SmartDraw for Mac is now a reality thanks to the release of SmartDraw Cloud. SmartDraw is the best alternative to Visio for Mac there is and in this in-depth review, we take a look at the all new SmartDraw Cloud on a Mac. For over 20 years, SmartDraw Desktop has only been available on PC but the launch of SmartDraw Cloud now enables users on all platforms including OS X to use SmartDraw’s popular diagramming software. The good news is that SmartDraw Cloud isn’t just a port of SmartDraw Desktop either and provides a genuine alternative to Microsoft Visio on Mac. From what we’ve seen, SmartDraw Cloud is almost just as good as SmartDraw Desktop which is a rarity in complex cloud computing apps such as these. All you need to use SmartDraw Cloud is an internet browser so this review will also be of interest to not only Mac users, but those on all platforms including PC, iPad and Android devices. Whichever platform you are using, you can also try a free trial of SmartDraw to judge for yourself.
SmartDraw For Mac: 6 Years In The Making
Over the past 20 years, SmartDraw has established itself as one of the biggest rivals to Microsoft Visio when it comes to diagramming. The stats behind SmartDraw are impressive – over 22 million downloads, 1 million customers including many Fortune 500 businesses such as Pepsi, GM and FedEx, 34,000 symbols and 4,500 templates for almost every conceivable diagramming need including infographics and charts. What really separates SmartDraw from Visio however is its all round ease of use compared to Microsoft’s product. SmartDraw isn’t just “Visio lite” though – it’s very powerful but it automates a lot of things that take time in MS Visio.
7 years ago the San Diego based team at SmartDraw decided it was time to branch-out beyond Windows to embrace all platforms, including Mac. SmartDraw Cloud was thus born but it’s testament to how complicated it was that it took 6 years to realize the project. For example, the SmartDraw team decided to replace the pixelated rasterized bitmap graphics that most cloud applications use with higher quality, smooth, clear vector graphics so that it looked just like the Windows desktop version on Mac. The technical complexities of this added years of development time onto the project but the result is that SmartDraw is the only online diagramming software that uses high quality vector graphics. Even cloud applications such as Microsoft’s Office 365 still don’t allow users the full functionality of the desktop version which illustrates how hard it is to put everything online into one package. It’s clear that the aim of SmartDraw Cloud is to eventually replace the desktop product completely so if you are already a SmartDraw Desktop user, you’ll probably have to move to SmartDraw Cloud at some point anyway.
To get an idea of the challenges the SmartDraw team faced in putting it in the cloud, it’s quite interesting to listen to them talk about how it was done:
SmartDraw On Mac: Easy And Snappy
To get going with SmartDraw, you simply sign-up for a SmartDraw account and within seconds, you’re on the main SmartDraw dashboard. In the latest version of SmartDraw 2017, you can now also sign-in with your Google account so you don’t even need to sign-up for a SmartDraw account directly if you don’t want to. The main interface will open immediately once you’ve signed-in and the first thing you notice is that SmartDraw is extremely fast. There’s almost no lag as you use SmartDraw and it really is as if you were using it on desktop. Of course, some of the performance depends on your internet connection but as long as it’s fast steady, you’ll find SmartDraw extremely snappy.
One of the main attractions of SmartDraw is the ease of use compared to Visio. The development team claims that both the interface and ease of use were at the center of the development process and it’s hard to argue they haven’t achieved that. Creating professional looking or technical diagrams visuals is extremely easy, mainly due to the simplicity of the interface, the drag and drop simplicity, the intelligent way objects snap together and the thousands of templates that get you started very quickly. The main interface in general is far more streamlined than Microsoft Visio and therefore nowhere near as intimidating. It never feels like it gets in your way or is overwhelming to navigate and it’s easy to access advanced tools and assets when you need them.
