SmartDraw is the best alternative to Visio for Mac out there and here we take an in-depth look at how this brilliant diagramming software performs on macOS.
All you need to use SmartDraw is a 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.
SmartDraw Cloud: 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, 34,000 symbols and 4,500 templates for almost every conceivable diagramming need.
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.
SmartDraw spent 6 years making a version of SmartDraw that Mac users can also use because it went the extra mile to put complex features in the Cloud version.
The good news is that SmartDraw Cloud isn’t just a port of SmartDraw Desktop for Windows and offers almost all the same functionality and performance. This in itself is a rarity in complex Cloud apps such as diagramming software.
To get an idea of why it took 6 years to developer SmartDraw Cloud, there’s an eye-opening overview of how it was done below:
Easy To Use And Responsive
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 2018, 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. SmartDraw is also fully integrated with G Suite – you just need to download the add-on from the G Suite marketplace.
The main User Interface will open immediately once you’ve signed-in and the first thing you notice is the UI is far more streamlined than Microsoft Visio.
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.
The other thing we noticed straight away is that SmartDraw is extremely fast and responsive. There’s almost no lag as you use SmartDraw and it really is as if you were using it on desktop.
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, drag and drop support, the intelligent way objects snap together and the thousands of templates that get you started very quickly.
Probably the most striking thing about SmartDraw is the speed at which it allows you to create diagrams compared to the sluggishness of Microsoft Visio.
SmartDraw does this mainly through automated templates which do a lot of the hard work for you.
Although Visio does this to some extent for flowcharts, swimlanes and org charts, SmartDraw does it for far more diagram types. These include Project Charts, Mind Maps, Decision Trees, Cause & Effect Diagrams, Genograms and more.
A good example is when you delete a branch in Visio, there’s a gap where it used to be and you need to manually plug that hole or re-balance the entire diagram which can be very tedious and time-consuming.
SmartDraw on the other hand automatically closes any branch gaps and re-adjusts or re-balances the diagram so that it still flows and looks professional.
You can see this in action here:
This is particularly time-saving when drawing highly complex and technical diagrams such as electrical circuits and engineering documents.
When you drag a shape or symbol into a connector, SmartDraw automatically re-balances the layout and even rotates symbols in circuits so that they snap into place. Removing symbols is equally painless – just remove them and the line reconnects instantly.
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.
Note that not all templates are automated in SmartDraw but the most commonly used ones are including Flowchart, Network Diagram, Organizational Chart and Decision Tree templates.
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 infographic and chart templates which have been more recently added to SmartDraw.
Whichever template you choose, SmartDraw has an additional 34,000 objects, items and clip-art to choose from (compared to 1,840 objects in it’s nearest online competitor Lucidchart).
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 it.
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 variations to choose from, depending on how you want your diagram to look.
If you select Circuit Panels for example, you’ll then see several different types of Circuit Diagrams in the sub-category.
Infographic creation is something that Visio definitely lacks (although arguably it’s not really designed for that anyway) but when it comes to Visualization of diagrams, SmartDraw offers a huge choice of infographic templates.
These include population templates, world map templates, process/cycle templates and many more.
The same goes for chart templates. You’ll find there’s everything from basic pie chart and bar chart templates to 3D charts and Relative Value charts for calculating ROI.
SmartDraw is regularly updated with new infographics, reports and presentation slide templates to keep presentations fresh too.
You can easily export infographics and indeed any diagram made in SmartDraw to Microsoft Office although only in image format. You can’t dynamically edit them in Office (see more on Office export options later).
High Quality Vector Graphics
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 in the library. 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 the appropriate library. Simply click OK and Add Library.
The slickness of the symbols really impresses and is a good example of how the product goes the extra mile compared to other diagramming apps. 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.
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:
Saving Work To Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox
Anything you do in SmartDraw is saved in real-time 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 choose to save diagrams or export Visio files by linking your SmartDraw account to online storage services such as Google Drive, G Suite, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox.
To use Google Drive with SmartDraw for example, you simply need to sign-in with your Google account details – you don’t even need to create a SmartDraw account. To use G Suite however, you need to download the G Suite plugin from the G Suite marketplace.
