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Best flowchart software of 2021: diagram apps for workflow management

Best flowchart software
(Image credit: Pixabay)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

The best flowchart software can simplify the process of organizing ideas, workflows or projects.

While flowchart software may not sound like a priority investment, not only is it great for exploring business creativity and brainstorming, it's also likely to cost far less than a whiteboard.

Of course, not all flowchart software is the same, but the best will all share core features, such as basic templates and predefined objects. Additionally, you'll probably also need it to allow for sharing and collaborative work, in order for teams to get the most of it.

This is especially when combined with other small business software for charting ideas and workflows, and even for less obvious applications such as help desk software for designing better ways to respond to customers and their technical problems.

We've therefore put together the ten best flowchart software apps for you to look at.

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(Image credit: Cacoo)

1. Cacoo

A comprehensive charting tool with good groupware functionality

Reasons to buy
+Great cloud connectivity+Connects to Slack+Inexpensive
Reasons to avoid
-Limited template selection

Business users often don’t work in isolation, and Cacoo by Nulab is a charting solution built to address that need, among others.

It’s an online tool that interfaces to a wide range of cloud services, including Google Drive/Docs, Confluence, Adobe Creative Cloud, Box and Dropbox. In addition to Cloud stored and distributed content, Cacoo also works with TypeTalk (another Nulab product) and Slack to enable an information flow that alerts other team members when a diagram is updated.

The number of templates might be less than other products, but it has all the critical ones like Network diagrams, organizational charts and floor plans. The feature set makes it of the most use to systems designers, software engineers, project managers and business administrators.

Pricing is competitive, with options available for larger team groups if you contact Nulab directly. There are also educational plans for teachers and students. For those wishing to check out Cacoo, trials are available for 14 days, and there is a free plan that allows six diagrams to be created in it, with limited sharing options.

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(Image credit: ConceptDraw)

2. ConceptDraw Diagram

Sophisticated charting tool with great flexibility

Reasons to buy
+Amazing template selection+Windows and Mac+Visio compatible
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

The ConceptDraw Office package combines three different products in a single suite of applications designed to enable business planning and enhance productivity. This includes dedicated software platforms to cover diagrams, mind-mapping, and project management. 

The ConceptDraw Diagram product is a highly versatile business graphics and diagramming product with thousands of stencils and hundreds of templates ready to use.

But for those that want greater flexibility, it is possible to design any stencil elements from scratch and incorporate them into a design. These custom elements can then use the tree and chain connecting modes available in the ConceptDraw Office software.

Fully compatible with Visio (stencils and drawings), ConceptDraw Diagram can be installed either to the Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac platforms. Alternatively, you can buy into the whole ConceptDraw Office package, which discounts all three main products (Diagram, Mind Mapping, and Project).

Five and ten user license packs are available with a user discount, and there are also discounts for teachers and students. A free trial is available for those wishing to try it out.

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(Image credit: Creately)

3. Creately

A highly affordable multi-platform solution

Reasons to buy
+Online and Windows app+Inexpensive+Free public version

Where other tools rely on application installations, Creately is available online, as a desktop app and also on mobile platforms.

It’s not exclusively for Flowcharts either, as it can be used to produce a wide variety of diagrams including organisational charts and wireframes, Gantt charts, Infographics and even maps.

The available templates are extensive, and you can try it out online before you invest.

The cloud version has a very limited free plan for up to 5 documents, but does have a cheap personal plan. A team cloud plan is also available with no limits on the number of documents.

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(Image credit: Pacestar)

4. Edge Diagrammer

A powerful charting tool that even works on Windows XP

Reasons to buy
+Free extension packs+Free file viewer
Reasons to avoid
-Only on Windows-No groupware functionality

Based in Arizona, Pacestar Software has four diagram design tools of which Edge Diagrammer is the most versatile.

Using Edge Diagrammer, you can easily generate block diagrams, flowcharts, org charts, family trees, data flow diagrams and many other standard diagrammatic forms.

In addition to the base functionality, Pacestar has some free extension packs that support an even wider range of different diagramming methodologies.

The limitations of this product are that it is exclusively Windows platform, although it has very minimal hardware requirements and will run on any full version of Windows from XP upwards. There is also a free to distribute Windows tool that allows anyone to view drawings created using Edge Diagrammer.

While this software is undoubtedly powerful and effective, it doesn’t take account of information flow or distribution within a large operation. Therefore if you intend to use this you’ll need to manage the files it creates with other tools.

For those wanting to try it out a thirty-day trial is available to download, and for that period you can experience full functionality.

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(Image credit: Wondershare)

5. Edraw Max

The one-stop-shop for all your charting needs

Reasons to buy
+Supports 280 diagram types+Native on Windows, Mac and Linux 
Reasons to avoid
-So powerful it might put off new users-No groupware connections

Another cross-platform option, Edraw Max, works on Windows, Mac and Linux natively.