A Template For Every Occasion
Templates are of course nothing new in diagramming applications but it’s the sheer choice of both templates and objects in SmartDraw that impresses. SmartDraw definitely leaves Visio standing with 4,500 templates on everything from CAD design, flowcharts and org charts to mind maps, brainstorming charts and even crime scenes. This is not to mention hundreds of inforgraphic and chart templates which have been more recently added to SmartDraw 2017. Whichever template you choose, SmartDraw has over 34,000 objects, items and clip-art to choose from (compared to 1,840 objects in it’s nearest online competitor Lucidchart) with which to create your diagrams making the depth and breadth of SmartDraw very rich indeed. The result is that whatever kind of diagram you need to produce – whether it be a flowchart, CAD design or planogram – the likelihood is that SmartDraw has both the templates and objects for you to get it done as quickly and professionally as possible. What really makes SmartDraw easy to use however is the way the templates react intelligently to changes. So for example, if you make a change to a branch, line or object, SmartDraw automatically readjusts and re-balances the entire chart or diagram so that there are no holes or gaps. This is in contrast to Visio and most other diagramming software where you have to manually fill the gaps and re-balance the entire diagram. This is especially true for highly technical documents and diagrams such as circuit boards or electrical layouts.
If you’re making multiple edits or deletes, this saves a significant amount of time and hassle identifying where you need to plug the holes. You can see this in action more clearly when creating an Org Chart in SmartDraw:
Not all templates are automated however. There are currently 30 automated templates in SmartDraw Cloud in all with the most commonly used ones being Flowchart, Network Diagram, Organizational Chart and Decision Tree templates.
To select a template, you simply go to the Template Browser Screen you have a selection of templates along the left-hand column. When you select one, you’ll then see some template previews to choose from, depending on how you want your design to look. For instance if you choose Engineering & CAD, you get the choice of diagrams. If you select Circuit Panels, you’ll then see the Circuit Diagrams sub-category. In the Template Preview, then select the kind of layout you want. You can return to the Template Screen at any time by clicking on the Document-SmartDraw browser tab. When you open a template, it will open in a new tab in your browser. There’s no need to save anything as SmartDraw Cloud automatically saves everything.
When a template is open, you will see the SmartPanel to the left of the drawing area. All objects and symbols are high quality 3D vector images and each template has hundreds of symbols. If you’re a Visio user, you’ll notice that the symbols and images provided in SmartDraw are noticeably more modern, varied and better illustrated than in Microsoft Visio.
If you need more, there are a mind-boggling 34,000 that you can search. To access them, simply select the More drop down and select More Symbols. Search for the type of symbols or images you’re looking for and you’ll then see appropriate library. Simply click OK and Add Library.
Saving Work To Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox
Anything you do in SmartDraw is saved automatically on its own servers. However, if you want to save files to an online storage solution, you can save directly to Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox. All you have to do is register SmartDraw with the online service you want to save work to. You can then share diagrams with other users via those services or alternatively, you can share via email by selecting Share from the Menu Bar and assign permissions to it.
Edit On iPad and iPhone
More recently, SmartDraw 2107 has been updated to include integration with G Suite – you just need to download the add-on from the G Suite marketplace.
Since it’s web-based, you can access SmartDraw Cloud on any mobile device including iPhone and iPad. Using SmartDraw on iPad provides exactly the same responsive experience as on Mac and while we wouldn’t advise trying to edit a diagram on an iPhone, it’s useful if you need to make last-minute edit. You can also enable and disable editing to prevent unauthorized or accidental edit being made to diagrams while you are on the move.
The First Online Diagramming Software To Use Vector Graphics
One of the things that impresses most about SmartDraw Cloud is the crispness and clarity of the images and graphics. Due to the technicalities of using vector graphics online, all other online diagramming software uses bitmap graphics but SmartDraw Cloud is the first one to use vector graphics instead. If you’re a design professional, you’ll already know that bitmap graphics are rasterized and as a result, look pixellated and blurry when you zoom-in. Not so with vector graphics – the edges are smooth and straight so that the image retains quality no matter how far you zoom in.
The closest equivalent of SmartDraw is Lucidchart which uses bitmap graphics and you can see below the difference in quality between symbols in the two diagramming apps:
SmartDraw vs Visio
The big question however is how does SmartDraw Cloud measure up against the power and clout of Microsoft’s Visio? SmartDraw has never intended to take-on Visio head to head, with all the technicalities and complexities of Microsoft’s industry leading software. It’s aim has always been to provide a far more user-friendly alternative to Visio and SmartDraw Cloud has certainly solidified that position. Long time Visio users will no doubt look at SmartDraw and think it looks too simplistic to be a serious alternative to Visio but the fact is there is little you can’t do with SmartDraw than you can do in Visio. One of the biggest advantages of course is that SmartDraw is now accessible on any platform, not just Windows as is the case with Visio. SmartDraw on Mac can read and edit Visio files and both the templates and objects library are far superior. In the initial release of SmartDraw Cloud there was no Visio export support but Visio export has now been added to SmartDraw 2017 allowing you to easily interchange files with Visio users. To export to Visio format you simply go to “File > Export” and then you can choose to export to either Visio 2010 or earlier and Visio 2013 or later.