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.
Microsoft has now also made it possible for anyone to view MS Visio diagrams with Visio Online but it requires the receiver to have a commercial Office 365 subscription. With SmartDraw, it’s much easier.
Edit Diagrams On iPad and iPhone
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 edits being made to diagrams while you are on the move.
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 are few things you can’t do with SmartDraw than you can do in Visio.
Visio file import support is particularly impressive. To import Visio files, you can simply go to the Account Menu and select Import Visio:
Importing is fast and smooth with formatting preserved perfectly. After importing a Visio file, you can ungroup, change fill color, resize shapes and edit the Visio diagram with SmartDraw.
The only slight limitation is that you can’t import VST/VTX templates or VSS/VSX stencils into SmartDraw Cloud (although you can in the Windows desktop version).
Crucially for professionals, SmartDraw is the only diagramming application which allows you to export to both Microsoft Visio VSD and VSDX format.
Most diagramming software on Mac can only export to the older VDX format used by Visio 2010 and below which is no longer supported in the latest version of Visio 2016 (there is no Visio 2017 or 2018 yet). This creates some serious headaches if you need to send diagrams to clients or colleagues on PC that are using Visio.
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.
Like importing, exporting Visio files works extremely well with no loss of formatting or glitches when files are opened in Microsoft Visio.
In terms of learning curve, SmartDraw is definitely much easier to learn than MS Visio with clear and easy to follow tutorial videos.
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.
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:
Another big difference between SmartDraw and Visio is how much easier it makes finding objects and elements you need for your specific diagram.
For example, SmartDraw provides custom shapes and tools based on the type of diagram you’re going to draw such as a Flowchart, Org Chart, Gantt Chart etc. In Visio you end up spending much longer finding the right shapes and connectors because the toolset is generic no matter what type of diagram you’re drawing.
There’s a good summary of the differences between SmartDraw and Visio 2016 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. If you just want to create simple diagrams, Microsoft Office drawing tools are accessible directly from the Office 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 limited, 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 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.
You can also export diagrams to Microsoft Office from the Export button with options available in PDF, SVG or PNG format.
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 stolen a march on SmartDraw in some areas.
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.
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. Unlike Lucidchart, SmartDraw is also able to export to Visio 2016 VSDX format which is essential if you’re working alongside Windows based Visio clients or colleagues.
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.
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 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.
Apart from this, there are other small touches 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.
Improvements In SmartDraw 2018
SmartDraw now allows you to use it in more than 100 languages which is unique in diagramming software due to the complexities of supporting foreign characters and right-to-left languages such as Arabic.
All User Interface elements and buttons are translated to the language of your choice including languages such as Icelandic, Urdu and Hindi.
What’s neat is that you can switch UI translations on and off in real-time whenever you need them. Although you’ll probably be working in one language, it does make it easier when sharing diagrams with non-English speaking colleagues or clients or if you need to add foreign language elements to a diagram.
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.
Working with complex symbols has been improved in SmartDraw so that you can now un-group and edit components of complex symbols to make working with technical documents much easier.
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.
You don’t actually need a SmartDraw license to use the add-ons, only if you need to import existing diagrams from your SmartDraw account.
In Confluence for example, if you don’t have a license, you can create SmartDraw diagrams directly in Confluence or Confluence Cloud.
If you do have a SmartDraw license, you can link your SmartDraw account to Confluence and export them from in one click from within the main interface.
The Confluence add-on also adds a useful Insert SmartDraw Diagram macros to the context menu within Confluence so that you can easily draw and add diagrams to tasks without leaving Confluence.
Any diagrams you create in Jira or stored as attachments in Jira – not your SmartDraw account – and can be edited by anyone in Jira that you grant permissions to. In this way, you can effectively enjoy all the benefits of SmartDraw without ever leaving Jira or accessing the SmartDraw app itself.
Integration has also been extended as a Power-Up to Trello. Simply click on the Power-Ups link in Trello and select SmartDraw.
You can then access SmartDraw from any Trello card from the Power-Ups options on the right hand side and start creating diagrams such as Floor Plans, Org Charts and Flowcharts directly within Trello.
