How to Draw Network Diagrams

A network diagram is a way to illustrate the relationships among components. When drawing a network diagram, you'll need three things: symbols representing those components, connecting lines, and a way to clearly label them.

SmartDraw gives you all three. It includes a large library of symbols representing servers, computers, routers and more. Labels are simple to add. It also allows you to easily and intuitively draw your network diagram.

Use SmartDraw on any connected device, regardless of platform, and it's free to try.

This short video provides a quick overview of how to draw a network diagram with SmartDraw.

How to draw network diagram

Getting Started

To start drawing, open a Network Diagram template from the Template Browser.

This template will open with a set of relevant symbols and controls. If you don't see the component you need, you can search for it.

Network templates

Finding the Correct Device

You can find devices and symbols in SmartDraw using the More Symbols explorer.

The Explorer shows the SmartDraw symbol libraries organized into categories represented in folder icons. This is SmartDraw's table of contents for symbols.

If you need a specific device and you don't want to spend too much time browsing, you can use SmartDraw's search engine to find what you are looking for. The Search Bar is located at the top of the SmartDraw Explorer panel. To search for a device, type a word or phrase into this bar and press Enter or click on Go.

Every SmartDraw library and template contains keywords that describe its contents. In addition to searching through the symbol and template names, the SmartDraw search engine searches through these keywords as well.

Once the search is completed, the folders that contain matching libraries or templates are expanded and shown in bold with the search icon next to them.

Search Tips

Knowing how the SmartDraw search engine works will help you get better search results

  • If you enter a phrase or a series of words separated by commas, the SmartDraw search engine will look for libraries that contain any of the entered words, but not necessarily all of the words. The search interprets multiple terms as terms divided by or not and. For example, if you search for Sun workstations, you will get matches both for the word sun and for the word workstations.
  • The search is not case-sensitive.
  • The search engine will find partial matches as long as the keyword or name of a symbol begins with the search word. For example, if you looked for the term form, you will also find matches for formula and forms, but not for the word perform.
More symbols Open a symbol library

Adding a Device to Your Drawing

Once a library is open, you can click on any device and stamp it or drag and drop it to the drawing area.

If you use the Add Right, Add Below keys on the SmartPanel, your devices will be automatically connected. This means they will be evenly spaced in a straight line and you can remove and move devices and the rest of your drawing will automatically adjust.

This may be useful for diagramming bus or linear topologies, but in most cases you'll want your network devices connected freeform so let's cover that scenario first.

Adding network symbols

Connecting Devices

Once you have added a few network devices to your drawing, you can draw connecting lines between them to represent cables or protocols.

Click one of the line tools in the Toolbar and release. Now your cursor looks like a pencil. Touch the pencil to the edge of one device and click down with the mouse. Drag the pencil to the edge of another device, and release it when the cursor turns into an Anchor Symbol.

Once connected, the devices stay connected, even if they are moved or resized.

To detach a line from an object it is linked to, click on the line, then pull the end knob away from the object.

Connecting symbols

Connection Points

When you link to a device, black dots called Connection Points appear on its edges. These points show the places where the device can be linked to a line or to another device. You can adjust the positions of these connection points by right-clicking on the device in the library window, before dragging it to the page, and choosing to Edit Symbol.

In the Edit Symbol dialog box, uncheck the "Automatic Settings" option and you'll see the Connection Points appear around the preview of the device. Click on a connection point and drag it to the desired position. By moving the connection points you can control where lines will link to this particular device. For example, you can show a cable linked to a specific port by connecting a line to a connection point that you have positioned on top of the port.

Connection points Edit the connection points

Adding a New Symbol to a Library

If you imported a symbol from somewhere else or drew your own, you can add the new symbol to an existing library by simply dragging it from the page and dropping it in an open library window. Alternately, you can create your own custom library of images.

To create a library in SmartDraw, click on the SmartDraw File tab, scroll down to "Options" and select "Create Library".

This will display the "Create a New Symbol Library Dialog".

Here, you can name the library and select an existing category to place it under.

If you want to create a new category, select "Create a new category" where you can name your category and either make it a top-level category or a sub-category inside an existing category.

The new library (and category) is reflected immediately in the Symbol Explorer in the Left Panel under the "My Symbols" directory and the library is then opened on the screen.

Your new library window will show no symbols because it will be empty.

To add a device to your new library, drag the device onto the library window until you see the add library cursor, then release the device with the mouse.

Before your device is added to the library, you'll have the opportunity to give it a name, adjust the connection points, define how the device will be able to grow or shrink, and specify where you will be able to add text.

The new device symbol will appear as a button in your library window. You can edit its properties any time by right-clicking on it and choosing Edit Symbol, or you can delete it from the library by choosing Remove Symbol from the right-click menu.

Create a new symbol library Named new symbol library Dragging a new symbol into the library

Adding a Text Label to a Device

SmartDraw objects can automatically have text labels associated with them. To put a text label on a device in your drawing, double-click on the device in your drawing and simply type the label. By default, the text label will automatically go below the object.

To change the location of the text label relative to the object, open the Edit Symbol dialog box again from the library window. You can set whether your text appears below, above, or inside the object. When you choose to place text inside the object, you can set the text entry area by adjusting the four margin lines as shown below.

You can now type device names, details, descriptions inside the object for a professional look. The text label stays with the device when you move it. To edit it, simply double click on the text.

Using Segmented Lines

Connecting all your devices with simple, straight lines can be tedious and can lead to a diagram that is rigid and difficult to revise. Segmented lines connect shapes using dynamic segments that move and adjust themselves as you reposition objects in your drawing.

To draw a segmented line between two devices, select the segmented line tool from the menu under the Line Shape tool and drag the pencil cursor from the edge of one shape to the edge of another shape until you see the anchor symbol.

The segmented line attaches itself perpendicularly to both objects, and it flows between them using the fewest possible number of segments and 90-degree turns. If you move one of the objects, the segmented line adjusts itself to remain attached and perpendicular at all times.

You can adjust the length and spacing of segments by moving the square adjustment handles located on each segment.

Shape connector

Using Arcs and Curved Lines

You can also use arcs or curved lines to connect your shapes. If you are using an arc, you can adjust the arc's degree of curvature with the special selection handle at its center.

Curved lines are segmented lines with rounded corners. They follow the same rules as segmented lines.

Curved lines

Using Automatic Connectors to Draw Bus Topologies

SmartDraw's automatic connector allows you to connect several computers in evenly spaced patterns. The automatic connector is great for drawing bus or linear topologies, but it may be even more useful for star networks, to automatically connect dozens of workstations to a central hub or switch without drawing all the individual connecting lines.

To use an automatic connector in your network diagram, use the "Add Right", "Add Left" buttons in the Network Diagram template's SmartPanel on the left.

Using Automatic Connectors

Adding Devices to an Automatic Connector Line

To attach a device to your connector, just drag and drop the device onto the connector line. When the shape draws near the connector, the connector will "grab" it and show you the outline of the shape at the link point where it would attach if you released it. Simply release the mouse to let the device attach to the connector at that point.

As you add more shapes, the connector keeps expanding to accommodate the new objects.

Add shapes to an automatic connector A shape inserted between others

Removing a Device from a Network Tree

Moving a device away from the connector disconnects it, and the remaining devices draw together to fill the space.

When no devices are linked to a connector, it appears as either a vertical or horizontal line. Its configuration will not be apparent until two or more devices are linked to it.

If you select the automatic connector line and hit delete, every shape attached to the line will also be deleted.

Deleting a device

Rearranging Devices Connected to a Network Tree

To change the order of the devices, you can drag a device from one link point to another.

Rearranging devices