We’ve already taken an in-depth look at the best alternatives to Visio for Mac but here we review one of them more closely – Lucidchart. Since Visio isn’t available on Mac, Lucidchart has positioned itself as one of the top contenders to fill that void. Unlike Visio, Lucidchart functions entirely in the cloud meaning there’s nothing to download but this doesn’t make it any less powerful than desktop software (although for Google Chrome users, Lucidchart also has a plugin which allows you to work offline too). Lucidchart allows you to do almost everything you can do in Visio including importing and exporting of VSD and VDX files, importing of Visio stencils and integration with Microsoft Office 2013, Jira, Confluence, BOX and more. More recently, Lucidchart for iPad was revamped enabling you to edit Visio files created in Lucidchart anywhere. Best of all, using software in the cloud means you never need worry about cross-platform compatibility again: colleagues and clients can share and collaborate on both PC and Mac. Here we take a more in-depth look at exactly how Lucidchart for Mac measures up as a serious Visio alternative.
Important Note: This review is based on the team version of Lucidchart in order to experience the collaboration features which are one of its biggest selling points. This means that some of the features mentioned here are not available in the free version such as revision history, Visio file exporting (crucial for many people) and wireframes/mockups. The free version does allow you to create an unlimited number or diagrams but is limited to 60 objects per diagram.
Getting Started With Lucidchart
To get started, you must simply log-in to Lucidchart – there’s nothing to download. You can either sign-up for an account or login using your Google or Yahoo! account:
We tried the Team Version to get an idea of what it’s like to collaborate on Lucidchart which is one of it’s biggest strengths compared to Visio. To get started in the Team Version, after logging-on, you must simply choose a team name:
When Lucidchart launches, the main interface is annotated to show you the main features and functions:The first thing you notice about is how quick and responsive it is – there’s no waiting around – Lucidchart is very snappy from the start. The interface might also at first seem a bit disconcertingly basic compared to Visio but that changes once you start a document.
Lots Of Templates
To start a document, go to Documents in the Top Menu and you’re given a huge choice of different layouts and templates to choose from:
The default is Standard Flowcharts but there are tons of others to choose from depending on the type of project you’re working on such as floorplans for interior designers:
Or iOS templates for developers:
When you open the document, Lucidchart gives you hints and tips to get you started making it very easy to use, even for those that have never used Visio before:The developers have obviously made a great effort to make diagramming tools comparable to Visio accessible to users of any background and experience. A beginner will find it far less intimidating than using Microsoft Visio for the first time.
Main Document Interface
When you see the main editor, Lucidchart looks much more Visio-like with a toolbar of actions across the top and shapes and objects down the left hand side: There are a huge number of objects to choose from but if you can’t find what you need, click “More Shapes” in the bottom left corner and you can search for more:
There is a huge selection of objects to choose from and adding new objects is simply a case of drag and drop. Objects snap into place and it’s very easy to rotate them and add text annotations. The design grid can also be adjusted to the size you need to keep your objects organized and in-line although you can also use swimlines to help you too (more on this later). You can also easily add color to objects and bring your diagrams to life using the color picker tool in the toolbar menu:
And even though you’re always working on Lucidchart’s servers, there’s no significant lag when designing and drawing diagrams.
Importing Visio Files And Stencils
If you want to import a Visio VSD, VDX or VSDX file, simply click Import. Those that currently use other Visio alternatives on Mac such as Gliffy and Omnigraffle can also import files although the latter feature is in beta at the time of writing:
Select the Visio file you want to import and importing takes just a few seconds to complete depending on the size of your file.The imported Visio diagram will then appear in your documents area. Just double-click on it to open.We imported a simple test VSD diagram and Lucidchart imported it perfectly well with no errors or problems.
However, you may experience some issues if your Visio diagram is more complicated, particularly if it contains Smart Shapes which Lucidchart doesn’t import as well. We advise you to try importing Visio files you intend to work with in the free version of Lucidchart to see exactly the kind of results you can expect.
