A flowchart maker often has unique functionality that can't be found in drawing applications or other software. Knowing what to look for will help you find the flowcharting application with enough features to meet your needs, while helping you rule out the software that offers more than necessary.
Here are a few of the areas you'll want to consider before you purchase:
Automated Drawing Tools
What types of tools do you want and how important are more advanced features such as hyperlinking, symbol galleries, and automatic resizing/reconnecting? One of the most important things to look for when comparing flowchart makers is automation.
A drawing program that will automatically reformat your connecting lines when you move shapes around can save you hours of time and frustration. Here's an example of how automated software makes it easy to insert a new shape:
A manual flowchart maker will force you to do the drawing yourself, which can be quite time-consuming and frustrating for most people. Here's an illustration of the steps needed to manually complete same operation shown in the above example:
1. Select a Shape
2. Drag the Shape to the Document Area
3. Drag the Next Shape
4. Draw a Line Connecting The Shapes
You'll want to choose a flowchart maker that automates the drawing for you, especially as you build out diagrams in size and complexity. Small changes can create huge formatting problems in cheap flowchart programs that don't offer robust automation.
Flowcharting Tools to Look For
The best flowchart makers will include a wide array of tools that make it easy to create a professional-quality diagram with lots of design customization features plus an array of printing and publishing options. You should be able to:
- Arrange shapes, create layers and add notes and comments right on the diagram;
- Have an expandable canvas with multiple pages that can be connected with hyperlinks for creating large flowcharts;
- Save and print your chart in a variety of ways, such as PDF, HTML, or as an image;
- Easily insert your drawing into a Microsoft Word®, Excel®, or PowerPoint® document;
- Publish it to a web page, view it on mobile devices, and share it instantly with anyone you choose.
Text & Graphic Tools
Some programs offer a wider range of graphics options, allowing you to add visual interest to your flowcharts. Design and color themes, picture importing capability and graphics style options will be worthy of consideration as you compare flowchart programs.
Do you want to be able to add background images or color gradients?
Having these types of design tools built into an automated flowchart maker will allow you to create professional, presentation-quality results in minutes.
Ease of Use
Here's where you may want to carefully consider your flowchart purchase decision. Buying a bargain-bin priced program will save you money upfront. But if you spend hours trying to create a diagram, it's not such a bargain. On the other hand, paying a few dollars more by choosing flowchart software that is easy to use, even for a beginner, then it may wind up being the true bargain.
Help & Support
One person may find a particular program easy to use, but another one won't. And no matter which program you buy, you're bound to hit a snag or have questions. Make sure, before deciding which flowchart software is the best for you, that the developer offers telephone and email support. You should also go to their website and check out their resources and training sections. The best programs will offer tutorials, webinars, training videos, white papers and so forth.
Price and Use Factors
There are several third-party reviews of flowchart software programs available. The two consistently highest-rated flowchart programs and the ones that have the most users are Microsoft Visio® and SmartDraw. There are a number of factors that you should consider before buying a flowchart maker.
One thing to contemplate is the number of uses you have for each program, given its set of features. You may find that one program offers a variety of tools that you'll use, making it relatively cheaper to buy and use. According to reviews, low-priced flowchart programs don't provide the level of help and support options that you'll find in the higher-rated products. So if you run into problems, you could be on your own to try and solve them.
If you're choosing a flowcharting program just need to make one simple diagram, such as for a school project, you might be able to find a manual tool that does the trick and doesn't cost very much. It will take a lot longer than using an automated flow chart maker, but if your time is cheap maybe it's an acceptable trade-off in this instance.
On the other hand, it may not be acceptable if you value your time and if you intend to create a variety of diagrams. In that case, you'll want to consider the versatility of a diagram suite like SmartDraw that provides an abundance of charts, graphs, maps, etc. along with automated tools to help manage projects, meetings and create presentations.
If you're an engineer or programmer and having control over complicated, technical drawing features is more important to you than ease of use, then Visio, or even AutoCAD, might be the right option. If you need to create charts but would rather have the drawing automated for you then SmartDraw is the only choice. The best drawing programs will give you a free trial, so why not take advantage? To get your free trial of SmartDraw, click this link.
The bottom line is this: don't just consider price. Carefully weigh usability and features as you compare flowchart programs. Try them and see how they align with your needs.
Questions to Ask When Buying a Flowchart Maker
- Is it automatic or manual?
- Does it allow me to easily organize and create a professional-looking flowchart that won't embarrass me?
- How quickly can I learn to use the flowcharting features?
- Does it give me all the tools that I need for my flowchart diagrams? Does it give me all of the printing and sharing options I need?
- Can I easily and quickly change the design?
- Will it let me create multiple pages and layers that I can connect with hyperlinks?
- Does the flowchart maker offer tutorials, videos and other helpful information on its website?
- Can I get live help from a real person on the telephone or via email?
- What's the real cost if I include my time?