Created by the Shenzen Edraw software company, Edraw Max was built to construct professional-looking flowcharts, organisational diagrams and has templates for 280 different diagram types.

If you have a specific need, you might not need all the power of Edraw Max, and the same company makes tailored tools for Mind Mapping, Infographics, Org Charts and nine other different specific diagram requirements.

In theory, Edraw Max can do any of these jobs, although users might find the scope and power of this tool a little daunting at first.

Those that get through an initially challenging learning curve report that once mastered this is a great application for creating professional looking schematics rapidly and efficiently. 

There are a couple of different pricing options available, with licenses available on an annual basis or for a one-time fee.

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(Image credit: Gliffy)

6. Gliffy

Online tool for visual communication and collaboration

Reasons to buy
+Online and Chrome app+Supports Confluence and JIRA +Relatively cheap
Reasons to avoid
-Limited object customisation

Gliffy provides a straightforward tool for creating a very wide variety of chart types online or within Confluence. It also stores created charts into Google Drive, should you use that those Cloud services.

One nice twist on this online software tool is that you can install a Chrome version that can work offline, should an Internet connection not be available. Gliffy also supports Confluence and JIRA Cloud, butis also working on a proprietary Cloud solution to be launched soon, called Gliffy Project.

What this product lacks is much in the way of object customization, although it scores highly on ease of use and a gentle learning curve. 

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(Image credit: Lucidchart)

7. Lucidchart

A massively popular and inexpensive charting app

Reasons to buy
+Online app that works with any OS+Integrations with other services+Inexpensive per seat

According to Lucid Software, Lucidchart  has over 15 million users. Strongly suggesting that this is not a niche solution, but a highly popular one.

Lucid is one of the few tools that covers Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OSX and various Linux distributions by default, admittedly by being an online app rather than natively.

For those who need workflow integration, Lucidchart supports Confluence, JIRA and JIVE, along with the Google Cloud and apps and Microsoft Visio compatibility.

There is a free trial that isn’t time limited. Instead, diagrams are restricted to a maximum of 60 objects, sufficient to explore its potential.

Lucid convinced Amazon, Adobe, DocuSign, Cisco, Red Hat and Wells Fargo to be customers. And, it might be right for your business, too.

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(Image credit: SmartDraw)

8. SmartDraw

The popular choice for big business

Reasons to buy
+Works with Confluence, JIRA and more+70 chart types
Reasons to avoid
-Only on Windows-Expensive per seat

Like Lucid, SmartDraw can name an impressive list of blue-chip companies that are license holders since the company started in 1994. These include at least half of the Fortune 500 quoted businesses and more than 250,000 public and private enterprises across the globe.

The SmartDraw product can be used online or as a standalone Windows application. It supports the creation of no less than seventy chart types, including all the standard ones.

There more exotic templates include those for documenting a crime scene, landscape gardening, seating plan and even accident reconstruction. 

For those working as part of a team, it supports Confluence, JIRA, Trello and Google’s GSuite. And, it’s fully compatible with Visio, able to import and export diagrams and stencils with Microsoft’s application.

The multi-user packages have extra functionality that allows licenses to be managed and can also control the sharing of SmartDraw data with other users.

Most of the sophistication of SmartDraw is in the templates and not the application. Therefore it might be more suitable for those who make many simple charts, and not those involved in the creation of very complex diagrams.

What to look for when choosing flowchart software

Although designers might use these tools, the majority of people creating flowcharts aren’t classically trained graphic designers. Therefore, they need a tool that assumes no artistic abilities but can generate professional looking results rapidly.

There is a fine balance between an application giving the operator the power to do whatever they want and funnelling their efforts in the direction of ultimate success.

The way that most software handles this delicate balance is to offer the user templates that avoid them using too many fonts, or trying to cram too many elements into a design.

If the operator has graphical skills, these restrictions might seem a hindrance, but to the less confident, they can be exactly the structural support these folks need.

These are the key aspects that you might want to consider before purchasing a flowchart solution:

  • Templates: How many does the application have, and are any of them tailored to your specific needs (coding, game logic, command structures, etc)?
  • Objects: Almost all software will have a selection of predefined objects, and the number and quality of these should be assessed. If the graphical elements that you specifically need aren’t in the library, the ability to define your own will be very important.
  • Groupware: As important as the creation of a diagram might be, getting it distributed and centrally updated is also critical. Some applications can enable multiple people to work on the same design, which might be useful when documenting an especially complicated process.
  • Trial: Some of these tools can be expensive or require ongoing licensing, so it is useful to test a trial version before investing company cash.