You can import up to 200 files at one time and once done, you can edit Visio VSD files and the only small drawback being that smart shapes are not supported. You can also import VSS, VSX and VSSX Visio stencil files although this feature is also still in beta at the time of writing:
However, Visio templates in VST or VTX format from Visio 2006 are not supported by any version of Lucidchart. The table below gives you a full overview of exactly what Visio formats the different versions of Lucidchart can and can’t import:
Excellent For Teamwork
Collaboration with others is where Lucidchart really excels. To enjoy this, you must purchase the Team Version but it’s well worth it because it makes working on the same project very easy. Any changes made by others that have access to the document take place in real-time – no more sending documents or designs back and forth via email or uploading them online. You can communicate with team members within Lucidchart via the Comment feature (which can be toggled off if you don’t want to be disturbed) in the bottom right hand corner:
Integrated With Office, Google Apps, JIRA And Confluence
The Team account is also fully integrated with Google Apps and also entitles you to free Lucidchart plugins for JIRA, Confluence and Jive integration:
Lucidchart is also integrated with Microsoft Office 2013. All you need is to download the free Lucidchart plugin from the Microsoft store and you can start creating new diagrams in Word for example. Eventually, this will include other Office apps such as PowerPoint and Excel.
There are many other ways to share your designs including email or web link:
PDF document or Image:
Or simply embed them into a webpage:
Work Offline In Google Chrome
One really nice feature of Lucidchart is that you can also work offline if you don’t have an internet connection. All you need is a Google Chrome and a the Lucidchart plugin available for free from the Chrome store:
You can edit documents as if you were online and all changes are saved on your Mac hard drive:As soon as you go back online, Lucidchart will automatically sync changes with the online version. Of course, others can’t collaborate with you until you are online again.
Useful Lucidchart Hotkeys for Mac
Lucidchart also allows Mac users to use keyboard shortcuts to help speed-up your workflow. All of the standard shortcuts you’d expect are there, along with a few other options. You can see the full list in the editor by selecting Help > Hotkey reference:
And here’s a sample of the most useful hotkeys for Mac:
Keep Diagrams Organized With Swimlanes
Swimlanes are a great way to organize data, whether you’re assigning tasks to team members or breaking down the steps of a complex process. In Lucidchart, swimlanes are dynamic, so the content inside will respond as you change the format:
To turn on swimlanes:
1. Open a Lucidchart document.
2. Click “More Shapes” and check the box for Flowchart Shapes.
3. Click “Save”.
You’ll then be returned to the editor. To use a swimlane shape:
4. Drag out a horizontal or vertical swimlane from the Containers section.
5. Click the tooltip (the blue icon that pops up) to add lanes and change the orientation.
6. Double-click the swimlane title to edit the text.
7. Drag and drop objects into the swimlane—text boxes, shapes, or whatever else you like. When you reposition the swimlane, the objects will move along with it.
Excellent Network Diagram Support
Lucidcharts is particularly good for those that need to design network diagrams whether it’s for home or office. You have the choice of three network shape libraries: generic, AWS, and Cisco.
To turn on network diagrams:
1. Open a Lucidchart document.
2. Click “More Shapes” and check the box for AWS Architecture, Cisco Network Icons, or Network Infrastructure. You may also want to open the libraries for server rack diagrams and tech clipart.
3. Click “Save”.
From there, it’s as simple as dragging and dropping shapes onto the canvas. You can add connections and import custom shapes as needed.
As we mentioned at the beginning, if you’re working in a team, then a team subscription is essential to get the best out of Lucidchart. Depending on the size of your team, it could also save you or your company a lot of money too. A team of around 100 could spend something in the region of $10,000 for Visio licenses but for the same number of collaborators on Lucidchart, it currently costs just over $330 a month for 100 users which considering you’ll never have to upgrade either the software or your Mac or PC, definitely works out cheaper in the long run. However, if you just want Lucidchart for very limited personal use, the Basic version is completely free but it is limited to 100MB of storage and 60 objects. To import and export Visio files, you’ll need a Pro, Team or Enterprise Plan. For individuals, the Pro plan costs $8.95 per month but if you’re working in a team of 3 or more, the Team Plan works out cheaper at $6.70 per month. Finally Enterprise Plans are available on request for large organizations For a complete overview of the different pricing plans available for Lucidchart, check the price comparison chart below.
A Superb Alternative To Visio
Overall, Lucidchart is an extremely impressive alternative to Visio, especially when it comes to team collaboration. Ease of use and intelligent design ooze from Lucidchart and it’s clear the developers have put a lot of thought in redefining how people work in teams on applications such as Visio. Our advice is go ahead and judge for yourself by trying Lucidchart for free and you can also get an idea of what Lucidchart looks like in action here:
- Imports and Exports Visio Files And Stencils
- Works Offline With Chrome Extension
- Excellent For Collaboration Across PC and Mac
- Requires Monthly Subscription Model
- Some Features Still in Beta
- Smart Shapes may not import well