- Imports all types of Visio files
- Native desktop Mac app - designed specifically for Macs
- Excellent iPad app that works with Apple Pencil
- No Visio VSDX export support
- Expensive for both Mac & iPad app
OmniGraffle is probably the closest desktop equivalent to Visio on Mac although it’s definitely more versatile and graphic design oriented than Microsoft’s tool.
In this review, we take a closer look at what OmniGraffle can do and what we really think of it.
OmniGraffle is a powerful diagramming and graphic design software suitable for everything from wireframes, electrical systems and prototypes to family trees, mind-mapping and maps of software classes.
All Omni Group software is designed specifically for Apple products so it’s nice to know from the start that you’re getting something that’s tailor-made for Macs and iPads.
Since there’s no version of Visio for Mac, OmniGraffle is frequently cited as one of the best alternatives to it although the fact is it’s much more than that.
Anything created in OmniGraffle looks considerably more stylish than in Visio because OmniGraffle uses high quality vector graphics.
OmniGraffle is a far more artistic graphic design tool than just a technical diagramming program like Visio. However, it has definitely been made with Visio in mind and the Pro version can import and export Visio files.
However, it’s important to be aware that OmniGraffle can only export to Visio VDX format -- it can’t export to VSDX format used by Visio 2013 and Visio 2016.
If you need to work with Visio clients or customers, we strongly recommend going with SmartDraw instead which is the only Visio alternative on Mac that can both import and export to the latest Visio VSDX file format.
When it comes to importing Visio files however, OmniGraffle Pro opens all Visio formats including VSDX, VSD, VDX files and Visio stencil files in VST, VTX, VSX and VSS format.
Once it’s installed on your Mac, OmniGraffle automatically detects Visio files so that if you double-click on them, they will automatically open in OmniGraffle.
Alternatively, you can drag any Visio file to the OmniGraffle icon in your dock and it will open.
When you import a Visio file, it will be automatically converted into OmniGraffle’s .graffle format. but you can export it back to Visio VDX format (also known as XML) at any time.
Note that the Standard version of OmniGraffle won’t suffice if you need Visio file support. OmniGraffle Standard costs $99.99 but you have to upgrade to the Pro version for an extra $99.99 to import and export Visio files.
Import support in general is excellent in the latest version of OmniGraffle with SVG vector graphics now supported too whereas previously, they were converted into lower quality Bitmap images.
OmniGraffle can also export to most major image formats and even Photoshop PSD format which you don’t often get in diagramming software.
Interface & Features
OmniGraffle has a very clear, organized and user-friendly interface that’s easier to get to grips with than Microsoft Visio.
This makes OmniGraffle considerably easier and more straightforward to use than Visio on Windows but without sacrificing power and features.
OmniGraffle doesn’t include many stencils or templates -- certainly nothing like the tens of thousands you get in tools like SmartDraw -- but all the essentials are there.
OmniGraffle does however have a dedicated following of users that have created repositories of free OmniGraffle Stencils although the best resources such as Graffletopia cost an extra $24 per year (but is well worth it if you’re going to be using OmniGraffle a lot).
Although OmniGraffle lacks the convenient automated diagramming features of SmartDraw, it does make it easy to rearrange diagrams in a few clicks.
For example, it’s often the case that you want to change the layout of a diagram without having to manually change the direction of every swimlane, connector and object.
OmniGraffle makes it very easy to change the direction and format of diagrams via the Diagram Layout Switcher.
You can easily group and ungroup items in OmniGraffle too.
OmniGraffle is also the only alternative to Visio on Mac that fully utilizes the Touch Bar on new MacBook Pros.
Although this definitely takes some getting used to at first, when you’ve got the hang of it, it does make it quicker to add objects, change colors and rotate objects than via the Touchpad or mouse.
OmniGraffle For iPad
Apart from the Mac app, OmniGraffle has a very decent native iPad app too.
OmniGraffle for iOS can also open Visio files and stencils and makes it easy to design on your iPad.
The iPad app allows you to drag and drop layers, objects and photos from your iPad. You can even drag entire canvases and drop them in other apps and use an Apple Pencil with it.
The iPad app syncs diagrams created on your Mac via OmniGraffle’s free OmniPresence service or Omni Sync Server and you can also use iCloud.
The main drawback is that OmniGraffle for iOS costs extra although it is a powerful app in its own right and not just a web version of the desktop app.
The Standard version of OmniGraffle for iOS is $49 and the Pro version (which you need for Visio file support) is $99.99 but you can try it for free.
However, you can also use other Mac compatible drawing tablets with OmniGraffle including WACOMs.
The latest version of OmniGraffle (version 7) has been updated with new Artboard Layers which speed up your workflow by making it easier to organize and setup exportable elements and objects.
Another nice touch is if you’re planning to create a really big diagram, OmniGraffle also allows you to use an infinite canvas to remove width and height restrictions.
You can also now convert text to shapes/Bézier-handled objects and the sidebar navigation has been improved with a Unified Sidebar to make it easier to switch between canvasses and work with groups.
If you’re someone who likes to use hotkeys, Keyboard Shortcuts are now supported by OmniGraffle for those that like to keep their workflow as fast and smooth as possible.
Like any app, OmniGraffle isn’t perfect and there’s a few things that disappoint.
If you’re switching from Visio on Windows, the lack of VSDX file export will be the biggest problem especially if you need to collaborate with PC based Visio users.
In this respect, SmartDraw is a far better option as it both supports Visio VSDX exporting and since it’s Cloud based, can be used on both Mac and PC seamlessly.
Professional Visio users will also notice that OmniGraffle doesn’t offer the fine tuning precision of shapes and objects that Visio does.
We also found the iPad app can also be unstable at times although this has improved with recent updates.
At $199.99 for the Pro version, it’s not cheap either considering there are Cloud diagramming solutions with modest monthly charges. However, OmniGraffle does have the advantage of being desktop based and doesn’t tie you into any subscriptions or fees.
If you do decide to purchase the Standard or the Professional version, you simply upgrade in-app. The Pro features are unlocked when you go to the OmniGraffle Menu and select In-App Purchase to upgrade to Pro.
Overall, OmniGraffle is an elegant and powerful design tool that understands the Apple aesthetic.
It does require a lot more learning than cloud based diagramming tools however and the lack of VSDX export support will be a big problem for those that need Visio support.
If you’re working in an Apple only environment however, OmniGraffle is the perfect design tool.
The best thing is to try it first before deciding whether it’s for you.
How To Get OmniGraffle
You download OmniGraffle directly from Omni Group or the Mac App Store. Getting it directly from Omni Group has the advantage that you’ll get updates quicker since they won’t have to await App Store approval first.
OmniGraffle has recently changed the free trial policy so you can now try OmniGraffle free for 14 days from the Mac App Store.
Even after 14 days if you decide not to upgrade, you can keep the Standard version of OmniGraffle as a useful free Visio viewer for Mac.
Simply tap and hold any Visio attachment in your email, iCloud or any other app and then select “Open in OmniGraffle”.