This allows you to draw SmartDraw diagrams within Trello without ever leaving the application.
There’s also a new WordPress plugin which makes it easy to add SmartDraw diagrams to WordPress blogs and websites using a shortcode.
It’s easier now 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 is also one of the best CAD apps for Mac when it comes to 2D design with flexible scaling and import support for AutoCAD files.
Although it can’t do 3D CAD design, SmartDraw can easily extend to the needs of 2D CAD designers with plenty of engineering templates to create electrical wiring plans, industrial designs and architectural blueprints.
It can also import files in AutoCAD DXF format and as a user-friendly 2D CAD design tool, it’s an excellent choice as it’s so easy to use.
Another new handy feature is that previous versions of diagrams are saved so you can roll-back to previous edits if you later realize you’ve made a mistake.
This is similar to the way Microsoft Office allows you to view document histories and restore older versions of documents or enables you to see who edited it.
Just right-click on any document in the document thumbnail browser and select View History.
Security Of SmartDraw
When it comes to Cloud apps, security is always a concern which is why any reputable online service should be SOC compliant. SmartDraw is SOC 2 Type II compliant because it has passed an independent audit by the AICPA Service Organization Control Reports (formerly the SAS 70 Reports).
This means that SmartDraw has been found by a service accounting firm to implement strong internal controls on protection of client data.
Despite all this, SmartDraw isn’t perfect and there are some drawbacks to it compared to Visio. One notable absence in SmartDraw compared to Visio is the Fit To Drawing button which conveniently auto-sizes drawings in Visio.
The Microsoft Office Export feature in SmartDraw is quite basic too. Although there are buttons to export to Word, PowerPoint and Excel, the reality is that it only exports to Office in PDF, SVG or PNG format – you can’t actually edit it dynamically in Office after it’s been imported.
In the Windows desktop version however, you can export SmartDraw files and embed them in Office documents which you can then edit using SmartDraw by right-clicking.
In terms of pricing, SmartDraw is cheaper than Visio. You also get everything in one package with SmartDraw Cloud compared to MS Visio.
Microsoft now offers Visio Standard, Visio Pro and an Office 365 compatible version of Visio. The standalone desktop version of Visio Standard costs $299 and Visio Professional $589.99. The Office 365 version of Visio (now confusingly marketed as Visio Online Plan 2 by Microsoft) costs $15.00 per user/month annually or $18.00 per user/month monthly.
SmartDraw is priced at just $9.95 per month for individuals and almost half price for teams at $5.95 per user for teams of 5 or more. This is extremely competitive compared to similar tools on the market, especially the team plans which offer pretty much the best deal you’ll find for any diagramming software on this level.
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. The savings increase exponentially with the number of users.
SmartDraw Enterprise plans now include administrative controls for Site Licenses. This means that IT admins have full control over who can access SmartDraw and which documents they can access including those stored in the Cloud. Admins can also consolidate accounts and trial under one account.
It’s also worth highlighting that there are no upgrade fees with SmartDraw like there is with MS Visio and no extra cost for premium support which is included in team plans.
SmartDraw Customer support is free via email or phone (Monday – Friday: 6 AM to 5 PM PST) and is provided at SmartDraw’s HQ in San Diego rather than offshore in India like with Microsoft Visio.
In comparison, support for Microsoft Visio is very poor and anyone that’s ever struggled with Microsoft’s outsourced customer support can vouch for how important direct customer support is if you’re facing a major problem or issue with a critical project.
Especially if you’re deploying SmartDraw in a corporate environment, you’ll find that you have to spend less time and resources on in-house IT support than you would deploying Microsoft Visio.
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 Smart Templates saving so much time and hassle by auto adjusting to changes.
In summary, SmartDraw poses a far more user-friendly and cost effective alternative to Visio on Mac.
You can find more details here on SmartDraw pricing.
You can also try a free trial of SmartDraw to judge for yourself.
- Easier, quicker and cheaper than Microsoft Visio
- Only Pro Visio alternative that exports Visio VSDX files
- Uses high quality vector graphics
- No native Mac desktop client
- No support for VST/VTX stencils