One thing SmartDraw Cloud still can’t do on Mac however is import and open Visio VST stencils or Visio VTX templates although the choice of templates and stencils in SmartDraw should mean you don’t need any stencils from Visio unless it’s something extremely specific or customized.
In terms of learning curve, SmartDraw is definitely much easier to learn and use with far more clear and easy to follow tutorial videos. The way smart templates automatically re-balance and adjust is something definitely missing from Visio where asymmetrical diagrams or broken connectors are easier to miss in large diagrams. We also liked the way that text boxes and shapes adjust to the amount of text you enter into them rather than spilling-out as it tends to do in Visio if you add a lot of text to diagrams. The formatting throughout SmartDraw is always being automatically managed meaning that it always adjust diagrams to make them look neat and professional, whereas in Visio the formatting has to be done manually and can be very tedious, time-consuming and frustrating.
We tested importing and editing a Visio org chart in SmartDraw and the results were impressive. You can see the results and see how we found SmartDraw vs Visio in our video below:
SmartDraw vs Office
If you live within the Microsoft Office for Mac ecosystem, Visio will obviously be more integrated into your daily workflow than SmartDraw. And if you just want to create simple diagrams, Microsoft Office drawing tools are accessible directly from the ribbon where you can select Shapes, SmartArt or Chart.
This is fine if you just need to do basic sketches or diagrams and there’s really no need to use a professional diagramming software like SmartDraw. But if you’re aiming to create something more complex than just a basic flowchart, the drawing tools in Microsoft Office are extremely frustrating, not to mention there are very few templates. Making changes in large diagrams also gets very messy in Office and it takes a lot longer to manually adjust them to make them symmetrical and organized again.
SmartDraw exports to Microsoft Office format although the reality is that the file it exports in SmartDraw Cloud isn’t editable in Microsoft Office. Rather it’s an image that you can paste into Office applications such as Word. In the desktop version of SmartDraw for Windows, you can actually embed diagrams into Office documents and right-click on them to edit them in Word. This is missing from the Cloud version although it’s very easy to export to Excel, PowerPoint or Word via the Menu Bar.
SmartDraw vs Lucidchart
The closest equivalent to SmartDraw currently available is Lucidchart. Although SmartDraw has been on the market for more than twice as long as Lucidchart, Lucidchart has been online only for some years now and has therefore stolen a march on SmartDraw. As a result, it’s gained a lot of traction with Mac users and although it doesn’t have a native Mac client, it does have a Google Chrome extension which allows you to launch Lucidchart from your Mac desktop and even work offline if you want to. Lucidchart can also import and export Visio stencils and templates in VST and VSD format which are features still missing from SmartDraw although most importantly, it can import and export Visio files.
However when it comes to overall features and functionality, SmartDraw Cloud definitely leaves it standing. SmartDraw has 4,500 templates compared to Lucidchart’s 125 with 34,000 symbols versus 1,840. Lucidchart supports saving to Google Drive like SmartDraw but SmartDraw also supports Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. But it’s from a usability standpoint that SmartDraw really excels over Lucidchart. The SmartDraw SmartPanel contains symbols and tools that are specific to the diagram template you’ve chosen, whereas Lucidchart requires a lot more manual searching of relevant objects. Perhaps more importantly, Lucidchart’s templates don’t intelligently adjust to changes like those in SmartDraw and you can automatically adjust the space and sizing of a chart in SmartDraw whereas Lucidchart is more rigid. Lucidchart also suffers from some of the formatting issues found in Visio such as failing to automatically adjust boxes to text entered.
There are also differences between specific templates in Lucidchart and SmartDraw. For instance SmartDraw shows dimensions for both walls and objects which you can adjust simply by typing which isn’t possible in Lucidchart. There are other small tweaks such as the ability to set the thickness of a wall and flip doors and windows too that make SmartDraw a little easier to work with.
