No list is any more valid than any other.

  9. Thanks for this lowdown. I’ve tried Lucidchart and Draw.io and both seem pretty good although it’s a shame they don’t have more project management features as well. Problem is that many of them offer free versions but you have to pay to unlock all the things that make them compare with Visio.

  10. Has anyone noticed that the latest Visio incarnations, the end points don’t quite line up or connect.
    Pisses me off to no end. So I’m looking for alternatives as I’ve used Visio extensively over the years.

  11. Microsoft Visio is sickening product I have ever come across. The connectors always go haywire. So many versions released, yet microsoft did not care about it because of its arrogance due to monopoly in the market.

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