SmartDraw has produced a video to illustrate some of the differences between it and Lucidchart here:
Whilst Microsoft has outsourced much of its support abroad, especially to India, SmartDraw remains rooted to San Diego where it was established 22 years ago. However, support isn’t 24/7 like Microsoft’s but you can contact SmartDraw support via phone and email Monday to Friday 6 AM to 5 PM PST.
Improvements In SmartDraw 2017
There have been several improvements to SmartDraw 2017 since the initial release. Arguably the most important for Visio users has been the introduction of Visio export so that users can finally export files that can be opened in Visio. However, there have also been several other free improvements made to SmartDraw 2017 worth highlighting. The SmartDraw interface is now available in over 100 languages which also means that it supports Asian characters for annotations. The handy thing is you can toggle the language of the interface at any time – you don’t have to restart the software or close a diagram or file in order to switch.
It’s also now easier to find your files and projects in SmartDraw without having to know the filename. File thumbnails allow you to browse projects visually which makes it easier to manage large numbers of diagrams or files:
SmartDraw can be used as a CAD software for Mac and SmartDraw has also improved the CAD capabilities with flexible scaling and import support for AutoCAD files.
Complex electrical drawings have been made easier with more intelligent snapping and healing of lines and circuits when you drag and drop complex objects and elements. Ungrouping of complex symbols and objects has also been significantly improved.
Another major addition to SmartDraw is integration with Atlassian products. If you’re a Confluence or Jira user, you can now use SmartDraw within them without ever having to access the SmartDraw app itself. The Confluence plugin and Jira plugin for SmartDraw allow you to draw diagrams within both apps and grant permission to other to edit and modify diagrams.
All diagrams stay within Confluence and Jira although if you want to save or import diagrams from SmartDraw into them, you’ll need a SmartDraw license.
The same is true for productivity tool Trello. The SmartDraw Power-Up for Trello allows you to draw SmartDraw diagrams within Trello without ever leaving the application.
Other improvements to the latest version of SmartDraw includes integration with G Suite, document history and restore and a new WordPress plugin which makes it easy to add SmartDraw diagrams to WordPress blogs and websites using a shortcode.
Until recently, SmartDraw cost $14.95 per user per month for a single license which was still a pretty good deal considering everything you get. However, it’s now been reduced to just $9.95 per month and the team deals come in even cheaper still. If you want a license for up to 5 users, SmartDraw works out at almost half price at just $5.95 per user and a license for up to 10 users costs just $4.95 per user per month which is extremely cheap. An Enterprise plan also works out extremely good value for money at $59.90 for up to 50 users compared to around $156.00 for a comparable Microsoft Visio license.
You also get everything in one package with SmartDraw Cloud than MS Visio. Visio comes in three different versions – Standard, Pro and Office 365 and the Standard version has a limited toolset compared to the latter two. Even for Windows users, SmartDraw represents a competitive deal. Visio Standard costs $299 and Visio Professional $589.99 up front. SmartDraw Cloud costs $9.95 per month while Visio Pro for Office 365 costs $13.00 per month if you bill annually or $15.50 for a monthly commitment.
If you’re a large company looking to implement SmartDraw across many users, then SmartDraw now offers a Site License for $2,995 which offers enhances controls for system admins over deployment. This is essential in retaining control of accounts when employees leave an organization or for consolidating mutliple accounts into one. However, some of the Site License advantages are specifically related to the Windows desktop version such as which documents are saved in the Cloud and not applicable to Mac users.
It’s been a long time in the pipeline but SmartDraw can now boast a serious alternative to Visio on Mac with SmartDraw Cloud. Experienced Visio users will be surprised at just how easy and automated SmartDraw makes things compared to Visio while new users will find a far gentler learning curve than opting for Visio on Windows. SmartDraw also feels more forward-looking than Visio with little touches like integration with Google Maps, Google Drive, Dropbox and smart templates which save so much time and hassle by auto adjusting to changes.
With an extremely competitive pricing plan, SmartDraw poses a serious and far more user friendly alternative to Visio on Mac. You can try a free trial of SmartDraw to judge for yourself.
- Easier and quicker to use compared to Microsoft Visio
- Thousands of templates and shapes
- Imports and exports Visio files
- No native Mac desktop client
- No import support for Visio VST or VTX templates